Why Nassau needs a strong inspector general’s office


As a legislator who served during the height of corruption in Nassau County and witnessed the indictment of former County Executive Ed Mangano, I know firsthand how important it is to have mechanisms in place to protect taxpayer money from the pitfalls of waste and fraud.
Over the past few years, I have worked closely with my colleagues in the County Legislature’s Democratic minority caucus to strengthen the integrity of Nassau’s procurement system and make the process of awarding contracts as fair and secure as possible. We did so by increasing the rigor of our contract reviews; requiring vendors to submit the names of all principals and any political contributions they have made; and mandating the disclosure of any violations an applicant may have been issued.
Soon afterward, we created the Office of the Inspector General and appointed the county’s first inspector general, Jodi Franzese, with unanimous bipartisan support following an extensive search. After the fights and scandals of the previous years, this was a truly proud moment in my legislative career, and represented real progress in our ongoing efforts to root out corruption in the county.
Operating as an independent official, the inspector general and their team promote transparency and increase the accountability of county operations by reviewing each contract to detect and prevent waste, fraud, and the abuse of taxpayer money in county procurement. Continued support for the office is critical to ensure the integrity of our procurement system — one that encompasses hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
At a time when the county has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and tens of millions more in settlements from the opioid manufacturers and distributors who flooded our communities with dangerous, addictive prescription drugs, I believe this function is especially vital. And with the Legislature’s vote on May 22, the county is also likely to face an array of substantial contracts in the not-too-distant future related to the redevelopment of the Nassau Hub in Uniondale, the outcome of which will profoundly shape our county for a generation.

However, it appears that there are efforts being made to weaken this crucial government watchdog at a time when I believe it is needed the most.
After her four-year term expired at the end of 2022, Franzese worked for months without being reappointed by the Legislature, putting herself and the entire office in an uncertain position. Without the protection of being formally appointed by a bipartisan, 13-vote supermajority, her ability to accomplish her mission of serving as an independent watchdog was inherently weakened. Our minority caucus introduced legislation in April to extend her contract through 2026. Unfortunately, the majority rejected our proposal.
I can’t help but wonder whether political considerations were a factor in the decision to stall Franzese’s reappointment. Consider this fact: If Republicans capture just one more seat in November, they will establish a 13-vote supermajority in the Legislature. With that, they would have full control of every arm of county government, and could feasibly install an inspector general who would rubber-stamp whatever contracts come before the Legislature, undermining its ability to provide checks and balances as a truly coequal branch of government.
Such an atmosphere would be a tremendous disservice to county taxpayers. I fear it would also create a fertile breeding ground for a return to the troubles of our recent past at a time when those taxpayers simply can’t afford to go backward.
For all these reasons, I am passionate about preserving and enhancing ethics safeguards like the inspector general’s office. Not only do such entities protect taxpayer money from waste, fraud and abuse, but they also deter future bad actors and help to ensure that elected officials have all the information they need to reach informed decisions. The minority caucus will continue to fight tirelessly to improve the procurement process to make it more open, inclusive and cost-effective, because it is essential for Nassau County to continue down the path of good government and transparency.

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, of Glen Cove, represents Nassau County’s 11th Legislative District.