Since taking office on January 1, 2018, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has made serious strides to eliminate the flawed policies and practices of her federally-indicted predecessor, Ed Mangano.
She has also made a few rookie mistakes, but they can be easily corrected.
First, the good news.
Curran has appointed a deputy for compliance to review all county contracts to ensure there are no political influences.
She has prohibited appointees from holding political party posts and has banned them from making contributions to her campaign fund.
A Property Tax Task Force has been empowered, according to Newsday, to tackle policy issues, “including how to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in accumulated refund debt and how best to staff up Nassau’s assessment review operation.”
Curran has mandated that real estate be reassessed before the tentative tax roll is unveiled on January 1, 2019.
And she has extended deadlines for residential property tax challenges to April 1.
Most impressive has been the shake-out at the County’s most prominent political dumping ground, the Nassau University Medical Center.
Curran’s NUMC chairman, George Tsunis, has moved swiftly to cut wasteful spending by $2.34 million.
Two of Mangano’s top political flunkies, earning annually $199,000 and $165,000, respectively, have been canned.
Politically-connected marketing and public relations firm contracts have not been renewed. Tsunis has also referred several discoveries over to District Attorney Madeline Singas.
As for misjudgments, the first was Curran’s request to borrow $45 million to pay a judicial award.
Utilizing this fiscal gimmick will not get the county back on the road to fiscal sanity.
I am surprised Curran’s CFO Mark Page went along with this request. As a former New York City Budget Director and NIFA consultant, he knows better.
Curran’s biggest blunder, however, has been the appointment of Richie Kessel to the board of the County’s Industrial Development Authority.
I’m assuming that no advisor shared with Curran the December 2013 State Inspector General investigation report into the New York Power Authority during Kessel’s tenure as Chief Executive Officer.
One disturbing IG finding was “an apparent violation of the Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct regarding a financial loan made by a subordinate to a superior.”
Kessel accepted a $15,000 loan from an employee and both failed to “report this loan on their Annual Statements of Financial Disclosure as required by and in violation of the Public Officers Law.”
The report concluded “the loan by a subordinate to a superior by itself appears to violate the Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct.”
The IG also determined that Kessel appeared “to have violated the New York State Public Officers Law and NYPA’s Code of Conduct” by failing “to disclose an ongoing personal legal relationship he had with Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, PC, which responded to and was awarded Legal Services Counsel contracts.”
The IG found that Kessel failed to disclose the relationship “which he had retained to represent him in an ongoing personal legal matter that continued for the duration of the selection process and involved a significant outstanding balance in legal fees that persist to date.”
These findings are only a snippet of what is contained in the 40-page IG report.
One other Kessel tidbit: Syracuse Post-Standard reporter,Julie McMahon wrote on Feb. 19, that the disgraced lobbyist, Todd Howe, who has pleaded guilty to eight felonies, “dropped many names of people in high places during his testimony [in the Percoco trial] which made clear the access he enjoyed to the biggest names in state government” including NYPA CEO Richie Kessel. “Howe said he and Kessel worked together many years. Howe arranged meetings with Kessel for the Hudson Valley power plant project.”
Laura Curran pledged a transparent administration.
Ergo, considering the IDA’s checkered past, I can’t figure why she reached out to Richie Kessel, a life-long political hack who has failed to make required disclosures in the past.
If Kessel possesses one iota of political integrity, he will resign from the IDA to avoid embarrassing Curran further.
Overall Curran is off to a good start.
To keep the momentum going, she should stay away from political retreads.