The City Council’s Ordinance Committee voted Monday night to torpedo the Bridgeport Port Authority, the quasi-city agency that receives more than $1 million a year in docking fees, scheduling a public hearing on the matter for next Monday at 7 p.m.
Too soon to say when the full City Council will take up the measure because there are still many unanswered questions such as what financial repercussions exist for eliminating the agency that was created by council authority in 1993.
The Ordinance Committee moved in earnest Monday after city officials learned that an amendment was slipped into a bill in the twilight of the recently completed state legislative session that gives the state Department of Transportation veto power over municipalities that want to dissolve port authorities. The legislation goes into law when and if Governor Jodi Rell signs it. The council wants to get ahead of a gubernatorial signature.
The legislative amendment was added as the city has pondered the future viability of its port authority that has been involved in a running battle over a variety of issues with its highest revenue tenant, the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamship Company.
Under the measure passed by the Ordinance Committee a Port Commission, or something of that ilk, would come under the umbrella of the Chief Administrative Office or Department of Public Facilities.
One thing’s for sure in all of this, Jay F. Malcynsky, co-founder/managing partner of the state lobbying firm Gaffney, Bennett & Associates which lobbied the recently passed state legislation that necessitated council action to consider port authority elimination, has done a disservice to both his clients: the City of Bridgeport and (gee who knew?) the Bridgeport Port Authority.
Yup, Malcynsky, the well-connected veteran lobbyist, is on the payroll of both the city ($55K a year) and the port authority, and several council members that approved his contract with the city are ripping pissed that their paid lobbyist threw them under the bus for another client that’s an arm of the city.
Confused? Well, this one is a classic conflict-of-interest stinker. Both city administration officials and council members feel blindsided by the lobbyist who has a responsibility to tell them what’s going on and how legislation can impact them financially. (Gee, might we have a conflict of interest?)
The Ordinance Committee, co-chaired by Andre Baker and Rich Paoletto, was attended by several port authority officials including Executive Director Joe Riccio and chairman of the port authority board (OIB friend) Denis O’Malley. Baker, who ran an efficient meeting, asked Riccio about the genesis for the state legislation.
Riccio, who has served as chief of the port authority for 13 years, explained that he had been contacted by state officials that wanted to create safeguards in case the port authority was abolished by the city. As Riccio stated at the meeting the state told him, “If you’re going to be put out of business why should we continue to give you more money?”
That money, for waterfront, maintenance and port authority building improvements, comes in the form of grants, not operating money and according to Riccio it’s been roughly $40 million over the life of the agency.
Councilman Bob Curwen, the driving force behind dissolving the port authority, countered that the port authority is ineffective and the state legislation could jeopardize Homeland Security money if the port authority was placed under the state.
City Attorney Mark Anastasi was on hand to make sure the Ordinance Committee executed all the legal niceties, a signal that Mayor Bill Finch so far wants to move forward with disbanding the port authority. Finch first wants to make sure, however, that such a move doesn’t create unforeseen problems for the city such as jeopardizing state revenues. Anastasi also encouraged a public hearing for June 22 to provide ample time for public notice.
Danny Martinez, an Ordinance Committee member, urged caution saying the city must filter all the facts before abolishing the agency. He was the lone committee member to vote against the ordinance.
Councilman Bob Troll Walsh, not a member of the committee, who used his privilege as a councilman to speak (as did several of his peers), ripped into the city’s lobbying firm. He also, in a light moment, admitted that this was one of the few times he was in concert with Anastasi and the administration. He urged abolishing the port authority. “The port authority keeps the money in their own little coffee cans,” he said.
City Council President Tom McCarthy called the state legislation a “last minute power grab by the state.” He to, urged the committee to vote to dissolve the port authority, as did Councilwoman Sue Brannelly of Black Rock who added the caveat: “Are we going to lose money if we don’t have a port authority?”
Well, that’s what administration officials are trying to figure out. What impact does this move have financially if the full council votes to abolish the port authority? The city is trying to buy some time from the governor until it’s all figured out.
State Sen. Ed Gomes, whose record on truth telling is about as good as it gets, also attended the council committee session. Ed voted for the state legislation in question and echoed the sentiments of the city’s legislative delegation: this thing was slipped in at the last minute and they weren’t told the whole story.
That’s what lobbyists are paid to do unless, of course, they have a hidden financial agenda.
(By the way, when you’re done here check out my related blog at the Connecticut Post, blog.ctnews.com/grimaldi/2009/06/16/lobbying-with-two-forks/
News release from Auden Grogins
GOVERNOR’S BUDGET CUTS GO TO HEART OF CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS: LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
Speaker Donovan, Rep. Auden Grogins To Hold Informational Forum At Black Rock Library in Bridgeport
Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan (D-Meriden), Representative Auden Grogins (D-Bridgeport), and area legislators will hold an informational forum to raise public awareness concerning the devastating impact of the Governor’s proposed budget cuts to children’s educational resources through libraries and museums.
Among the topics that will be discussed are:
— Beardsley Zoo
— Discovery Museum
— Maritime Museum
— Public library programs
WHAT: Informational Forum on Governor’s Proposed Budget Cuts to Museums & Libraries
WHEN: Thursday, June 18
WHERE: Black Rock Library, 2705 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport
TIME: 7:30 pm