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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Nassau Democrats’ referendum push faces uncertain prospects

If Nassau Republicans treat Democrats the way county Democrats treated Republicans in 2007, Democrats’ petitions for an inspector general referendum are going nowhere.

Nassau’s seven Democratic county legislators recently began collecting signatures in an attempt to put a referendum on the November ballot to allow voters to decide whether to create an independent inspector general to review county contracts.

The county charter says a local laws can be submitted directly to the voters if supporters collect at least 2,000 signatures; if the county attorney determines the petitions are legal; and if the legislature’s Rules Committee, which currently is controlled by Republicans, agrees to put the proposal on the ballot.

In September 2007, Republican county lawmakers, who were in the minority on the 19-member legislature, submitted more than 30,000 signatures on petitions calling for five-year freeze on property tax assessments. Nassau had reassessed for the first time in decades in 2003 and was updating values annually, leading many taxpayers to complain about their constantly changing values.

That was the last anyone saw of those petitions.

Then-county attorney Lorna Goodman, appointed by Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi, ruled the proposed freeze was illegal and the proposal never went to the Rules Committee for a vote.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who was presiding officer of the legislature at the time, said Tuesday, “There was no way we could allow this to be decided on emotions, about assessment. . . . The reason was very obviously that the gold standard for assessment was annual reassessment; we felt to freeze it for five years would have created a total disconnect.”

Jacobs acknowledged that after Democrats lost the majority and Suozzi lost re-election in 2009, Republican County Executive Edward Mangano froze assessments in 2011 — a freeze that is expected to continue until 2018.

Jacobs said she would have to be “a total optimist” to believe that Republicans will not do the same thing to the Democratic petitions.

Mangano and the Republican legislative majority say there already is an inspector general with subpoena power — Mangano’s new commissioner of investigations. Republicans say creating an office of inspector general would just add another layer of government bureaucracy while increasing taxpayers’ costs.

Democrats insist that a truly independent inspector general should have a contract, rather than work at the will of Mangano.

“This would help everybody if there is somebody independent,” Jacobs said, “who doesn’t depend on the administration for their job, who can give us an unfettered explanation why something is good or not good. It can’t hurt anybody.”

Democrats’ push for an independent inspector general came after former state majority leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, were convicted of federal corruption charges dealing, in part, with pressuring the county to award a $12 million contract to a company that employed Adam Skelos. Both are appealing.

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