Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano participates in a debate in...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano participates in a debate in Woodbury on Oct. 29, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The problem with Nassau County’s contracting procedures isn’t the dollar limit at which contracts can be awarded without legislative approval, or the rules that permit some work without competitive bids. The problem is the behavior of County Executive Edward Mangano and his administration and the failure of legislative oversight.

The administration has used the contracting rules to pay politically connected business people and pals, some of whom aren’t particularly qualified, more money than they deserve for services the county doesn’t need. This cheating of the taxpayers has to change.

On Wednesday, Mangano and county legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves said they’d introduce a law requiring that any contract for $1,000 or more be approved by the legislature’s rules committee. The implication is that the current $25,000 limit is too high, and lowering it will solve the problems. It won’t. No laws or rules will stop bad intentions. The problem is the abuse of the system, not the system itself.

From 2011 to 2015, Nassau issued 401 no-bid contracts for between $24,000 and $25,000, for nearly $10 million of taxpayer money. Rules require the county to solicit multiple proposals or bids for contracts before they can be awarded in most cases. But the county claimed the services fit rules that say no=bid work is “specialized, unique and involves skills that cannot be evaluated through a competitive bid process.” That claim often appears to be untrue, with no-bid contracts granted for consulting, marketing and promotions work that many businesses could provide. And the wording to justify the failure to seek bids is a mishmash of generalities cut and pasted from one form to the next.

The county has regulations that require this work to be contracted fairly and at the lowest possible price. Mangano’s administration refuses to follow or respect them. Lowering the limit on contracts that need committee approval to $1,000 might create more oversight, but it also might clog the works. And the Republican-controlled rules committee will continue to rubber-stamp the deals.

This ongoing abuse of the taxpayers has spurred both a federal investigation and one by the Nassau district attorney. Even Mangano’s effort to hire a compliance officer to clean up the fallout from the pay-to-play scandal that led to felony convictions for former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son is a disaster. After touting the hiring of a new compliance officer, Mangano rescinded the job offer a week later, a seeming acknowledgment that the county had poorly vetted the candidate.

Both Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas and a blue-ribbon committee headed by former Nassau Interim Finance Authority head Frank Zarb recommended an independent inspector general to oversee contracting. Mangano and Gonsalves have refused to do that, but they have little choice now if they want to remain credible.

Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello acknowledges his party is “taking a beating with these contracts.” And it won’t stop because of this new $1,000 rule. If county leaders have no respect for the rules, what difference does it make what the rules are? If county leaders have no respect for the taxpayers, why would they ever serve them properly? — The editorial board