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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Former NIFA member's role in leg campaign prompts review of political guidelines

Valley Stream Village Trustee Dermond Thomas in Valley

Valley Stream Village Trustee Dermond Thomas in Valley Stream on Dec. 30, 2012. Thomas had served on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority since 2011 until he was replaced the week of July 20, 2015. Credit: Fran Berkman

The chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state oversight board in control of the county's finances, said he will consider new guidelines on political activity after a former board member helped collect signatures for a candidate seeking a county legislative seat.

Nassau Board of Elections documents show Dermond Thomas, who had served on the NIFA board since 2011 before he was replaced last week, was the designated witness on nominating petitions for Kleev Simon, who is trying to qualify for a September Democratic primary against Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont).

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said Thomas, who works as corporate counsel for MSC Industrial Co. Inc., which sells metalworks products and services, is not prohibited from engaging in political activity 

But he said, "The question is how we navigate this line. This issue warrants a discussion among the board and its staff sufficient to come up with guidelines in terms of political activity."

Thomas, who is also a Valley Stream Village trustee, said he did nothing wrong by collecting signatures for Simon. "There is no conflict of interest," he said. "We are all rational enough to make our own decisions."

But Solages said Thomas would have faced a potential conflict of interest if had voted against contracts that would benefit his Third District. "I would question whether the decision was made for fiscal or political reasons," Solages said.

The unpaid 7-member NIFA board, created by the state legislature in 2000, was envisioned as an independent budget watchdog. Board members vote to approve or reject county contracts and budgets after they've passed the legislature.

NIFA's Code of Ethics says board members should avoid financial conflicts of interest when considering county matters but makes no mention of political activities.

Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Research Interest Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, said he is concerned about the political activity of NIFA members.

"Our advice is that NIFA members should stay out of partisan politics," Horner said.

Thomas said he was prompted to help Simon's candidacy after Solages in March accused Valley Stream's board of trustees of disenfranchising minority voters by limiting the number of voting machines at two Valley Stream polling sites which serve mostly minority voters. Village officials said the sites had low voter turnout.

In June, Simon submitted more than 700 ballot signatures to the Board of Elections. He needs 500 valid signatures to get on the ballot. Solages is challenging the signatures in court, alleging fraud.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo replaced Thomas, whose term on the NIFA board expired in December 2013, with Adam Haber, an East Hills resident and former Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive and state Senate.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie recommended Haber to the NIFA board in March, at the request of Nassau Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs.

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