County Democrats pitch anti-corruption ‘super bill’

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Laura Curran, as seen with Delia DeRiggi-Whitton and Kevan Abrahams, speaks at a press conference with reporters. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Democratic county legislators announced an anti-corruption “super bill” on Tuesday afternoon, formally proposing an independent inspector general’s office and measures to revamp the contract procurement process.

The Democrats, who hold seven seats in the 19-member county Legislature, called upon their Republican counterparts to get on board with reform and bring the bill to a vote by the end of this year’s legislative session.

“What we’re asking them to do is very simple,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams told reporters. “We have put together what we believe are some of the strongest reforms that will not just root out corruption in this county, but prevent it before it even occurs.”

Abrahams was joined by Legislators Ellen Birnbaum of the 10th District, Delia DeRiggi-Whitton of the 11th District, Arnold Drucker of the 16th District and Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate for county executive, who had each pitched proposals over the last two years that appear in the “super bill.”

The legislation would replace the office of the commissioner of investigations with the appointment of an independent inspector general by a supermajority of the Legislature.

The inspector general would have a fixed term of six years and could only be removed by a supermajority after a hearing. The official would be charged with investigating contract procurement issues and corruption in county government.

Lawmakers called for a budget of $1.25 million for an inspector general, but said that the savings could be much greater.

“When you’re talking about how much money, that sounds expensive, but it’s a 4 percent tax increase, with what we have now as far as corruption,”  DeRiggi-Whitton said. “We’re talking about millions of dollars.”

The bill would require the disclosure of any county vendor’s campaign contributions to political clubs, mandate that officials disclose when a vendor attempts to influence them on contracts and legislation, and restrict officials from being involved in the awarding of contracts while they are discussing employment with those vendors.

“All of us are aware that our broken contracting system has led to politicians being dragged out in handcuffs and millions in taxpayer dollars wasted on bloated contracts going to well-connected individuals,” Curran said. “It is critical that we make serious reforms to the contract procurement process so that it is fair, transparent and guarantees taxpayer money is being spent appropriately.”

Additionally, the bill would establish an emergency contract review panel and require there be full legislative approval for contracts over $1 million. It would also bar using taxpayer funds on political mailings and require the Legislature to approve department heads within six months.

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