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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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New Jersey Flap Raises Questions About Nassau

What is integrity? To me, it means being one thing. It means being authentic and truthful in one’s dealings. Honesty means not lying. Integrity can keep you out of situations where you have to tell an outright and debasing lie.

Elected officials can afford to flail about. They can say one thing for years and then do a 180 and say the opposite thing when it suits them. Most don’t actually run anything. They wave. However, it’s understood that our governments are built around a core of professionals and managers who make things run. This is the theory of the civil service. Theoretically.

The most dangerous people in the world are unquestioning functionaries who will put into practice the whims and desires of leadership regardless of logical conclusions or implications. Nixon wanted certain things, but it was the managers a level below that put men into the field. In extreme cases, in systems under pressure, it is the manager class that implements the policies, who work out the logistics, who sign the required paperwork, who check over the lists, who open the soccer stadiums and send the trains out of the yards.

Government at any level requires some level of integrity, some level of trust to get anything done. As a young legislative staffer in Albany, advising a friend to “get it in writing” when dealing with a certain person was just about the worst insult that could be inflicted.

This is a completely non-partisan concept. Integrity can be found in people coming from totally different backgrounds and political philosophies.

The increasingly disturbing mess in New Jersey involving the manipulation of public resources for political punishment has so far revealed little to admire or emulate. However, it was long-time Nassau County resident Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, who put an end to the traffic conflagration on the George Washington Bridge. Foye earned the enmity of powerful, misguided people who can make his life difficult by coming forward to answer questions.

Foye, who was once an Executive Board member of the New York Conservative Party, has for years taken on a series of difficult public assignments from Governors and others. He resigned in protest as Deputy County Executive in January 2011. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority had concluded that the county’s structural budget deficits were significantly larger when accepted accounting methods were applied, and that NIFA should assume greater control. County Executive Mangano, or somebody, decided that the plan should be to sue NIFA with little grounds and run an organized, coordinated public smear campaign against its chairman.    

Not long after that, Foye was appointed to the P.A. post, a position that affects far more people and more significantly than any of the region’s county executives. And is higher in the political pecking order.

So Nassau County gave up the opportunity to utilize Pat Foye, just as it recently gave up the opportunity to utilize Arthur Gianelli, the respected CEO of the public benefit corporation that has turned around Nassau University Medical Center and its network of neighborhood clinics. Forced out, without explanation. Gianelli quickly was snapped up by a more prestigious hospital system in the city.

Last year, an attempt was made to install a jurist with strong local political connections but no academic credentials as President of Nassau Community College. State University officials stepped in.

The message goes forth, as our local governments turn to face their greatest challenges, that people who get things done in important institutions that touch the lives of real people, should avoid career paths that include Nassau County.

New Jersey is a story of politicians out of control, subverting public institutions and policies for their own purposes.

What’s the story in Nassau County?

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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net