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Nassau’s Democratic minority wants say on large contracts

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, in Mineola, Nassau

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, in Mineola, Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran, center, with Legis. Ellen W. Birnbaum, left, and Carrié Solages, right, introduces a law that would require all contracts of $3 million or more to have a full legislative vote and full legislative hearing. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau’s legislative Democrats on Tuesday called for all 19 county lawmakers to have a say in approving large contracts — not just the seven on the Rules Committee.

Comparing the current system to “taxation without representation,” the Democratic minority filed a bill to amend the county charter to require pacts of $3 million or more to be voted on by both Rules members and the full legislature.

Each legislator represents a district of about 70,000 residents, so the seven-member Rules Committee only speaks for barely a third of Nassau’s 1.3 million residents, noted Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), the bill’s lead sponsor.

“That means 840,000 Nassau County residents have zero say on how millions of their tax dollars are spent,” Curran said at a morning news conference, where she was joined by fellow legislators Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) and Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck).

Nassau typically approves more than $300 million in Rules-only contracts annually, ranging — in recent years — from $25,000 promotional pacts to a 20-year, $1 billion agreement to privatize county sewer system management.

Curran said $3 million seemed like an appropriate threshold because it wouldn’t needlessly “bog down” day-to-day government operations by requiring all contracts to be voted on by both Rules and the full legislature two weeks later.

The system of requiring only Rules Committee approval for the vast majority of contracts has been in place since the legislature’s 1996 inception.

But how Nassau vets contracts has come under more scrutiny since spring 2015, when then-state Sen. Dean Skelos was indicted on federal charges including influencing the awarding of a $12 million county contract to a firm that employed his son, Adam.

The seven-member Rules Committee OK’d the pact with AbTech Industries in 2013.

“I’d rather have 19 sets of eyes on a contract,” Solages said.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) responded to the Democrats’ bill by noting their votes against borrowing for capital projects, which the minority calls a protest to their contracting reforms being ignored.

“Considering that for past six months Nassau Democrats have stonewalled the funding necessary to pave our roads, maintain our sewage infrastructure, improve our parks, and pay for the equipment and projects necessary protect the health, safety and welfare of all Nassau residents, we find both the rationale and intention of this law to be somewhat lacking,” Gonsalves said.


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