Written by Delia DeRiggi-Whitton Friday, 08 February 2013 00:00
“Quite as important as legislation is vigilant oversight of administration.”
- President Woodrow Wilson
While I wasn’t looking for a fight during this recovery, I was elected to do a job. I am fighting to hold Nassau County accountable on how it spends millions of dollars after superstorm Sandy.
My concern started when constituents contacted me about major tree cutting in Nassau County nature preserves, like Welwyn in Glen Cove. While I was able to eventually stop the work, the devastation in Welwyn would pull me into a much bigger fight.
Taxpayers have nothing more to give. But, in trying to be careful with their money, I have met with total resistance.
As an elected official, sitting on the Nassau County Legislature’s Finance Committee, it is my duty to oversee how the county allocates over $200 million in “Sandy related” expenses. This includes: questioning how companies get multi-million dollar contracts; how we verify they are doing necessary work; and what happens when they make mistakes like Welwyn’s “chainsaw massacre.”
I kept getting shushed and told that expenses “should” be reimbursed by FEMA. Well, they have yet to confirm for me which expenses FEMA will reimburse. So Nassau could actually be spending money it simply can’t afford.
Regardless, FEMA dollars are taxpayer dollars. Getting FEMA’s money isn’t winning the lottery. Each dollar must carefully go to those who need it most. Does this include mowing down preserves and eliminating every tree along Searingtown and Shelter Rock Road?
Apparently, these questions are out of line. The Legislature’s majority leader called me “cruel” for asking financial questions… on the Finance Committee.
Politicians called my basic questions a “political” move to “derail” Sandy efforts. Would we really “derail” anything by watching for waste and corruption?
A quarter of a million dollars in emergency food contracts was awarded to a politically connected restaurant, where it is rumored that a Nassau County department commissioner has a direct relation. This rumor could have absolutely no basis. But wasn’t I elected to ask?
A company earning millions in Nassau emergency contracts – (the same one that damaged the preserves) – was allegedly involved in a 30-car, fatal auto accident. I have been asking whether their insurance is high enough to deal with this.
I also want this company to pay to restore the preserves. I was told that their subcontractors wrongfully caused damage (on the record during a public Legislative session and in a letter from the Legislative majority leader).
I have also pushed for this company to employ Long Island workers instead of out-of-state crews. When I asked if local crews were being replaced as possible and if the company could make this a priority, I received no answer and the topic was never revisited.
Not only did the politicians try to silence me, but this company actually threatened personal legal action for trying to “interfere” with their county contract.
Threatening the government shouldn’t be the way you get taxpayer-funded work. But, were they punished? No… they were awarded millions more!
I am calling for a Legislative hearing where we: analyze our emergency spending process; hold our contractors accountable for damage I am told they caused; and I am requesting that we bring in an outside accounting firm to do an audit of all of the work contracted and money spent.