The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
There is no quicker way for a county legislator to generate a headline than to accuse the county executive or the county comptroller of not doing his or her job. But what happens when the governmental official who comes under legislative fire is vindicated?
If the accused party is a Republican who is up for re-election this year, such as Comptroller George Maragos, county legislators move on to another target and hope their next round of allegations have merit. After all, if a county governmental agency is doing its job, that’s not news, right?
To recap the situation I’m alluding to, the county’s independent Office of Legislative Budget Review (OLBR), at the request of county Legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) and David Denenberg (D-Merrick), both of whom are also seeking re-election in November, conducted a field audit of the Nassau County Comptroller’s Office to see if it had properly tracked and recorded payments to outside vendors in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Millions of dollars in taxpayer monies were expended in Nassau for post-Sandy services, such as debris removal, through what is known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Fund. The OLBR’s verdict: the county comptroller’s office sought and received adequate backup
for Sandy bills submitted through the FEMA Fund. The OLBR’s findings were summarized in a 12-page, publicly available interoffice memo addressed to Legislators DeRiggi-Whitton and Denenberg.
In fact, the OLBR even noted that the comptroller’s Vendor Claims Department discovered in one instance a vendor billing error that “reduced the original invoice by half.”
Comptroller Maragos had trouble generating media interest in the OLBR’s report, in part because it came out on a Friday (April 26), and the following Monday (April 29) was the six-month anniversary of Sandy, with reporters pursuing other storylines.
Still, the comptroller’s office understandably felt the need to issue an April 30 news release to record, at least for posterity, what the OLBR audit determined, and to take a few jabs at their legislative critics.
“While a few of the legislators on the Democratic side of the aisle have spent the last few months making unfounded and irresponsible allegations, I hope that this report will end the political circus,” Comptroller Maragos said. “We have, since day one, diligently reviewed all Superstorm Sandy claims for proper supporting documentation and compliance with the stringent standards of FEMA for full reimbursement. This review released by OLBR confirms my office’s professionalism and strict protection of taxpayer money.”
“My office has been and will continue to be transparent,” Comptroller Maragos added.
“We invited all of the legislators to review the Sandy claims which resulted in the review by OLBR. I want to thank OLBR for their professionalism in handling this matter. My office is also currently in the middle of conducting an in-depth review of the work and billings by top Superstorm Sandy vendors to further ensure our taxpayers are protected. The results of our review should be released in the upcoming months.”
The post-Sandy actions of Nassau’s countywide elected officials should be scrutinized. Indeed, one of the vendors cited in the OLBR report, Looks Great Services, Inc., billed the FEMA Fund $34.6 million while leaving a few parts of the county looking not so great after cutting down trees along Manhasset’s Shelter Rock Road and Roslyn’s Searingtown Road. Yet county legislators need to be held accountable, too. If you ask the OLBR to allocate taxpayer dollars and resources to investigate the county comptroller’s office, you should publicly acknowledge the OLBR’s findings, even when no fault is found.