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Steve Bellone, John Kennedy clash over beach concession bidding

Exterior of the Beach Hut at Meschutt Beach

Exterior of the Beach Hut at Meschutt Beach County Park in Hampton Bays, seen Dec. 3, 2015. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Aides to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone are clashing with Comptroller John Kennedy over Kennedy’s plan to audit the administration’s bidding process for a new vendor to operate county beach concessions.

The vendor will replace Beach Hut, whose contract was canceled after the business pleaded guilty to criminal charges of failure to pay sales and income taxes and paid $1.1 million in fines.

The dispute surfaced Wednesday at the legislature’s parks committee meeting when Kennedy’s plans for a “performance audit” of the process to pick a new vendor to supply food, liquor and music at Smith Point, Cupsogue and Meschutt county beaches were disclosed.

County parks officials are set to open bids Thursday in West Sayville so a new operator can be in place by Memorial Day.

“Their attempt to block us is very concerning and troubling,” said Kennedy. “The past track record at parks is abysmal. Someone has to protect the public.”

Jason Elan, Bellone spokesman, said Kennedy has no role in auditing requests for proposals, and is “now trying to interfere in the competitive bid process.”

Kennedy’s top auditor, Frank Bayer, said in a memo the comptroller aims to make “recommendations to improve oversight” of parks officials who make licensing agreements to ensure the contracts are ”fair, transparent and in the best interest of the county.”

Bayer also warned the office is opposed to awarding an initial agreement lasting 10 years, as the administration wants to do.

Suffolk Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt said his department is following county law governing contract grants. Berdolt also cited a county attorney opinion that the comptroller has no authority to audit requests for proposals, only the handling of county funds.

County Attorney Dennis Brown declined to make his opinion public. But he said, “the process of procurement is an administration function,” while the comptroller does audits when “claims are presented to the county for payment.”

Kennedy said he has “abundant authority” to conduct an audit, will have staff at the bid opening and has a “variety of tools available” to proceed with a review.

He said a still-unreleased Beach Hut audit — which led to the criminal conviction of the firm and its owner — also includes new findings that compel ongoing monitoring. He said he will share that audits findings with lawmakers in about a month.

Berdolt said 105 potential vendors picked up bid documents for Smith Point, while more than 85 got them for Cupsogue and Meschutt. Vendors will be picked by March 31 and final contracts signed by May 1, Berdolt said.In recent months, Bellone has clashed with Kennedy over ex-District Attorney Thomas Spota’s use of asset forfeiture money to pay bonuses for top DA aides. Bellone successfully lobbied to sink a bill to permit the comptroller to do negotiated sales of short term notes without going to a waiver committee, even though it requited the comptroller to detail the firms involved and ratings on their proposals

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