David Walker’s Suggestions For City Reform

Bridgeport resident David Walker, who served as U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008, has a lot to say about how Bridgeport government should reform itself in his latest CT Post column. Yes, some of these are not simple and some would need state legislative changes, but check out his observations:

The spirited Bridgeport Democratic primary campaign for mayor is over. Mayor Finch bested Mary-Jane Foster for the Democratic nomination and he must now face Republican candidate Rick Torres and independent candidate Jeff Kohut in November’s general election. Given the dominance of Democratic Party registrants in the city, Mayor Finch is a heavy favorite to win in November. However, regardless of the result of the upcoming general election, it has become clear to many that Bridgeport has serious governance challenges that need to be addressed expeditiously and effectively once the general election is over.

The truth is that all entities in the private, public and nonprofit sector must follow modern and effective governance practices to maximize their chances of success and to minimize problems. In the case of Bridgeport, that means, among other things, increasing economic growth, providing additional employment opportunities, supporting a quality education for our children, and ensuring fiscal responsibility both for today and tomorrow.

Bridgeport’s City Charter was last updated in March 1999. Not surprisingly, it is outdated and needs to be brought in line with 21st century best practices. This needs to be done through a process that is approved by the mayor and the city council, involves an array of capable and credible citizens, includes public input, and ensures an appropriate degree of transparency. Based on my observations in Bridgeport and knowledge of many different governance systems, some of the types of changes that need to be considered include the following:

Eligibility Provisions:

Ban individuals who have been convicted of a felony from seeking or holding public office and, depending on the nature of the past offenses, from holding certain government positions.

Retain the current City Charter ban on city employees serving on the City Council and seek to have the state law that preempted municipal law repealed. Taxpayers need and deserve to have individuals with no major potential conflicts serving on the City Council.

Prohibit Democratic or Republican town committee members from working for the city as career civil servants. The federal government does not allow civil servants to be involved in partisan political positions and the city should not either;

Require city department heads to be Bridgeport residents unless the mayor certifies there are no appropriately qualified candidates who are city residents.

Election Reforms:

Move to an integrated and non-partisan primary process for all city elections. Many municipalities across the country have already implemented this best practice.

Term Limits:

Impose a two full-term limit for mayors and a four full-term limit for City Council members.

Transparency and Accountability:

Strengthen the city’s financial and related party disclosure and conflict of interest rules and enhance related public disclosure and access.

Allow for recall of elected officials.

Require the city to prepare and issue an Annual Summary Financial and Performance Report that the general public can both access and understand.

Financial:

Require that the city’s annual operating budget be balanced without incurring additional debt to do so. The city has been running annual operating deficits for far too long.

Education:

Provide a greater role for the mayor in connection with Bridgeport’s schools, and allow for mayoral control of the schools with an Advisory School Board.

The preceding suggestions are just some of the reforms that could help to significantly improve Bridgeport’s current performance and accountability as well as its future prospects. We can’t expect to achieve a renaissance in Bridgeport if we don’t directly address the city’s outdated and inappropriate governance practices.

The general election candidates for Mayor should outline their views on needed reforms in areas of importance to the city and its citizens, including in connection with the City Charter. They should also commit that one of their first acts if they are elected, will be to create a Commission or Task Force to recommend updates to the City Charter. Given the current state of the city’s governance structure, finances, education system, and election processes, the future prosperity of our city and opportunities for Bridgeport residents may well rest on whether and how this is done.

While this column relates to Bridgeport, concerned citizens in other cities and towns, both in Connecticut and around the country, should take steps to ensure that their municipality’s governance system is both modern and effective. After all, it’s key to help ensuring proper performance today and a better future.

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14 comments

  1. Mario has nothing to fear from Walker. Walker thinks he can descend from the GAO like Venus on the half shell and the waters will part, and we will accept his positions because they are so ***right***. Phooey!

    What should the contents be of the “dumbed-down” report he suggests? It would be ignored as a political document, and rightly so.

    If a long-term city employee who lives in, say, Trumbull is promoted to department head, why shouldn’t he (or she) be “Acting” (wink wink) for 10 years or so?

    And isn’t Bpt’s process effectively non-partisan now? Doesn’t uni-partisan translate to non-partisan?

    I could go on …

    1. Don’t bother. News flash: Mario Testa is not the Mayor. Mario Testa does not even live here. Did I mention Mario Testa is not the Mayor? There is nothing wrong with Walker’s effort to translate the City Charter deficiencies into plain English. Don’t bother trying to further perpetuate the subterfuge. We are not in over our heads, we do not NOT know what is going on. This report is not dumbed down. It is not more complicated than this. You are not a CUT above anyone in intelligence or knowledge of the situation. How many other ways can I say it? The jig is up so take off your tap-dancing shoes.
      (wink wink).

        1. Yes yahooy, I do. I am not saying we have the best representation money can buy, but legally Mario is not the Mayor. Anyone who tries to perpetuate the preposterous KISS THE RING mentality these yahoos think is cute, will always get a eye-roll from me because this is not Chicago and Mario Testa is not Capone. There is a time for everything, and this is the time for change. They need to stop watching Sopranos re-runs and learn how to do their jobs.

          1. I think you need a PPSD rest, too. Call Auerbach. Maybe you can get a ticket on that cruise he’s planning.

            Reality is not always what we think it is.

  2. Who is this guy?
    Our mayor doesn’t believe in the dem process and negotiated for seven months to give the BOE away. He wants the mayor to have more control?
    He had a 6 to 3 advantage and still screwed it up.

  3. I refuse to spar with you, yahooy. We are on the same side. I don’t know why you felt a need to post that remark, but I am not going to engage in negativity.

    1. I’ll tell you why I posted that remark. I am sick and tired of people who allow the fact this town operates under the nefarious thumb of Mario Testa. If that bum had no influence, I firmly believe the cost of our government would balance at reasonable levels lowering our individual obligations. Furthermore, if that self-aggrandized cheap-shoe sycophant actually cared, he would make sure the people who are put into key executive positions have the experience and skill to provide services that will ensure our municipal operations are run properly. Putting Charlie Carroll into the role he has is ludicrous and is akin to spitting in all of our faces. We have no skillful financial management and our IT department is a joke.

      This is what we get from Mario Testa.

      I have had bile in my throat for four years, longer actually. I thought we had a chance this time. It was not to be because Testa is better at electioneering than we are. Big lesson learned.

      I have no animus towards you personally. But I have no patience for anyone who puts their head in the sand and chants “Que Sera, Sera.” Cute song when Doris Day sings it. But it is a truly vile philosophy as it relates to conditions in Bridgeport.

      I don’t like living under the cloud of uncertainty because of Mario Testa. Year after year it takes more of my resources just to maintain the family home. If we had competent leadership perhaps our cost of living would be lessened.

      My family are educators. My children can’t afford to buy a house and live in this town. One of my kids is an orthopedic surgeon. She can afford to live here, but she won’t.

      The Democratic Town Committee as it is constituted now and has been constituted for the past four decades is principally responsible for the spiraling fall from prominence and promise this town once cherished. There is no end in sight so long as Mario Testa has anything to do with those whom he selects for election.

      So ZL, you have no interest in negativity. Just what in the hell do you plan to do to help make things better? Send Testa notes of positive inspiration?

      Negativity is all we have. Unless we are continually reminded of the despicable ways of the Testa way of life, we are condemned to suffer its consequences.

      Get mad and stay mad.

      1. I am MAD! I am just not mad at you. And don’t assume I don’t have plans to do something. I just think the whole shindig Testa has going on is revolting and more than a little cartoonish.

        1. OK, then!!! I’m not mad at you either. Besides, my post that riled your whatever was my attempt at pontificating aimed at no one in particular.

          Stay MAD. Challenge these bums every chance you get.

      2. “The Democratic Town Committee as it is constituted now and has been constituted for the past four decades is principally responsible for the spiraling fall from prominence and promise this town once cherished.”

        Most especially the period when DOT expert Chris Caruso chaired it.

  4. David Walker did work in the justice department.

    Most of these provisions are illegal and unconstitutional. You are trying to keep people who have a right to freedom of association from having a job. That would get overturned in a heartbeat. So would preventing felons who have served their debt to society and have had all voting privileges restored. Again it is illegal to have residency requirements. This is the same line of thinking when the State Bd. of Ed. took over Bpt. Bd. of Ed. Restricting freedoms in the name of good government must always be balanced with constitutional rights.

  5. I suggest you cut David Walker some slack in the name of “new guy in town.” He is working on multiple fronts to help governments get back to safe ground where affordability in real time is delivered with balanced budgets. How many people on this site have been able to accurately state why Finch’s budgets are patently unbalanced??? (Notice I did not say how many people can repeat that Bill Finch reneged on a tax credit campaign promise four years ago. Lots of people know that.)

    So Dave Walker buys an expensive house in Bridgeport, gets national attention with Comeback America Initiative and book, locates his office (and staff) in downtown Bridgeport without the help of OPED is my guess. And he happens to list a number of changes he sees (from his broad experience and viewpoint) necessary. I don’t agree with a bunch of them, but that makes a couple of us at least commenting on where to go from here and that will be necessary when the fiscal crash gets here. Who will be around with sufficient knowledge and experience to grab the flapping reins and restore order in Bridgeport???

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