Charter Revision Leaders Take Issue With CT Post’s ‘Accusations’

Cathleen Simpson and George Estrada, chair and co-chair respectively of the Charter Revision Commission created by Mayor Bill Finch and the City Council, assert in an op-ed piece published by the Connecticut Post that the paper misses the mark on the commission’s work. The commission has fashioned a question that seeks a thumbs up or down from city voters in November that includes choosing an elected or a mayoral-appointed school board. Commentary follows:

When opponents run out of arguments they usually resort to baseless accusations. You expect more of journalists … even columnists.

Earlier this month the City Council approved a comprehensive charter revision of an archaic and confusing document by moving toward a more comprehensible and user-friendly document. The Charter Revision Commission is a highly respected, bipartisan and independent group of individuals who oversaw a process that has spanned the better part of year and included nearly 50 public meetings.

The charter they have drafted allows the citizen to move chapter by chapter and get a sense of how the government is organized, what the functions of boards and commissions are and how ordinances and budgets are adopted. Most importantly, it addresses the issue of how the Department of Education and the Board of Education will function in a city sorely in need of education policy and governance reform.

Instead of focusing on the vast array of change, reform and tools given to citizens of Bridgeport the ability to: enforce greater public accountability standards; demand Charter-mandated professional qualifications for department heads; and require best practice standards for the operation of government, Keila Torres Ocasio accuses the City Council of presenting a “vague” question for the ballot in November; a question that will “confuse” or “trick” voters into voting “yes.”

In effect, she accuses the City Council and the Charter Revision Commission of a sleight-of-hand designed to mislead the voters in November. We will ignore Ms. Ocasio’s insulting insinuation that the voters can be tricked or confused, and focus on the rationale for the question and the process from which it was derived.

First of all, the identity and specifics of the proposed restructuring of the Board of Education are no secret to those who read the pages of this newspaper. There have been newspaper articles and opinion pieces both pro and con that delineate the proposed structure.

Moreover, there has been no shortage of opportunities for public participation in the formulation of governance policy. The Charter Revision Commission held 35 public meetings prior to submission of its draft and four additional meetings following council consideration of the draft in June.

Second, while the state law requires two public hearings, one at the commencement of the process and another just prior to the transmittal of the draft report, the Charter Revision Commission conducted four public hearings (not counting three additional public outreach sessions at various neighborhood public libraries). Incidentally, one full public hearing was devoted to the governance of the public education system. The public hearing on education governance followed a series of four fact-finding public meetings with national experts on governance, local and statewide education advocates, former members of the Board of Education, and mayors of similarly situated Connecticut cities.

There was no shortage of public exposure to a variety of ideas.

Third, following the fact-finding meetings and the focused public hearing, the commission made a decision on the structure: a nine-member board appointed by the mayor (following a recommendation from the Candidate Qualifications Advisory Council) and approved by the City Council. The new board would be in full effect on Dec. 1, 2015, following the transition of current elected members serving a term of four years. The members will be subject to the rules of accountability applicable to members of all boards and commissions (residency, dual-appointment restriction, term limitations, minority party representation, removal and required cooperation, as well as special rules and restrictions about such qualifications including a detailed list of attributes and life and occupational experience; mandatory training beyond the requirements of state law at the commencement of their term.

Finally, the powers of the Board of Education are clearly set forth and it is established as a board of directors or trustees and policy-making body with oversight responsibilities, and the ultimate authority to hire or fire the superintendent of schools.

The City Council conducted a public hearing, five public committee meetings, two plenary sessions on the charter and two full, joint meetings of council members and the commission. All told, almost 50 public meetings from Jan. 24 through the final action on Aug. 6.

This process was thorough and balanced. In fact, the commission specifically and repeatedly invited local opponents of mayoral accountability to speak to no avail.

In the final analysis, Ms. Ocasio seems more interested in blasting the mayor rather than evaluating the substance of the proposal.

There will be a full debate, the proposed charter is online, will be published in its entirety in this newspaper (as required by law and at considerable public expense) and will be explained completely in an explanatory document permitted by law.

The proposed charter and the ballot question were not conceived as a ruse or trick. This proposal has and will continue to be fully exposed by its proponents. The public deserves an honest appraisal and those of us who support the charter will make certain that this battle will be fought on the issues, not innuendo or misleading invective.



  1. Will leave full comment for another time but just want to say Torres is correct, the question is misleading. Totally. Independence, reporting and accountability and so on are real issues too.

  2. This charter revision group was hand selected to do one thing and one thing only. They were told the charter needs to be changed so the mayor is in charge of selecting the members of the BOE.
    Mr. Estrada and Cathleen Simpson claim the candidates were selected by a recommendation from the Candidate Qualifications Advisory Council. Where the hell did this candidate advisory council come from? Who is on this advisory council? Who appointed them? When did they come into existence? Are they listed in the charter? What other appointments and what boards do they recommend candidates for?
    I thought Mr. Estrada was an independent thinker, I was Wrong. He is like all the rest, a go along to get along person.
    Public hearings? Yes you had many and just what did you add to the charter that the people wanted? Did you add a Board of Finance? No you did not. You talk about the charter requiring public accountability, that is already in the charter and is constantly ignored by the mayor.
    Public meetings are a sham. If you have ever spoken before the council they give you five minutes and none of the council pays attention to what you are saying, same holds true for the charter commission. Talking in front of these two groups is like talking to the chair you are sitting on, you get the same results.
    George, get off your high horse. You were used by Finch and Company. My family will be voting against the charter change.

    1. I forgot, isn’t Ms. Simpson married to attorney Bohannon, the recipient of many legal cases involving the city and others trying to sue the city? Isn’t her husband the parliamentarian for the DTC? Just wondering if the Candidate Qualifications Advisory Council knew any of this.

  3. I think George Estrada is a very professional person but not the right man for this job. The only thing that mattered here was the might of the political machine. I agree with Mr. Fardy about the futility of public hearings in this City but still believe as many people as possible go and speak. Eventually we will make a difference.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful Musto gets his district realigned so he has an easy reelection. He loses the Hooker School area where he tried to get a prison built and thus gets rid of what could be votes against him. I know I would not have voted for him because of the prison proposal.
      Now Musto gets basically and open-end contract with the city to sue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I wonder what his billable hours will be (big bucks). He does not know how many Bridgeport dwellings are affected how could you not know this before taking on this lawsuit? The answer is easy, unlimited billing to our wonderful city. It pays to go along no matter how you have to compromise what you believe in.

      1. Andy just for the record. Anthony Musto did not support the prison/detention center. I know this because I received a letter from him just before it became front-page news and Caruso decided to make this his last stand.

        1. Steve, you missed his comments in the Post when the prison was announced. He talked about the new jobs and such. He along with Finch, Paoletto and Curwen knew this a full year before it was announced and said nothing. I am sorry Steve, you are incorrect on this one.

        2. Steve, one more thing. As a then-active town committee member and a person who walked the streets with Musto on his first run for the senate, I received no such letter.

  4. This vote comes down to TRUST, do you trust Mayor Finch? When Bill Finch was a candidate for mayor five years ago he promised the taxpayers of Bridgeport a $600 rebate, well how did that work out for you? Last year he decided to convince six Board of Education members to say they could not do their job. It was Mayor Bill Finch with his actions who decided he knew what’s best for the voters of Bridgeport and he would TAKE THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE AWAY, now he wants the voters of Bridgeport to let him run the BOE, we are to trust Mayor Finch that he knows what is best for the voters. Do you trust him? Vote No.

  5. The Charter is our “municipal constitution.” As such it should be studied by a diverse group of citizens who are routinely familiar with it by active attention to City governance on a regular basis. As has been stated, when such a document is untouched for years, some of its statements do not address current issues. Importantly, a citizen friendly organization and language for such a document is important while maintaining the legal protections already present in language and precedent.

    However, a slavish focus on the timetable and the Mayor’s directive towards more power for him for educational power and responsibility by the leadership led us to the result we face in November. Even if they felt the larger problem was fiscal governance in the City (12-month reports, no regular fiscal analysis by any representative body, elimination of internal control staff auditor, failure to have two public meetings per year for operating and for capital, etc.) focus was not there BECAUSE THE MAYOR DID NOT THINK THESE WERE PROBLEMS even when he was ignoring Charter language and probably unaware of specific annual ordinance directives on financial reports!

    As a matter of fact I do not think there was any witness who supported the Mayor’s initial comments that he is accountable. On several occasions, his accountability on multiple matters was brought to the attention of the CRC. Did they listen? Perhaps so but their understanding was clear that they were about the Mayor’s business. And they were the Mayor’s committee, not one of them routinely asked public questions of this administration before their appointment unfortunately. Possibly they were unfamiliar with the flagrant issues brought before them. They were certainly unfamiliar in the role of public wishing to be heard. They could not find two minutes per citizen at each meeting to listen and use those insights in their deliberations. That was a conscious decision on their part. And their first “public hearing” i.e. where the public could talk found two members (both Republicans) with a tape recorder sitting at the North End Library for 1.5 hours just after Noon. I happened to be their only guest that day. We had a nice background session, but is was an example of how far from the reality of City Council, Council committee sessions and BOE meetings this group was, unfortunately.

    Waiting four years to vote up or down on a Mayor’s accountability for all City and Educational activities in the previous four years puts too much power in one person’s control and too little check in the voters’ hands, especially with the variety of conflicts of interest and ‘follow the leader’ behavior represented in Council activity.
    Let each of us find the three best candidates available to us on September 4, 2012 and vote for them. Send them a note with what you expect them to do, your terms of accountability for the youth of the community as well as the taxpayers. Go to meetings and see how they operate together. If you sense one or more are being disruptive as kids sometimes are in the sandbox, let them know your disappointment. Check out work on the education website. Ask questions. Expect answers. Study. Talk to your Council persons. Too many of them are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and take the path of least resistance. We don’t need war. We need adult understanding of the responsibilities of an appointed or elected position and the commitment of the chosen to pursue the same. Time will tell.

  6. *** Hey Lennie, would you print the BOE Charter Revision question as it will exactly appear on the ballots for voters come Nov? Let’s have the OIB readers give a look and see for ourselves if it’s a tricky misleading question or not? *** LENNIE, LENNIE, LENNIE! ***

  7. The Estrada and Simpson letter references term limits for the proposed Mayoral-appointed Board of Education. Does anyone know if the terms are staggered or run parallel with the Mayor’s term?

    If all of the members of the BOE leave when the new Mayor is sworn in, where is the continuity between one administration and the next? If they all leave when the Mayor leaves, won’t there be a gap where the new appointees need to be vetted by the Qualifications Advisory Committee; Ethics Board; wait for background checks; and then submission of the name to the Common Council which would include a committee meeting/interview and Council vote. It could be 5-6 months before a new Mayor could seat a full Board of Ed. Won’t there be continuity and quorum problems when one administration leaves and a new one starts? Does anyone know specifically if the new Board would have staggered terms?


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