The Nassau County Legislature’s Democratic minority held an unsanctioned hearing on the county’s contracting scandal after the panel’s Republican leadership ignored calls to schedule a formal public hearing on the issue.
Dozens of people packed a conference room at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola last Friday to hear the speakers discuss proposed reforms after Republicans locked them out of the legislative chamber and criticized the event.
“We must take action to restore the public trust and to reassure people that their hard-earned dollars are not being squandered and misused,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead).
Multiple investigations into the county’s contracting process are underway since New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the former senate majority leader, was arrested in May and pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges of allegedly influencing a Nassau contract in exchange for a job for his son.
“I will not allow this process to devolve into a political circus and I will not allow unilateral hearings to be conducted in the legislative chamber,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) wrote in a letter to Abrahams.
Among the proposals urged by speakers at the event were doing away with the automatic approval of contracts valued at less than $25,000, eliminating the rule that allows contracts to be automatically enacted if they’re not voted on within 45 days of filing, banning taxpayer-funded political mailings, modernizing the largely paper-based process so that it’s searchable online and establishing an independent inspector general.
Gonsalves noted that this spring the legislature had created a lobbyist registry that increases transparency, but Abrahams countered that the bill didn’t go far enough.
Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat running to keep her job against Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, called the process a “recipe for corruption” as she put it in a preliminary report on her continuing investigation into county contracts.
“The victimization is systemic,” Singas said. “People turn to the government for help and assistance. When we don’t demand excellence from our elected officials, it’s corrosive to public trust. Let’s stop talking and start taking action.”
A panel that Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano appointed to study the issue also suggested creating an inspector general, among other recommendations.