Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Mondello is outraged by the bad apples in his party, just shocked by the poison of corruption flowing through the veins of local government. In an interview with Newsday, Mondello said he wanted to drum some individuals, who went unidentified, out of the GOP organization for giving it such a bad name.
But it’s not just the corruption conviction of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos or the grand jury investigations of contracting practices in Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay that are his problem. Business as usual, even if it shades to the gray side of legal, is what Mondello should worry about.
The latest example is the Nassau Community College board usurping the powers of the school’s president to hand a plum $150,000-a-year job to the soon-to-be-out-of-work Kate Murray. Trustees voted to make her “acting general counsel” on Jan. 1.
Mondello surely feels badly about Murray, who didn’t seek re-election as Hempstead supervisor because she was the odds-on favorite to win the open seat for district attorney. But Murray got yoked to ongoing scandals in the county, which combined with her lack of credentials for the job of prosecutor to sink her campaign. Honoring their tradition, the GOP power brokers turned to the satellite entities they control to engineer a safe landing for Murray.
Midway through the Dec. 8 meeting of the NCC board, trustee Anthony Cornachio made a motion that Murray should be offered the upcoming vacancy for the job of general counsel for government relations. Videos of the meeting posted online turn hilarious as Cornachio, who a month ago advocated abolishing the job, says he’s never met Murray but has heard good things about her. Then he wonders whether “Kate” is short for Kathleen or Katherine. On the video, Thomas Dolan, interim president of the college, appears stunned and opposes the move. State regulations reserve the power to appoint staff to the president.
The stealth move hasn’t escaped the notice of SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who told the editorial board that her office is looking very carefully at what transpired. She said the trustees made a public promise that the college would do a full search for a permanent candidate, and she expects them to do so. She was even more emphatic that Murray not be offered a permanent position until a new college president is chosen, noting that “best practices” dictate that a president should choose senior staff.
Dolan, a respected educator on Long Island, was chosen by Zimpher in an attempt to quell turmoil at the college, which is now in the third year of its search for a new president. Usurping the power of Dolan, who at the outset said he didn’t want to be considered for a permanent appointment, risks undercutting the school’s ability to attract qualified candidates who see they would inherit a runaway board.
Murray may well be the most qualified to be general counsel, a job with a public and governmental relations component. But the GOP’s attitude that it can manipulate government for personal benefit is a form of corruption, because it further erodes the belief that Nassau officials are honest brokers of the public good.