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Richard Nicolello, Laura Curran wrangle over Nassau lobbyists

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, and Richard Nicolello, the Republican presiding officer of the county legislature, have been having a polite turf war over who gets to talk to the county’s outside lobbyists.

It started May 1 when Nicolello, of New Hyde Park, wrote to Nassau’s Albany lobbyists Robert Bishop and James Lytle, directing them to keep Nassau lawmakers in the loop on state legislation.

Nicolello was incensed that county lawmakers had not been told of Curran’s plan in late March to try an end-run around the State Legislature by implementing significant assessment changes under cover of the governor’s budget.

The proposal would have denied property tax assessment reductions of 5 percent or less. It also would have required homeowners to pay into a fund to cover successful tax refunds.

Most Albany and Nassau lawmakers learned of the plan just hours before the budget was to have been approved. Public denunciations killed the plan. Hempstead Tax Receiver Don Clavin shredded and burned a copy of Curran’s proposal, for instance.

“As the elected representatives serving on the Nassau County Legislature, we must be kept apprised of legislation that will affect county government and the constituents we represent,” Nicolello wrote.

He asked the lobbyists to notify him of any pending or third-party legislation relating to Nassau and any bills “that would have financial implications specific to Nassau County residents.”

Curran wrote Nicolello May 3 that neither Bishop nor Lytle would respond to his request.

“Please understand that lobbyists are responsible under their respective contracts to provide lobbying advice and service to my administration only and, as such, I expect that only my authorized staff will communicate directly” with them, Curran wrote.

She said she will share finished drafts of legislation with county lawmakers, but “it is essential for my administration to maintain a confidential and exclusive relationship with the lobbyists.”

The legislature approved Bishop’s $60,000 contract for 2018 and the $49,700 agreement with Lytle’s firm, so Nicolello wrote back Monday: “We disagree with your interpretation of the contracts and with your understanding of the role and duties of the county legislature as an equal branch of government.”

Nicolello warned, “If there is any ambiguity as to what communications the county’s elected representatives may have with the county’s paid lobbyists, we will resolve those ambiguities in the 2019 contracts.”

Curran did not back down in her written reply to Nicolello Tuesday.

“While I concur that the roles of each branch of government may be equal, there is, nonetheless, a separation of powers,” she said. “A review of the current lobbyists’ contracts does not demonstrate any ambiguity in our respective roles and responsibilities.”

Curran said she intends to keep the legislature up to date and to improve communication.

“I look forward to inviting you in addition to majority and minority staff for briefings on our legislative initiatives,” Curran wrote. “I am confident that we can work together to the benefit of all residents of Nassau County.”

Curran spokesman Michael Martino said the county executive and Nicolello talked Monday evening and “agreed to disagree on the ideology. They do agree that communicating at a certain point in the process is in the best interest of every resident in Nassau County.”

Nicolello spokesman Frank Moroney responded, “Transparency is of utmost concern and should result in the equal branch of government sharing in timely information.”

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