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Editorial: Opinion from Nassau ethics board too little to late on questionable contract

A company headed by the sister of Shila

A company headed by the sister of Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, Nassau's public works commissioner, received a $250,000 contract from the county after superstorm Sandy for engineering and inspection services, including oversight of tree debris removal countywide. (Dec. 26, 2009) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The best advice for those wanting to keep their reputations unsullied is to avoid even the slightest hint, the mere appearance of impropriety. Nassau County Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias and her sister, Carolyn Shah Moehringer, haven't even come close.

Moehringer's company, CSM Engineering of Uniondale, got a $250,000 emergency contract with Nassau after superstorm Sandy to do work for her sister's department. Shah-Gavnoudias presented the CSM contract, which says she will oversee the work and approve payments, to the legislature, and signed approval paperwork. But she didn't fill out the mandatory disclosure form, where the sisters' relationship should have been noted. Of the more than a dozen contracts approved on Nov. 20, only the one with CMS lacked that form.

The commissioner has a lot of explaining to do. She's certainly familiar with Nassau's rules of contracts and disclosures and should have made sure business with her sister's company was executed 100 percent properly and publicly -- or not at all. She didn't, and she's refused to answer questions, referring them to DPW spokesman Mike Martino. His response has been to snarl about the Democrats in the legislature asking questions and ignore the issues that have been raised.

The public has a right to know who will benefit from each and every one of the county's contracts, especially when relatives are involved. That requires complete disclosure of company owners and key executives, right down to the sales personnel getting a commission on the deal.

As the smoke continues to rise over the CSM contract, the Mangano administration has requested a confidential opinion from the Nassau County Board of Ethics, a board to which County Executive Edward Mangano appointed the majority. It's five months too late, and such an opinion would have no credibility now. The situation demands an investigation well beyond what the Board of Ethics will do.