Members of a key Nassau County committee debated Monday whether to approve seven-figure contracts to companies hired for Sandy recovery following reports that some are subject to audits and criminal investigation.
Democratic lawmakers accused the legislature’s Republican leadership of rushing to approve funds to firms under scrutiny and refusing their request to have County Comptroller George Maragos answer questions from the Rules Committee regarding his probe.
“I’m just wondering if we’re doing the proper investigatory work on our end before we vote yes or no,” Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said while joining calls that Maragos clarify the issue before the vote.
“Until [Maragos] completes his audit and review, we thought that it would be premature for us to consider bringing him before us,” said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).
The more than $1 million contract that sparked the debate was to pay Manhattan-based Hazen Sawyer Engineering, one of a dozen firms being audited, for coordinating storm-damage repair work through the end of March. The contract was later approved along party lines.
Lawmakers also expressed concern with a recent Newsday report citing anonymous sources saying that District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s office is investigating whether Huntington-based Looks Great Services Inc. properly paid workers it hired for the county’s Sandy cleanup. A spokesman for Rice was not available for comment.
“The comptroller’s office has sent letters to 12 of the largest contractors requesting information on any sub-contractors employed in the course of county work during and post-Superstorm Sandy, including amounts paid to these subcontractors,” Jostyn Hernandez, a spokesman for Maragos, told the Press. “The comptroller has invited all the legislators to personally review Superstorm Sandy-related claims.”
Balking at that suggestion was Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), who’s running against former comptroller Howard Weitzman for the Democratic Party line to challenge Maragos, a Republican, in the November elections.
“It’s the difference between having up to 19 private meetings with each and every legislator and one public meeting,” Wink said. “What can be said behind closed doors can be said right here on the record.”
Field audits of Nassau’s contracts are common in cases that involve outside funding—in this case, federal Sandy aid—according to Ken Arnold, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Works, which he said assists in providing documents.
Advocates also spoke out against approving the contracts without more input from Maragos. They included leaders of nonprofits Long Island Jobs with Justice and the Park Advocacy and Recreation Council of Nassau.
Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said not approving the contracts would slow the county’s Sandy repairs. “The Sandy recovery effort has to go forward, you can’t stop these contracts,” he said.
During a separate committee meeting later Monday, Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) called on GOP legislative leaders to hold hearings on the Sandy contracts, saying, “We want to make sure the work that we’ve approved is being done.”
-With Spencer Rumsey