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Let full legislature vote on big Nassau contracts

The Nassau County legislature in session on Sunday,

The Nassau County legislature in session on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Allowing the entire Nassau County Legislature a say and a vote on multimillion-dollar contracts now vetted only by its Rules Committee would not solve all the problems with how contracts are handled, but in a county beset by contract scandals, any help is welcome.

Of the 19 legislators, only seven, four Republicans and three Democrats, sit on the panel that approves the vast majority of county contracts. The setup is unusual in that it allows even very large deals, — such as a 20-year, $1-billion sewer management contract to privately manage the county sewer system — to pass with just committee approval. Most municipalities require full board approval for big deals.

Democrats are calling for a new rule to force a vote of the full legislature for any contract of more than $3 million, a bar that seems high. But they likely won’t even get to force a vote on whether the process of voting on contracts should change. When Republican Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves doesn’t support a bill, it doesn’t make it to the floor. And she has made it clear she doesn’t like this bill, just as she has opposed most of the meaningful reforms on contracting and contributions by companies doing business with the county.

From the $12 million contract that got then-Sen. Dean Skelos and his son convicted on federal corruption charges, to the bevy of no-bid contracts written for just under the $25,000 limit that evaded any need for legislature approval, Nassau’s contracting process has been a disaster. This change would require all 19 legislators to vote on big contracts and allow lawmakers to publicly challenge the contracts on the record, and that couldn’t hurt.— The editorial board