Foster: City Council Members On Public Payroll A Conflict

Mary-Jane Foster, who has formed a candidate committee and is expected next week to announce her plans to seek the Democratic nomination for mayor via September primary, says City Council members on the public payroll pose conflicts of interest. For instance Bob Curwen, co-chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, was recently appointed to a city position. How can Curwen serve two masters? Word from City Hall is Curwen must make a choice: resign his council position or resign city employment. Statement from Foster:

Foster: City Council members must never be appointed to a paid city position without resigning

“For too long we’ve seen the inherent conflicts of interests that arise for City Council members who are also City employees. With the 2011/12 budget cycle beginning, how many will recuse themselves rather than vote on a budget that directly affects their employment? Or vote on a vendor contract that provides personal benefits?

“While a mayor cannot stop a City employee from seeking public office, a mayor can fundamentally decide to never appoint a member of the City Council to a paid City position. It is my position that a mayor should not appoint a member of the City Council to a City job without a clear irrevocable policy. If they’re qualified to do the job, they must resign from the City Council. You cannot have it both ways.”



  1. A pre-primary municipal election year can produce focus on issues that seem intractable but are rarely discussed. We have frequently heard a CT citizen has a right under State law to have a City job as well as to hold an elected municipal legislative position (or some variant of this). Since most of us are for individual rights, the silence following this repartee is normally deafening, and the discussion goes no further.

    Someone pointed to the fact that Hartford and New Haven have only one municipal employee total in their City representative bodies. That caused me to wonder about this particular difference between Bridgeport political culture and that in the other two comparable cities. Perhaps it is as simple as MJF indicates. A new leader can ask for resignations in employee leadership positions, and ask the employee/elected to make a choice. Instead of the voter having no choice about this matter, it provides the Council rep/City employee with the right to make a choice that will benefit City decision making in the long run.

    I have long felt that it is more than an “appearance” of conflict of interest when our City Council persons vote on financial issues that will affect their personal lives. And the budget vote does just that as do some of the other matters they face. Where does loyalty to the taxpayer voting neighbor enter the vision of this dual loyalty individual? Second place at best, it would seem.

    Imagine the layering of conflicts, when your job has the support of the Mayor, and the Mayor is the sitting Chair of your Council, and has the complete loyalty of the City Attorney when questions arise (as they so often do in Bridgeport) and legal answers are sought, whether the issue is mainly legal or more often common sense, and you feel the need to support the Mayor financially to maintain your status quo, and you are all in one party anyhow …

    Doesn’t all of that trump learning the issues cold, and pursuing research when not enough info appears (and not have to wait 6-12 months as one or more Council persons have claimed for more info specific to their inquiry or attempting to get more or fuller financial answers), and speak out in public meeting about financial issues that cross district lines and affect all of us? What’s in it for a Council person who primarily sees the Council role as a truly informed representative making decisions that are good for the City and its people long term? Not a lot, it would seem. So why should we be disappointed when it is the structure we have accepted causing us distress?

    Having only one master, as MJF is suggesting, might clear the decks and focus one’s attention and loyalty on whom you are serving, wouldn’t it? I hope others write on this topic. Perhaps more insight will come forth to counter the status quo of such long duration.

  2. The problem starts with the Democratic Town Committee where there are a lot of city employees on the Town Committee. I will use my district as an example and show how politics and fear of losing one’s job play into decisions that are made.
    My councilman is Robert Curwen, a city employee whose wife is also employed by the city. My other council person is Richard Paoletto. My district leader is Martha Santiago who also works for the city and has at least one relative who also works for the city. Another of my district town committee members is a city painter and another one works for CitiStat and his father is the city attorney. Got it so far?
    Curwen is holding out resigning from the council because our district leader Santiago is going to appoint Mike Marrella who resides in Shelton to take his place when he resigns. The district town committee will vote on this nomination but we will be unable to stop it as the only NO votes will be mine, Ann Barney and Curwen. The yes votes will be Santiago, the city painter, the CitiStat employee and two 70-plus-year-old women beholding to Santiago and who are not really sure what’s going on. The council I am sure will vote for this nomination.
    Curwen and Paoletto have never voted against a mayor’s program that has come before the council. They have never voted against a budget, in fact last year they both voted for a budget with an $8 million deficit and Curwen was co-chair of the budget committee. The only chance we have is to change the administration and to change many of the people involved in present-day Democratic politics in Bridgeport.

    1. tc
      Is that the same public-works painter who is racking up hundreds of hours a month overtime working for both public works and the board of ed? He also walks into work every day at least fifteen to twenty minutes late and due to his professed love for Mario and Charles he can do what he wants?

      Someone said when he worked for the Board they changed his hours due to his tardiness instead of terminating him.

      There is no one watching the store in the board of ed now and the board itself is a joke and does nothing to protect the taxpayers.

      Old City Hall operates on a fear basis. We keep our heads down and our mouths shut. We all have children to feed and clothe.

      1. Wasn’t that painter canned by a previous BOE boss? Now he’s working for public works AND the BOE? Isn’t there a budget crisis where people have lost their jobs? Are hundreds of hours of painting on OT a priority under the circumstances? Just another travesty in a slew of travesties that is the City of Bridgeport.

      2. Grin Reeper // Apr 6, 2011 at 5:31 am
        to your posting

        Is this the same painter who was selected by the DTC Chair to run for office recently, and this only lasted a few days, before he got deselected?

  3. Frankly, I don’t blame Curwen for not resigning. There is no guarantee his new city job is secure. Why would he give up his powerful council seat? Who the hell does Martha think she is trying to force a Shelton resident on her town committee? It’s time for her to retire in more ways than one.

  4. I agree with tc. The conflicts real and perceived are everywhere; there are Democratic Town Committee members who are city employees or immediate family to city employees. The Democratic Town Committee endorses the slate of nominees who run for elected office. That is what the Democratic Town Committee is required to do according to state law. So they nominate city employees or immediate family of city employees to run for council. Then it comes to a vote at the City Council or a vote on a nomination. Conflicts, real and perceived, abound. Who is beholden to whom? Who really wants to jeopardize their job? I have heard DTC and Council members say they can maintain their independence. Nonsense!They are not independent. They are not acting in the best interests of the taxpayers. Remember the frog and the hot water? Well the water has been getting hotter and hotter and the frog is in real trouble. I agree with David Walker’s op-ed piece the Sunday before last. This tangled web needs to be untangled. It starts with the slate that will run for the DTC next spring. New slates should be formed that are not conflicted. Yes it means primaries, so bring it on. It is time. Bridgeport has to jump out of the hot water before it boils over. Bravo MJF! There is a clear fresh leader in our midst.

    1. countdown // Apr 5, 2011 at 10:26 pm
      to your posting

      Even sooner the stranglehold can be broken.

      Run candidates for the two dozen offices or so who are on the 2011 ballot.

      Start with that effort and then you can go to the next step.
      Would you agree?

    1. 2011
      Yes, all the overtime they can handle and first-class parking in the low level of the annex. Come in late go home early, a very small price to pay for someone’s soul. His dept head does say a word because he has been running the same game. What did he make in overtime last year, will find out when the other plumber files his grievance.

  5. My wife, Ann Barney and myself went to the first budget hearing last night as members of Budget Observer Bridgeport. It was a very interesting meeting.
    While we were seated waiting for the meeting to start one of the council people in attendance and not a member of the budget committee asked Bob Curwen the following: What the hell are they doing here (meaning us)? Don’t they know they can’t speak at these meetings?
    Isn’t that great, not even a member of the budget committee and wondering aloud what we were doing at the meeting.
    The one thing I noticed during Tom Sherwood’s presentation was the change in the volume of his voice when he touched on tricky items such as the sale & lease-back of city hall and how it figures into this budget. The volume of his voice dropped and it was very hard for us to hear his comments. On non-issue items his voice was loud and clear. I will be filing a report later today on last night’s meeting.

    1. tc, are they counting the sale of the two city halls as revenue in next year’s budget? Is that how they are presenting a no-tax-increase and no-layoff budget? If so, didn’t Finch say all one-time revenue would go to the fund balance?

      More questions. Is the painter referred to in previous posts the same one who was put up to take Rich P.’s council seat a year or so ago? He cut his hair and everything and then Rich decided to run and the painter was cast aside. Is that who you’re talking about?

      1. City Hall: It sound to me like they were counting the revenue from the sale/lease of city hall. Sherwood mumbled his way through this and it was hard to hear him. I am researching that in the budget now, I hope to have the exact answer later in the day. The painter is one and the same.

    2. tc,
      Congratulations to the three of you for attending the hearing last night. As taxpayers and voters you had every right, moreover a profound responsibility, to listen to our representatives, elected as well as appointed, do their thing at the opening night of “Official Budget Hearings for FY 2011-2012.” Last night the subject was Budget Overview-Revenue. Where will the money come from to pay for next year expenditures? The Mayor has told us it will not come from increased taxes, so it is an important item. Will it be additional debt, extended years into the future? Will it be Federal largesse for infrastructure provided before the Congressional elections last fall in the amount of $11 Million, that was recently wiped out, but perhaps is still alive? And what will the State and other granted fund status look like as we move through these economically ailing times? The assumptions should be understood by all certainly.

      Your “HEARING” observations are truly priceless:
      * First, one of 20 Council persons, not a member of the Budget & Appropriations Committee is so full of civic feeling and hospitality that he/she asks the question as to why you are present and informing you sideways that you have no right to speak. My goodness if the meeting is announced by the City Clerk, then it must be a PUBLIC HEARING, a time for the PUBLIC to use their eyes and ears. Enough time to use our voices later on.

      * Did that Council person ask any questions at that meeting? Yes, well let me congratulate them for that and what was revealed? If they asked no questions, that means they think they have a comprehensive knowledge of what was being presented. You might celebrate that Council person by identifying them on OIB so we all can use them as a current and future resource when we, who are shut out from these meetings by the attitude of some, have a question of our own. Of course I would want to ask them my questions when neither Tom Sherwood nor any one from the Mayor’s staff are present to see who has the real facts and knows the answers. (I would like to be proven wrong by having some assurance that many Council members have a broad and deep knowledge of City finances. Of course then I would probably want to ask that person about the latest actuarial report on our underfunded (deferred funding since at least 2009) City pension fund.)

      * Isn’t it genuine comedy for Tom Sherwood to signal to all in the room that some material at a “HEARING” is for a restricted audience, and not for the broader PUBLIC? That makes it easier for us to focus research and further inquiry when his voice gets softer and more secretive. What a telltale his behavior provides. Since last night’s HEARING had some hard to hear moments, were they about sale-leaseback activity, Federal pre-2010 election infrastructure grant for $11 Million that is off the table per current Congressional action, or some other deal that allows the Mayor to tell voters there is no tax increase?

      BOB (Budget Oversight Bridgeport-2011) has started. Thank you for your presence and information. The more that is known, the potential for better decisions on all issues exists.

      1. BEACON2 // Apr 6, 2011 at 10:55 am
        to your posting

        A further question.
        How much does the city want to postpone in pension payments? If that doesn’t happen … where will the budget numbers be?

  6. No wonder this city has no money. Not only do they pay people to do nothing but they have to pay off some to due to the misdeeds of others. Anyone else read in today’s CT Post that HR Director Carole Pannozzo was paid $30k to settle her sexual harassment claim against BOE Assistant Superintendent Robert Henry? Why is this man still working for the BOE making decisions regarding the best interests of our children when he clearly does not use the best judgment? And the fact Ramos keeps him around shows he does not use the best judgment, either. They both need to go, but as usual the only ones to suffer will be the taxpayers of Bridgeport.

  7. This is a disgrace and has been a disgrace for too many years. Our problems in Bridgeport are not solely a result of Finch being an inadequate person, malleable to the will of Mario Testa. Our problems are directly related to Mario Testa’s control of the City Council by his ability to, at will, stuff the council with hopelessly unskilled people who do what they are told. As a reward for their compliance, these unworthy sycophants are granted city employment in a blatant direct conflict of interest. Curwen and Paoletto should be ashamed. Neither have any skill whatsoever and both have done much to maintain the ruinous state we are forced to live in because Mario Testa basks in a power trip.

    MJF has given an indication she will bring this outrageous practice to an end. Finch promised us a $600 break in our taxes. At this point it is all talk. I want a definitive plan in place prior to the primary by which the candidates publicly announce the steps they will take to rid Testa of any political influence, remove conflicted council members and present a step-by-step plan as to how this city will attack economic development which, in my view, is the only way we can return to prestige and prosperity. We can’t do it with the existing crew. They’ve had 40 years. We can do it this time if we elect right.

    BTW … I have received 3 pledges from my friends who are registered voters that they will go out and vote in the primary and general election. I wonder if they would consent to be named? Probably not.

    How are the rest of you doing in getting lazy voters back to the polls?

    1. yahooy // Apr 6, 2011 at 9:02 am
      to your posting

      You’re doing it right … get those votes … the votes are needed.
      We already know Finch doesn’t want to break the stranglehold so no help there.
      Gomes has already told us city residency is a requirement to any cabinet appointment.
      Gomes has already told us every current Mayoral appointee will submit their letter of resignation and Gomes has told us he is actively seeking candidates to run for the two dozen or so seats up for election.
      Approaching the problems from as many sides as possible will be the only way to weaken, reduce and rid the DTC Chair’s influence.
      As you know this is only a start …, because you are looking at 40 years. But a newly elected mayor could certainly gather people around who want to stop the politicizing of Bridgeport city government operations. And then take their advice, not run from it.
      My guess is membership in the DTC will fall off once the picnic table is pulled away.
      What do you think?

      1. I think you are getting awfully close to a check. Resignations from all Finch appointees is fine. Then I would like to see invitations sent out to all those dedicated employees Finch fired to be considered for reemployment.

  8. I talked with the Republican Registrar of Voters since many of those who have told me they want to vote for MJF are Republicans or unaffiliated. Republicans or Unaffiliated voters are not allowed to vote in the Sept 13th Democratic primary. Only registered Democrats can vote. Therefore if you are or know a Republican who wants to help a candidate, they will need to change their party registration before JUNE 13th. The law says the change in party requires a 90-day wait period. It used to be a six-month wait but now the law requires a 90-day wait. Therefore the last day is June 13th. The person then becomes technically unaffiliated until the 90 days is up and the change in party registration takes effect. So if you want to vote in the Sept 13th Democratic primary, you have to change your party affiliation no later than June 13th. If you are unaffiliated right now, you have up to the day before the primary to become a Democrat. Don’t worry, Republicans and unaffiliated folks, you can change back the day after the primary and still be able to vote in November because it doesn’t matter what your party registration is for the November vote. So those who want to weigh in on the Democratic primary on Sept 13, take heed of these deadlines. In Bridgeport politics, the winner of the September primary is usually the candidate who wins it all in November.

    1. Countdown are you advocating people change their political views for the primary? If I read Lennie’s article correctly, Mary-Jane is indeed seeking the party nomination. If this is the case where do all you anti- DTC folks stand if she gets the endorsement? Does she then fall into a less desirable position and candidate Gomes emerges as the “anti” candidate of choice? I’m just wondering …

      1. Hector, clarification regarding Foster’s candidate committee. My reference to her seeking the nomination is via the primary route, not the town committee route. She’s not going to receive the DTC endorsement, unless something really screwy happens the next few months. Finch has most of the party backing. The endorsement comes from the pols, the nomination from the Dem voters assuming a primary takes place.

  9. I hear Finch is having a fundraiser in May geared towards city vendors and contractors.

    Hector–I don’t think MJ is looking for the endorsement, just seeking to become the Democratic mayoral candidate through the primary election.

    Interesting caveat in Finch budget of no tax increase depends heavily on relief from the state on unfunded pension Lie-A-Bill-ity.

  10. Hector,
    I don’t know for sure but I suspect MJF will primary the DTC endorsed slate which will be led by Finch. Therefore people need to get out and vote. Those uneducated in the intricate ways of Bridgeport politics will think November is the place where the action happens. Well, it doesn’t. It happens in the Sept 13th primary. So yes sir, I am suggesting those who care, really care about Bridgeport, need to focus their attention on September 13th and the Democratic primary. As was done for the Malloy/Lamont primary, folks who wanted Malloy switched their party affiliation for the primary and the day after switched back. It is all about getting out the votes. So if you are a Republican or unaffiliated, focus on the deadlines I cited in my earlier post.

  11. My observation of Mary-Jane Foster’s potential run for the mayor of Bridgeport leaves me with a number of questions. How and when will Ms. Foster make her name and reason why she should be elected mayor to the Black community who does not know her?

    I must say I did see Ms. Foster this past Sunday at the 7:45 a.m. service at Mt. Aery Baptist Church.

    1. The same could have been said or asked of Bill Finch and Jim Himes. They’ll vote for whoever the church leadership suggest or tells them to support.

    2. Hey Mister Mackey. A lot of people in Black Rock do know MJF, and like her a lot. And some people in Black Rock know you and they say he’s that guy with long hair and big flapping lips, “and don’t pay no mind to him Jim.” I just said next November Mary-Jane Foster will add an (M) to her initials.

    3. Ron–that is a fair observation. However, her record speaks for itself in her advocacy for children, families and creating jobs for all colors in Bridgeport.

  12. Is John Gomes and Charlie Coviello going to seek the party endorsement? If not, that would make three (D) candidates going down the primary route–the long way. Can any of them even get a TC member to nominate them and another to second the nomination? If they can’t, what does that say about their chances of winning a primary? Winning against an incumbent with strong name recognition and the party endorsement is a tough feat to pull off–especially in a crowded field. Instead of having voters switch party, perhaps one of the candidates should change their last name to Ganim.

  13. We are all well aware of the conflict of interest many members of the City Council share. Holding a municipal job and a seat on the City Council and dues-paying membership in the Mario Testa Wholesale Corruption Society is a tough act to juggle. I seriously doubt many of the guilty aldermen are capable of multitasking at that level of sophistication.

  14. Jimfox, I see you read things in that were never said. I have never had long hair and I gave an “My observation of Mary-Jane Foster potential run for the mayor of Bridgeport.” I could care less about you or whoever you said you spoke to but there one thing I do know, you would never say what you wrote to my face.


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