Last week, outside the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran introduced a bill to the county legislature amending the County Charter to require the board of ethics to publicly post financial disclosure forms of all county elected officials online. Currently, disclosure forms are available for people to see, but they have to file a FOIL request.
The goal of this specific legislation is to provide transparency regarding real or potential conflicts of interest, self-dealing or influence from special business interests. The ethics and financial disclosure forms include details about personal and family-related financial interests, income, employment, trusts, interest in contracts, investments, gifts, third-party reimbursements, debts and political party involvement. The bill would apply to the county executive, district attorney, comptroller, clerk and all 19 members of the county legislature.
“For too long, Nassau County tax payers have paid a high price for a government that has not always worked for them,” said Curran, who was joined by county legislators Arnie Drucker, Debra Mulé and Josh Lafazan as well as minority leader of the county legislature Kevan Abrahams. “I’ve made it my top priority as Nassau County executive to fight and defeat the culture of corruption and replace it with transparency and fiscal integrity. It’s up to us, who are elected now, to work hard to restore the trust that has been broken in Nassau.”
According to Curran, since she took office, the county has done a lot to improve transparency, including banning county officials from accepting gifts of any kind from county vendors and from holding party leadership positions, debuting the first-ever Vendor Code of Ethics, removing an anti-competitive fee for businesses that help keep $1 billion of county contracts in the hands of a few well connected players and more.
Under Nassau County Administrative Code, elected officials and employees with certain titles or in positions to make or influence policy for the county have been required to submit an annual disclosure form to the board of ethics. The submissions are intended to prevent conflicts of interest and abuse of power on the part of county officials. However, because those disclosures have historically been submitted on paper, their efficacy as an anti-corruption tool was hindered. This new potential change would bring Nassau into line with state and New York City standards—ahead of many of its municipal peers across the state.
At the press conference, Curran pulled out a copy of her disclosure form and said that the county will be redacting the person’s personal address and the names of dependents.
“We know that our residents deserve this because for too long we’ve had politicians enter public service or once they get into public service are looking more to do well for themselves than to do good for the people they represent,” said Curran. “We’re just getting started. Right now, I’m exploring putting all disclosure forms online, not just for elected officials. My administration will continue moving full-steam ahead on our anti-corruption agenda, which will entail additional reforms to bring more transparency. We’ll make sure to keep up to date and [maintain] oversight into how we spend taxpayer money.”
Drucker said that there’s no dispute that Nassau County was infected with an erosion of public trust for many years.
“Since this county executive has been in office, she has been treating and curing this disease,” said Drucker. “Any initiatives that are taken to make this government more transparent and more open to everyone has to be applauded enthusiastically, and I for one, and my colleagues agree with me as well.”
Abrahams and the legislative minority have been advocating for more transparency for well over two to three years and thanked Curran for the new initiative.
“Transparency is what our democracy and government is built on and it’s very important that we demonstrate that so people have belief and confidence in their government,” said Abrahams.
“The majority [of the legislature] looks forward to reviewing the proposal and will look to expand the legislation to include every county commissioner, deputy county executive, the county assessor and the chair of the assessment review commission,” said Presiding Officer of the Nassau Legislator Richard Nicolello in a statement to the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald. “We will continue to do everything in our power to protect Nassau County taxpayers and bring real transparency to government.”