More often than not Mr. Maragos has been caught in controversies, much because of the nature of his job. Recently, he was embroiled in a running argument with Nassau County Police Chief over his audit report which took the Police department to task for having exceeded the budgetary provisions. Well, that’s the job of the Comptroller, as he said candidly in the exclusive interview he gave to The Indian Panorama on May 3, to ensure tax payer’s money is spent wisely.
Again, the Comptroller expressed grave concern on flight of large businesses from the County. He was emphatic that in order for Nassau County to grow it is important that there are powerful economic engines. And he detailed how it can be achieved.
Here is the second part of the interview.
TIP: How do you look at the mess? If you have fewer people in the police department they will always be outstretched and stressed. They will not be able to reach out fast enough at the crime scene because you don’t have people and still you are paying them over time. Where is the justification? You are giving deficient services and paying officers.
TIP: And you know it, I believe.
TIP: Can’t you do something about it as Comptroller?
A: I think, we did when we issued the report. We issued the report, we questioned the management and we called it systemic, management failures. Because he (police commissioner) wasn’t just managing the overtime. If we consolidate the police precincts. From eight down to four. the county would save eight million dollars.
TIP: What is it?
M: Twenty million. That’s what the police commissioner said. And that’s what the county executive said would be the benefit without affecting public safety. So when we went in to say well ok you’ve made these promises to the legislature, to the public, can we see the analysis? What assumptions have you made? And the analysis that showed, given the work rules the unions and the staffing etc., that showed that you would save twenty million dollars. And they couldn’t provide it. Ok. So that is some management failure. Making promises, without basis. That’s an issue.
TIP: And there are so many issues like these and you keep creating your enemies unnecessarily.
Your police commissioner is mad.
TIP: If you don’t do it, who is going to do it?
M: Exactly and the same thing happened when the wage freeze was lifted. And there was a new collective bargaining agreement entered into. Again it was represented that the county would be saving about five hundred million dollars over twenty years. Ok. Now we’ve extended it from ten-year analysis to twenty-year analysis to make the numbers big.
TIP: It feels very good as a resident of Nassau county if we have a watchdog comptroller who is doing his job well. Many cases of corruption could be nipped in the bud. Corruption may not take place at all. Depending upon you and depending upon the kind of district attorney we have.
M: You know we do our best but you know sometimes things slip through the cracks. But let me also add though that in all the audits that we do and in the press releases that we put out it’s never done to with malice. To harm anybody. You know we never point fingers. We never make it personal. It’s never a personal attack. It’s always; this is the data; this is how the system is working.
TIP: You’re only a correctional institution.
M: That’s right. Let’s make it better.
TIP: The only thing is you don’t put them in jail. I would like to know you might be having a vision how we can make this county a real paradise kind of a place for everybody. If you could give me you know in nutshell what, if at all you have that kind of a vision. You might have also thought how you can do it. If you could let me have that for the benefit of our readers, I would be very happy.
M: I’d be happy to. I think we released a study two years ago, now a demographic study. And an economic vision for the county and we drew the parallel. That in the 60’s and 70’s Nassau county had two very powerful economic engines. One, it was the aerospace center of the nation. We were the defense arm of the nation. Right here with Grumman in Bethpage, and all of the support industries. We’ve lost that. When we look at 99.99 percent of our companies now in Nassau county are small companies, with less than five hundred employees. So we don’t have powerful economic engine, like the financial industry in the City, like the pharmaceutical industry in New Jersey, like the IT industry in Silicon Valley. We don’t have those. And that’s what you need in a global economy, to be competitive, to be prosperous, to create those high paying jobs. And our vision is, we’ve articulated, that we should draw on our natural strengths, natural resources which right now are our healthcare industry. We have some of the big hospitals; we have some great universities; some world class research facilities. Let’s make them better. Let’s become the healthcare center. This is where people should want to come. We have a lot of Indian and South Asian physicians here. This is where we want people to come to get the best treatments. This is where we should be discovering the next miracle drugs. I think we have the knowhow and the skill. But we have to become even better than what we are. Let’s invest in research and development; let’s encourage our universities and hospitals to become even better to attract some of the best- best professors, best doctors, best research people. And let’s interconnect all those together, having an infrastructure transportation system into the city and inter county, with connections to Macarthur airport, with connections to JFK. And let’s invest in them to improve their capabilities. Have them compete with one another but also cooperate with one another and that is the vision that we have articulated that we should start investing in it.
TIP: You said, there was a time a couple of years ago you had heavy industries kind of thing, big industries here. They moved out. Why did they move out?
M: Well they moved out because of various reasons. Obviously, they went to down south to less expensive areas. We’ve had outsourcing of jobs and manufacturing. Not only it went south but they went overseas as well. But you know we’re not going to compete by being low cost. We need to compete by being innovative. By developing new skill sets that require high skill sets that are high paying. And I think thatthose are the industries that we should be fostering and developing. Those should be the future of our county.
TIP: Don’t you think there is a contradiction? You have not been able to hold back the industry because they found better opportunities elsewhere, lowcost, as you said. That means you are high cost here. So if they moved out, how do you expect others to come to this place where the costs are high because everybody is looking at profits?
M: I’m a businessman. I believe that if you bring for example, some Nobel scientists here. Plan it to be the basis for the next generation of research facilities. Those people through their work will attract other people-very brilliant, very intelligent people to come. And those people are going to be well paid but it’s not the money that motivates them. It’s the result that they work for. And that’s what we need to attract here. You know and if we built that nucleus then innovations and the results of innovation will attract more very intelligent people. And you’re going to see thriving industries, around those research universities and hospital systems.
TIP: It’s a wonderful vision. Now the question, is how do you think that kind of a nucleus can be created?
M: Well, it takes leadership. It takes vision. Leadership and vision. As a county, I think we can become more efficient as a government. I think we can afford to probably invest ten billion dollars. It’ll cost us about two hundred million dollars a year. In a three billion dollars budget I think we can find that money through efficiencies, through our police department being a little more efficient. So that would send a strong signal that we have a vision we are focused on. You know we’re going to bring some of the best minds here. We’re going to support our universities and hospitals to become even better than they are. And we’re going to build the infrastructures; to allow them to collaborate and compete. And also to connect ourselves much better with the city and the financial industry. You know the l.IRR has not been improved in over fifty / sixty years.
TIP: So you presented it your vision before the legislature?
M: Yes. And there were public hearings on it and it was very positive. But there isn’t that driving force, that leadership.
TIP: You mean it is lacking?
M: Is lacking. The commitment, the leadership. And bringing the resources.
TIP: Did the legislature approve of this vision?
M: Well you know they had public hearings on it. And that’s part of it. Doesn’t have to be this vision. And it could be modified. But let’s as a community have a dialogue. We put a vision on the table. Let’s have a dialogue. Involve in it and agree as a community that this is where we want to be in twenty years, in thirty years. And start investing in building it and achieving that.
TIP: I think you know in order to see to that a part of this vision if not the entire vision, a part of this vision needs to be discussed by the community and the legislature should be told to take note of it.
M: Yes, but it takes leadership.
TIP: Come up with possible policies.
M: But only the county executive can do that. He can say look here’s our vision.
TIP: Did you discuss it with the county executive?M: Yes.
TIP: And what was his answer? What was his reaction?
M: Disappointedly no reaction.
TIP: And what do you think made him brush it aside or put it under the carpet?
M: I don’t know. And I don’t ask those questions.
To be continued