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Independence of Nassau County's inspector general is questioned

Jodi Franzese was hired as a watchdog over the administration, but a query to her drew a response from County Executive Laura Curran's spokeswoman.

Jodi Franzese, Nassau County's inspector general.

 Jodi Franzese, Nassau County's inspector general. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Nassau’s independent inspector general, Jodi Franzese, was hired by the County Legislature in December after more than three years of skirmishes among legislators over the need for their own watchdog to oversee the county executive's administration, particularly to review procurement.

For two years, Democratic legislators had refused to approve contracts or most borrowing until the Republican majority agreed to  hiring an inspector general. When Republicans agreed in December of 2017, it took a bipartisan legislative search committee a year to go through some 30 resumes and select Franzese, who had worked for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s investigation department.

At the time, Minority leader Kevan Abrahams declared her “an independent authority” to review contracts and the county’s procurement process.

But when Newsday called and emailed Franzese on Tuesday to inquire about an investigation into alleged procurement irregularities at the county’s shooting range in Mitchel Field, County Executive Laura Curran’s communications director, Chris Geed, responded.

What?

“It was never my understanding that she should have anyone from the administration communicate for her. That’s not independence,” said Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. Ford was a member of the search committee that selected Franzese.

“I don’t like this. A strong woman should have her own voice,” Ford said. “There should be no direct line between her and anyone in the administration.”

Franzese’s office is under the county legislature’s budget. She  is paid $150,000 a year, and her office is  allowed a total of seven employees.

Democrats also expressed concern about the administration speaking for Franzese.

William Biamonte, chief of staff for Nassau Democrats, said in a statement: “Because the Inspector General is an independent watchdog and must be viewed as totally independent, we believe it is proper and appropriate for the office to speak for itself, rather than through the administration it is tasked with overseeing.”

Franzese responded in an email that her office “is indeed independent,” and that she works for the residents of Nassau County, not the Curran administration.

“To correct any misimpression you might have,” she said, “I did not ask a spokeswoman for the administration to call [Newsday] back.”

However, Geed had texted Newsday on Tuesday afternoon that the inspector general had called her to tell her about Newsday’s inquiries and Geed asked what the newspaper wanted.

Geed said Wednesday afternoon by email, “The Inspector General did send me an email asking me if I would respond to [Newsday’s] inquiry on the rifle range story.”

She said she told Franzese that she already had responded to Newsday questions about the shooting range. Geed said she then reached out to Newsday again to double-check whether the reporter, “needed anything else with regard to his inquiry to the IG’s office.”

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