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Follow The Money–Cars, Credit Cards, Cell Phones

December 22nd, 2015 · 9 Comments · City Budget, City Council

City fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee, addressing the City Council Monday night in its final meeting of 2015, urged the supposed watchdogs of taxpayer dollars to poise radar in three tangible areas that cost money. From Lee:

It’s that time of year when experience as a child may come to you in the form of wonder, joy, or peace or the more practical review of the past year with a hanging question as to whether you have been good for goodness’ sake. Otherwise, “you’d better watch out, better not pout,” etc. Well as one administration departs City Hall, information has surfaced calling into question whether financial revelations are real examples of how to take advantage of neighbors in cynical fashion. As such we need to ask: “How do excesses happen?” Why were checks and balance structure not in place to prevent what will be seen as wrongful expenditures? What can the Council do, to investigate and set up process to prevent this in the future?

I suggest grouping the concepts tonight as the “three C’s”: Cars, credit cards, and cell phones. You need to do some research to get all the facts out, as some of my comments merely trust some incredible rumors, but Bridgeport is a place where rumors often carry much truth. Sorting it out with detail is your duty, I suggest.

Each of you has read about the purchase of two autos during the last week of November for $72,000 from the Public Facility budget. I have looked in the detailed July 2015 monthly financial operating report but find no line item pertaining to vehicle acquisition. So it is likely that it may be part of Public Facilities Capital budget, but how would the Council know? Aren’t you the folks who will be held responsible by taxpayers? Do any of you have a current balance sheet for the various capital projects undertaken by the City just in this fiscal year? If not, is it fair for a taxpayer to ask you? Why not?

Ask the new administration in its effort to become more OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT whether you can get up to speed. Won’t they be asking you per tonight’s agenda to authorize bonds to fund Capital Projects? Isn’t it fair for you to keep track of where the money is spent when you authorize it? (And not for nothing at this moment, who is authorized to drive City cars between home and work? And where is such a list posted?  Why not have such info public on the City site and let taxpayers become a form of Neighborhood Watch?)

So much for cars, but what about cards? Credit cards that is. Those of you who participate in the Stipend system know about debit cards. Each quarter the account can be replenished with additional dollars from your stipend balance to be used to support City Council related duties and expenses up to $9000 annually. You have a limit of $2,250 per quarter. But how many city employees have City credit cards at this time, or did during November 2015? What records did they keep of usage on City business? Were there any practical limits on what they could spend? Were records sent to another City office for oversight? How were the categories of expense coded into City departmental line items? Don’t you need to see whether this method of handling expenses needs review, oversight, and listing so that the public can begin to trust in practical monitoring?

Finally, let’s address the subject of cell phones. How many City cell phones are out there? What Departmental Line Item are they expensed under? What monitoring is done to be sure that taxpayers only pay for City business? I looked at the Office of the Mayor department expense budget and do not see a line item that deals with communications equipment and expenses unless it is 55155 Office Equipment Rental/Leasing that shows $5534 as the annual budget for all such in the current fiscal year. Is it true that more than one dozen people have run up and/or submitted nearly $120,000 of cell phone expense to the City? How can that be possible? Before such would be paid out, what proof is required of business purpose of calls? How soon must bills be submitted? Can we have a list of those with City cell phones? And by what process are hard line phone systems and cell phones integrated today?

Cars, credit cards, and cell phones are things we all use and pay for personally. They are tools for City employees, but when rumors abound, when facts are not provided routinely and the internet records are not publicly available; taxpayers lose trust in civil servants. How can you as our representatives, set up systems with executive cooperation to reduce budgets? Time will tell.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Mackey

    This was first posted by Donald Day and it speaks to this subject.

    Here is the type of example the City Council needs to be involved with in understanding what action was taken.

    Donald Day // Dec 18, 2015 at 5:08 pm
    Let’s start with fire chief Brian Rooney, who lives in Monroe past Stevenson dam. He took the fire department vehicle to pick up his wife at a New York airport and hit another vehicle. Did I mention the accident was his fault?

    Why should he have a department vehicle when you can count the times on one finger when he had to come back to Bridgeport on a fire department emergency? This is a blatant misuse of city resources and it should be stopped immediately.

  • John Marshall Lee

    1) Is no one concerned about take-home cars, other than for the Fire Chief?
    2) Were the two cars purchased from the Operating Budget for Facilities or from the Capital Budget? The City says it expenses auto property over 3-5 years according to the CAFR. If $73,000 is bonded and were to cost us $120,000 over 20 years with interest, yet the vehicles were long gone, would taxpayers be concerned?
    3) Are two handfuls of cell phones with an average outstanding billing of $10,000 acceptable to voters, as no comment?
    4) Should credit card authorizations be listed along with cell phone issuing and take-home cars on City web site?
    Do OIB readers care? If G2 administration reads OIB as I think, then your failure to like or dislike the fiscal issues I raise is being noted. What gets you upset, Bridgeport readers? Time will tell.

    • Ron Mackey

      JML, how much did this accident cost the taxpayers, was any action taken against the fire chief, why was this not a front-page news story or even the last page of the paper and was the mayor and the city council made aware of this incident?

      • John Marshall Lee

        Ron,
        Why ask me? You already know internal departmental process within Fire Dept and/or awaiting a listing of legal settlements by the City is a non-starter for the info you mention. And what do I have to do with this not becoming a “front-page news story” when the CT Post has not published anything I have sent to them for 8-9 months and no longer pursues talking to me on any City financial subject?

        Ron, lots of questions from you directed to me today. As if the answers to these were part of my fiscal beat? Or as if I am your answer man? But you have denied me the pleasure of your company to discuss such things in person for several years now. The OIB audience can recognize when mutual respectfulness is not being observed. Do you understand? Time will tell.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Lennie,
    I love new words, but “scrutineer?” I am assuming you refer to someone who scrutinizes, or puts subjects under “scrutiny,” rather than puts them to sleep? Ha, ha and ho, ho, ho. Time will tell.

  • Jimfox

    Did the purchaser of these new cars also purchase a third car from the same dealer for himself, at a fabulous discount? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Lisa Parziale

    With the emphasis placed on accountability, and at least five new members on the Council, this is a great opportunity to raise the questions JML has practically spoon-fed them. Also, it takes only one member to submit a resolution to modify the amount of stipend funds they receive and suggest a method to have the use of this money properly reported and scrutinized for appropriate use. Come on, just one of you, that’s the only way the public can see who on the council resists.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Lisa, with the exception of Halstead, Swain and Torres, the council lived by the credo of what’s in it for me. McCarthy as president of the council is one of the biggest offenders. It seems the DTC nominates some of the dumbest people in Bridgeport to run for the council and then the really dumb people of Bridgeport vote for them.

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