Thu, 04 Apr 2013

Newsday: Abrahams County Executive wrong to sue NIFA

Nassau sues NIFA over blocked initiatives

Originally published: April 3, 2013 9:26 PM
Updated: April 3, 2013 9:59 PM

Nassau has filed suit against its financial control board, seeking to overturn decisions that blocked county plans to pay for tax refunds, hire bond counsel and employ Albany lobbyists.

County Attorney John Ciampoli said Tuesday that he is suing the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that took control of the county's finances in 2011, "to get the roadblocks out of the way. What they have become is the principal obstruction to us making progress in this county."

Ciampoli hired outside counsel Steven Cohn of Carle Place to file the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Mineola last Friday. Papers were served on NIFA Monday.

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County Executive Edward Mangano "is aware of" the suit, but is not a party to it, said Ciampoli, a Mangano appointee. "His admonition to me was for me to go do my job. This is my job to do."

Mangano, a Republican, said in a statement, "The county attorney believes it important to clarify the jurisdictional issues . . . so that he may carry out his duties. He will reach out to NIFA to settle his issues as we continue to work together."

Mangano had used NIFA reports critical of county finances when he campaigned against Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi four years ago.

NIFA chairman Ronald Stack said the board "will be responding to this lawsuit," but declined to comment further, citing "ongoing litigation."

The county has joined with NIFA to appeal a federal court ruling that rejected a NIFA-imposed wage freeze on county employees. The freeze was imposed at Mangano's request in 2011, when NIFA calculated the county was running a $176 million deficit. The county predicts a small surplus by the end of this year if the appellate court upholds the freeze.

"The fact that I agree with them on one thing doesn't mean I have to agree with them on everything," Ciampoli said.

Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) Wednesday criticized the new lawsuit, saying that "instead of working with NIFA on meaningful financial solutions, Ed Mangano and his county attorney once again choose to go to war with them."

Ciampoli argues in the lawsuit that NIFA exceeded its authority when it blocked his plans to create a novel residential tax refund payment program and when it refused his request to use old bonding authorizations from the county legislature to borrow $192 million to pay business and homeowner tax refunds.

Mangano had planned to borrow for the refunds but Democrats on the county legislature have repeatedly balked at providing the needed votes.

Ciampoli contends that NIFA refused to extend a contract for the county's longtime bond counsel, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, in "retaliation" for the firm "rendering professional opinions that are contrary to positions taken by NIFA." Orrick said the residential tax refund payment program is not borrowing, as NIFA contended, and affirmed the validity of the old borrowing authorizations.

Ciampoli also argued that NIFA has not approved contracts for the county's Albany lobbyists because they persuaded lawmakers to introduce legislation to allow the county to borrow the $192 million without NIFA approval. This "angered NIFA because NIFA viewed it an attack upon its authority," the lawsuit said.

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