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Opinion

In early January of 1999, in response to a question asked by Legislator Lisanne Altmann, the Nassau County Legislature and the public learned that a plan to self-insure the medical care of Nassau County's employees and retirees had gone seriously off-course. Instead of saving the county millions of dollars, we ultimately learned that it would cost the county a net of $40 million.

In response to this public revelation, the Rules Committee of the Nassau County Legislature conducted six days of hearings under the guidance of special counsel Justice Milton Mollen. Last week the Mollen report was issued to the Rules Committee. In a very real sense, the title of the report puts it as plainly as can be: "The Nassau County Health Insurance Debacle - Misgoverning Through A Policy Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

This report speaks for itself and raises serious questions about the actions and motivations of many individuals, in and outside of government. It concludes that this debacle was the result of a lack of hands-on county leadership which set the stage for incompetence, insider-dealing and possibly corrupt intrigue. Most importantly it concludes that leadership is found not in washing your hands of responsibility but in being willing to get your fingernails dirty in the details of making policy and making choices.

I think we have already learned something from this episode. The Rules Committee is even more skeptical of personal service's contracts that are sent to it by the county executive. It has been more and more willing, on a bipartisan basis, to table them or vote them down. Under the Gulotta-Jacobs agreement signed earlier this year, even if the county executive sends a contract to the Rules Committee on an expedited basis, the Rules Committee is only required to convene about it quickly, but once it convenes, it can take as long as it is necessary and appropriate (hours, days or more) before voting on it. In addition, the Legislature has demonstrated over and over again that it is more and more willing to vote down other proposals from the county executive - even when he calls them emergencies - if the justifications that we are offered just don't hold water.

So, where do we go from here? I will do everything in my power to assure the people of Nassau County that out of this sordid and sorry episode will come a process and an ethos that never again puts their hard earned tax dollars at such a risk of fraud, waste and abuse.


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