OIB contributing writer Jim Callahan has a long history covering city government and politics. He served as the editor of The Bridgeport Light, prior to that political writer of the Bridgeport Post-Telegram. In a commentary he disses the Nov. 6 charter question that if approved by voters will give the mayor the power to appoint members to the Board of Education. See his reasons, starting with the question that will be decided by voters, below:
“Shall the City of Bridgeport approve and adopt the Charter changes as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission and approved by the City Council, including education governance reforms.”
By JIM CALLAHAN
The people have the right to elect public officials. The proposed charter change involving the Board of Education takes that right away. Bridgeport should vote against this reform. The charter question calls for “educational governance reforms.” Reform of “educational governance” sounds good. Is it?
Broadly, the reform means the people are giving up their right to elect Board of Education members. Instead, the mayor will make the appointment with the approval of the City Council.
The theory goes the mayor will make better appointments, and they may be less controversial and political than elected Board of Education members. Will they really?
Politics is about government and government is about politics.
There is no provision that calls for the mayor to make “good” appointments. There is no provision that forbids the City Council from making “political” decisions.
Government–good and bad–is all about politics.
Mayor Bill Finch is a likely target, for good or bad. This should not be about Mayor Finch. You may like the mayor or dislike the mayor.
The mayor has expressed his dissatisfaction and frustration with public education in Bridgeport. It is well placed. The problems are well known and well stated. This is his suggested reform to the people. The suggestion should be rejected.
The Charter Revision Commission said in its report the reform “places a single publicly accountable official in charge rather than nine wannabe mayors immobilizing the school system with their petty squabbles, power grabs and turf protecting.”
Wannabe mayors? Petty squabbles, power grabs, turf protecting? This sounds like the City Council on an average day. There are 20 of them.
The Charter Revision Commission said under their proposal “the mayor and the City Council are the focal point for public support or derision.”
Using this theory, the public should concentrate existing public support or derision in city government even more.
No. Education is too important. The people should not allow this concentration of power into the hands of the mayor. That is where it will end. The mayor, if the person is a good politician, will finagle his appointments to the Board of Education on City Council after taking into account their petty squabbles, power grabs and turf protecting.
All Bridgeport mayors would presume to govern without the annoyance of the City Council. Mayor Finch might be worse in the opinion of some.
That is irrelevant.
This reform concentrates further power into the hands of the mayor, and makes government less accountable to the people.
The “reform” rewards this mayor for a crisis he largely manufactured. The “wannabe mayors” on the Board of Education were a minority of members who the administration conspired to strangle. There was always a majority of votes–just an unsilent minority they could not control.
The nomination of Board of Education members has been criticized as overly partisan, and under the control of the Democratic Town Committee. Minority representation to a second party is provided. The collapse of the Bridgeport Republican Party over the last two decades has allowed the votes for minority party representation to drift to a more radical faction of the Democratic Party, independent of the Democratic Town Committee.
This reform would quash that drift.
It should not be the people’s business to quash the representation of the community. This reform is against elected government.
Non-partisan elections where all winners must receive at least 50 percent of the votes is one solution to that “problem.” That is not on the ballot.
Suppression of the people to represent themselves is on the ballot.
Vote against it.