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Nassau Dems hold line on blocking borrowing for projects

Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs is pictured

Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs is pictured on Feb. 13, 2013 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

After Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs met with Democratic county legislators last week, some party insiders expected there to be a change in the lawmakers’ stance against borrowing for capital projects.

But the meeting seemed only to harden their resolve.

Democratic lawmakers had decreed earlier this year that they will not give the county legislature’s Republican majority the necessary votes to approve borrowing to pay for capital projects until the Republican legislative majority and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano agree to create the position of an independent inspector general to review contracts. Capital projects generally involve the purchase or improvement of land, equipment, buildings and other hard county assets.

Federal prosecutors have been investigating Nassau’s contracting process for more than a year, resulting so far in the conviction of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, in part for influencing the award of a $12.2 million county contract. The investigation includes a probe of contracts awarded to political contributors.

In reaction, Mangano hired a separate commissioner of investigations and a procurement compliance director to ensure proper procedures are followed. But Democrats say any investigator who serves at the will of the county executive cannot be independent. They want an inspector general with a set term.

Jacobs declined to comment on last week’s meeting with lawmakers.

He said, however, that he supported the legislators’ stand. “You have an administration that is under criminal investigation for the way it awards contracts, “ Jacobs said. “We are asking for an independent inspector general to vet all of these projects to protect the taxpayer’s money. The last I looked taxpayers are sick and tired of this pay-to-play environment that wastes dollars and rewards friends. That’s what this fight is about.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Jacobs, a camp operator, usually meets with legislators before going upstate for the summer. Abrahams said he doesn’t remember Jacobs urging legislators to hold tight in their position. But Abrahams said he did.

“The hold-tight has always been me,” Abrahams said. “You don’t have a stronger believer in contract reform than myself and our caucus. I truly believe contract reform is necessary and essential in this county.”

Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) added, “We are doing our due diligence and have requested that the administration quantify how much money has already been authorized and is available to be used for these projects. That information has not been provided yet.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) has accused Democrats of endangering public safety and harming veterans in letters she sent out countywide to various groups and service organizations. Letters criticizing the Democrats for voting against computers in new police cars and new bulletproof police vests, for example, went to villages, school superintendents and fire departments while a letter complaining about Democrats holding up repairs to a veterans complex in Mitchel Field went to all veterans organizations in the county.

Abrahams said Gonsalves’ “scare tactics” will not stop Democrats’ blockade of borrowing. He said they will also press to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to approve an independent inspector general position.

Gonsalves dismissed their proposal. “The Democrats are great at wasting money; the position already exists,” she said, referring to the investigations commissioner.

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