Citizens for a Better Nassau
August 3, 2020
This year looks very different from the last and it’s even vastly different from just six months ago. Unfortunately, because of the global pandemic, Citizens for a Better Nassau County was not able to conduct a public meeting this year. One of the topics of this year’s public meeting was going to be integrity in government. While we weren’t able to discuss this topic at a public meeting, it’s still an important issue that needs to be brought to the forefront, as we have many local seats up for election during the 2020 Primary Election, which is just around the corner.
As a coalition, we believe integrity in all business dealings is of paramount importance, particularly relating to matters of the public trust, and we encourage accountability from politicians and government employees. Embracing transparency and fairness is fundamental to their service to our community.
What we’ve seen in the past suggests that some on our county commission do not feel like they are beholden to the taxpayers. One might think the rules don’t apply to them. As reported, some examples include gross fiscal mismanagement, questionable claims of residency, conducting county business using text messaging between meetings, gatherings of multiple commissioners in violation of the Sunshine Law and destruction of public records. It appears that some do not see transparency and fairness as part of the job that taxpayers elected them to do. This type of behavior demonstrates a complete disregard for public trust, and it raises questions regarding potential illegal activity.
This lack of transparency, on top of other governance issues, such as the county commission combining the roles of county attorney and county manager for quite some time, eliminating any checks and balances within county staff, raises concerns. Can any one person truly “earn” two full-time salaries and two pension contributions? The revolving door of senior county staff should raise questions regarding the county commission’s oversight of the county’s affairs. How many times must taxpayers pay to train new engineers, planners and financial staff? It seems that, just as new staff members settle in, they inexplicably and abruptly disappear, then the cycle repeats. The extreme level of turnover in senior county staff is a symptom of fundamental issues at the top.
One of the most glaring examples of where the rules don’t appear to apply to our county leaders relates to our District 1 commissioner who has been concealing for over two years that he lives in District 2 instead of the district he supposedly represents. At a recent forum, when pressed, the incumbent county commissioner for District 1 admitted that he does not lay his head down to sleep at night in the district in which he claims to reside. News reports indicate that this commissioner went to great lengths to conceal his true residence, by using a P.O. box in District 1 and asserting arcane Sunshine Law exemptions to withhold his claimed address on election qualification paperwork. All the while, his actual address was apparently known to other commissioners and the county attorney – the very person receiving two full-time salaries and double pension contributions. In fact, the District 1 commissioner actually resides about half a mile from the District 2 commissioner in District 2. This means that District 2 essentially has double representation, while District 1 does not have anyone representing its voters on the county commission. How is this fair or transparent?
The impact of these choices by our elected officials is substantial, and it has had and will continue to have a negative impact on our community if left unchecked. Beyond the cost in dollars and cents, cynical attitudes among politicians and government officials regarding equal application of the law have a corrosive effect on the electorate’s faith in government. Transparency, integrity and fairness are the basics that we should expect from our elected leaders. It is our responsibility to hold them accountable if we feel that they are not living up to our expectations.
Fortunately, we have an election coming up on August 18. Elections provide us with a way to hold our elected leaders accountable. If we feel like they are not doing the job we elected them to do – with transparency, integrity and fairness – then we need to elect some that will. The primary election is our chance to do just that.
Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.