CT Post Columnist: No Stipends, No Pay For Council Members

CT Post columnist MariAn Gail Brown says vanquish City Council stipends and by the way the Connecticut Legislature should get off its ass and rid the city of conflicts of interest. While OIB maintains council members should be compensated, MGB says screw that. Always nice to read MGB’s perspective. Check it out.

Up in the capital, a governor’s State of the State speech that urges us to “think BIG” is a great way to get the masses pumped up about what’s on our fiscal horizon.

Back in Be-Po, the reality is that to “think big” ought to require members of Bridgeport’s City Council to THINK SMALL, very small about their long-standing, rubber-stamped, mostly self-serving stipends. This fund totals $180,000 and is available annually to all of the council members. The ordinance that set us this fund for city lawmakers describes this pool of moola as both a “reimbursement” account and as an “expense account” with portions of the money being advanced.

In years past, the Connecticut Post has reviewed these expenditures and found some whopper amounts paid to council members. There was the $3,500 tab for a year’s worth of cell service. The council member explained that he had a crummy contract and that was why the bill was so high. Other years, there were thousands spent on travel to conferences all over the country, donations to civic groups and purchases of personal computers (which the council member kept after leaving office).

The theory behind the stipends is that Bridgeport’s legislative body needs the stipends to carry out its constituent service. Baloney. The back-up argument is that because council members aren’t paid a salary, put in a lot of hours to do their job, they ought to be compensated. A thank you works fine for me. Bridgeport taxpayers can’t afford to pay them. And in this time of fiscal austerity, Bridgeport’s City Council can lead by example–as the legislative body did in 1991, when the Park City was on the brink of bankruptcy–by dramatically reducing these stipends.

There are no guidelines that I can find anywhere that specify what or how these stipends can be used. And for all of the travel and airfare mileage that these local lawmakers rack up while attending national conferences that are footed by the poorest city in Connecticut, what do they have to show constituents for this? When my employer allows me to travel for professional development purposes, not only do I return smarter, I am expected to share what I’ve learned with my colleagues with a presentation and/or a report. To the best of my knowledge, no city council member has ever given a presentation to his or her colleagues and constituents about the time they’ve spent at a National League of Cities confab and what benefit that’s provided taxpayers.

There are those who suggest it may be time to replace the stipend with salaries for this legislative body. The reasoning is that if these folks were paid salaries, they could only hold one city job, and theoretically would have to resign their day jobs working for Bridgeport and that would end concerns about conflicts of interest with the local lawmakers beholden to politicians. In 2009, a Connecticut Post investigation showed that close to 80 percent of the city’s Democratic Town Committee were either employed by the city, serving on the city council, a municipal board or had a spouse or some other relative who fit one of those classifications.

Giving council members a salary and city benefits won’t solve the rampant nepotism that goes on in Bridgeport. The only thing it will do is sock taxpayers with another bill they can’t afford.

State law gives municipal employees the right to serve their hometown on any board or commission, except for land-use and finance panels. Bridgeport’s corporation counsel says that provision in state law trumps the city charter’s prohibitions. In the late 1980s, Bridgeport’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation was dissolved and those finance functions were transferred to its Common Council, which is now the Bridgeport City Council.

If state lawmakers want to help Bridgeport rid itself of nepotism and many conflict of interests among its council members, all they have to do is amend state law to bar local lawmakers from serving on city councils where there is no separate financial review board and the local legislative body carries out those fiscal functions.



  1. *** If you think “some” of the council members do very little to reach out to their constituents now, imagine if they had to spend their own money for mailings, phone, computer, gas, trips, etc. *** TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING ***

  2. I would like to see a comparison with other towns: New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury. What is the structure of their city councils and are they paid? Do they allow employees to also serve?

  3. First it’s a salary and the next thing you know they will want a pension for serving more than 10 years. That’s baloney!
    There are no shortage of candidates for these jobs, in fact the incumbents fight tooth and nail and in some cases illegally to keep these seats.
    Now some people want to pay these do-nothing administration stooges for doing a job they fight like hell to keep.
    I don’t see all the hours people claim they work because they are on certain committees. Most meetings are an hour or maybe 1-1/2 hours if they have a quorum.
    As far as newsletters or emails, who gets them? I don’t unless it’s election time. The city has seen hard financial times, this is not the time to propose this. I will bet if it’s on the charter we will vote on, the charter will be voted down.

  4. Well, the spotlight gets focused on money for Council members every few years. MAGB’s story reads well. Since I keep repeating OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT, and think it is likely they will keep their stipend at this level, why don’t they do the following:
    * Annually and proactively (perhaps when they review the Legislative budget) provide the public with the who, how much and for what money was provided or reimbursed in the previous year??? Good idea? Yes. Hard to do? No.
    * Of course to tell us for what the money was spent, you would have to provide good supporting detail and who can be sure that is done today?
    * And to be consistent, I would ask each and every Council person who travels to overnight meetings with room, meals, travel and registration costs attached to complete a report, filed in the City Clerk office in a Legislator file as to their purpose in attending, what sessions they attended and a one-paragraph summary of the subject with web site connections to further info where appropriate. (Let the community learn about those special subjects!)
    If elected representatives do not see themselves as models of integrity, rectitude, and model representatives of electors’ interests for the common good, what are they doing in office??? If they need help and are not getting sufficient from the City, do they have financial resources in their budget? If they need the attention of shy City departments they have the legal power to command those folks to attend meetings and provide answers. Is there an excuse for inadequate activity? Is there any excuse for ignorance of information? Is there any reason for lack of curiosity to pursue issues where people have problems or concerns? Is there an explanation for lack of follow-up or response to their public? Time will tell.

  5. Look, there is no accountability by members of the council, there are no real advocates for the people on the council. They never question the administration and basically rubber stamp everything presented by the administration.
    The area where the public is getting a real disservice is the Budget & Appropriations committee.
    I attended every meeting held on this year’s budget. Not one budget was reduced. There were 60 non-filled jobs that were budgeted for and only one question was asked. So we are paying taxes to fund 60 jobs that according to Sherwood would not be filled this year. Where did this money go?

    1. C’mon tc, don’t be exposing Sherwood’s slush fund. What the Council doesn’t know is as soon as the budget is passed, Sherwood starts playing games with it. Transferring money around to cover political positions and raises. He hides the money in the unfilled positions unbeknownst to the council. If the budget committee did their job or if there were an actual INTERNAL AUDIT DEPT, some of that would be exposed.

  6. With the election over and peace returning to the valley et cetera; how many, if any, of the aldermaniacs are driving city cars again?

    Nice column by Brown. Her last three paragraphs are cherry.


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