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Editorial: Decision-Making Environments Matter

Out in the open or in the closet?

We are struck by the contrast in how Nassau County’s administration makes decisions and how complicated issues are discussed, analyzed and finally determined by some of our local boards. It is a stark contrast.

Take the Great Neck Park District. At last Tuesday’s meeting, a kick-off gambit was begun regarding an important issue, voting places for special district elections. The district had received a letter from a resident suggesting that certain voting locations be changed. That suggestion set into motion a look at the current structure and how it could be improved.

Park district chairman Robert Lincoln emphasized, “We want to make our voting places easier and more convenient for the voters. That’s the goal. Now, we just have to figure out how to make that happen.”

If it were just a matter of only park district residents voting at locations, it would be simple; however, other special districts vote on the same day and their boundaries overlap. For example, at the meeting, there was consensus that the Manhasset-Lakeville Firehouse on Jayson Avenue and Northern Blvd. is not an ideal location for voting because of limited parking and difficult access. Currently, three special districts,  Manhasset-Lakeville Fire & Water District, Belgrave Sewer District and the Great Neck Park District, hold their elections there. If a change in location takes place, it should include all three special districts so that residents can have one-stop voting. That requires time, coordination, cooperation and an open process. It is in the open process that more facts and concerns come to light so that by the time a decision must be made, there is a common understanding of the pros and cons and that old bugaboo, unintended consequences. We are confident that the park district will continue to air this issue before making a decision.

Now take Nassau County’s plan to privatize their sewage treatment system. Please.

It is a multi-million dollar plan, a one-shot deal that is supposed to enrich the Nassau coffers. How much do you know about it? Probably as much as you knew about the consolidation of police precincts before that plan swept into actualization. Not much.

Since Great Neck is not tied into the Nassau County sewage system, thanks to some vocal, persistent advocates who supported upgrading one of our sewer systems, maybe you think that the Nassau County decision will not impact negatively on you.

Think again. Do you visit Jones Beach in the summer? Go boating in the Great South Bay? Eat local seafood? We are all tied together. The economy of Long Island, no matter where, affects us all.

In the Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy an analysis entitled “Crumbling Infrastructure, Crumbling Democracy: Infrastructure Privatization Contracts and Their Effects on State and Local Governance,” author Ellen Dannin states: “It is no surprise that infrastructure privatization contracts are not widely read. They are specialized, complex legal documents that tend to more than 100 pages, not including attached documents ... The three most commonly found provisions that can require governments to reimburse private contractors for lost anticipated revenue are compensation events, non-competition provisions and ‘adverse action.’”

She further warns that the experts involved in making these deals are narrowly focused on making the deal happen. “They have an incentive to be optimistic ... they lack the necessary pessimism and objectivity require to identify problems.” After analyzing deals made throughout the country during this economic downturn she writes: “Our decision-making processes and ways of thinking about privatization and infrastructure are proving unequal to the complexity and long-term effects of transferring public infrastructure to private hands.”

If it seems odd to you that private companies could make money on sewage, given all the expensive upgrades urgently needed by the treatment plants, the intricate piping systems to be maintained and the essential environmental protections that must be in place to safeguard our beaches and estuaries, then be sure that something is amiss. Questions need to be raised now. The public has invested millions in these assets and the public deserves straight answers.

Sewage issues can always benefit from some fresh air.

-Carol Frank