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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Our Public Heritage

1. A few weeks ago, a single dropped character obscured the meaning of a sentence. I’m repeating some points here, but updated through September.

2. During this current campaign cycle, 37.5 percent of the $728,046 collected by candidates for the Nassau County Legislature was made in contributions of $1,000 or more.

3. Between January 1 of this year and the end of September, 48.9 percent of the $9,679,290 collected by candidates for State Assembly, who won’t be running until 2012, was made in contributions of $1,000 or more.

4. 66.0 percent of the $15,137,397 collected by state senators, also running in 2012, was made in contributions of $1,000 or more.

5. If you include nearly $11 million already raised by the several legislative campaign committees controlled by the Assembly and Senate leadership, politicians have already raised $34.4 million for the 2012 legislative campaigns (millions more will be spent by unaccountable independent organizations).

6. Nassau County candidates for Town Supervisor have raised $2,231,808. Wow. 60.8 percent of this was from contributions of $1,000 or more. Supervisors collected 4,163 separate contributions, including checks from law and engineering firms, communications and energy companies and many others with current or potential business before town governments.

7. The people and firms writing checks seem to know where the pressure points are, and where to invest.

8. There have been 26 contributions to Town Board candidates of $1,000 or more. Supervisor candidates have collected 641 checks for $1,000 or more. In Nassau towns, only half the town board seats are on the ballot at once, but even if you double the $206,831 all the board candidates have raised, it’s less than one-fifth what the supervisors took in.

9. Supervisor candidates raised 3.2 times more in contributions than all the county legislative candidates combined, even though the supervisors represent fewer total residents.

10. There are no ethics guidelines or ethics enforcement contacts posted on any county or town web site in Nassau County. The City of Long Beach site has a two-sentence description of its Ethics Board. The only level of government around here where it is fairly common to find some kind of ethics policy online, even if it’s just part of the Policy Book, are school districts—whose elected trustees generally don’t solicit campaign contributions.

11. Every county, city, town, village and school district in New York is required by state statute to adopt a code of ethics.

12. Local leaders aren’t shy about publicizing everything. We’ve had what may be an unprecedented stream of newsletters, brochures and booklets prepared, printed and posted at public expense.

13. Some kind of prize goes to the Member of Assembly who recently mailed a newsletter with the headline, “You Have One of the Strongest Advocates in Albany.” I have many other examples of publicly-funded campaign literature. Some of this stuff is so over-the-top or insipid it is actually funny. Another time.

14. When the info is really interesting, the walls go up. North Hempstead runs what is possibly the country’s most secretive 311-generated information gathering system. It isn’t “performance measurement and management” if it’s secret. Elsewhere, 311 provides residents and business owners with useful information and mechanisms for real input, real feedback and real, observable improvement.

15. North Hempstead has taken legal action to prevent a county comptroller audit of one of its special districts. Is the comptroller being partisan? Perhaps, but so what? A 1940 booklet published by Nassau County says that “the County Comptroller was given the power to examine and audit of his own motion…covering the accounts and records of any Town or Special District.” For many years, it was the county comptroller who collected and published details about the annual budgets, taxes and debts of every taxing district.

16. Do I hold Democrats in North Hempstead to a higher standard than the other towns and cities? Absolutely. Because they were supposed to be different. That was the deal.

17. We are losing control of our politics and our public heritage, with leadership that increasingly sees the rank and file as a periodic inconvenience.

18. Give Long Islanders the real information and the real options, and we will come through and shine.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net