The mayor of Connecticut’s largest city arguably possesses the most power among municipal chief executives in the state.
It wasn’t always that way. Once a weak mayoral form of government, charter revision initiatives the past 35 years approved by voters bolstered mayoral power, providing increased strength over public safety appointments, the budget and term duration.
The Police Department’s handling of the December deaths of two young women transitioned from a squeaky mousy chirp to a lioness’s public roar, backed by a growing national media blitz questioning racial bias and insensitivity to family notification.
Some people demanded that the mayor step in. The same demagogues who meowed for mayoral action have pivoted to motives, timing and authority to do so.
Some of them questioning the mayor’s inaction and subsequent action are current and former political leaders whom themselves covet the position including State Senator Marilyn Moore. In her eight years in the Senate, has Moore done anything to address the timeliness of family notification following death? She has the power to try.
Let’s start with the premise Mayor Joe Ganim’s handling of the Police Department is a self-inflicted weakness rather than historic strength. During JG1 praised was heaped for boosting staffing levels, reducing violent crime, diversifying racial makeup of the department.
Loyalty to disgraced former Chief AJ Perez during JG2 ripped open wounds a warehouse of bandages and tourniquets fail to stem. It was a screwy appointment pointed out prior to the fact. Perez is gone replaced by Rebeca Garcia in an acting capacity.
Most voters will not judge fallout from Ganim’s appointment of Perez as the sole issue in the 2023 mayoral election. They will judge his decision-making moving forward, as a national search for a police chief is underway, basing a mayoral scorecard on overall performance.
Mayors don’t want to run the damn police department, but sometimes a mayor must step in. Realistically, Ganim needs an eight-month department caretaker until he selects a permanent chief from a list of three finalists presented to him later this year. How deep is the bench? Is Garcia his only option?
Now, let’s examine the politics, the government, the community reaction to the department’s handling of the two deaths. Good, bad or ugly, Ganim decided to step in because these cases combined were taking on a life of their own with no confidence current police leadership has a clue fanned by the top cop retreating for a week specifying no reason for her absence.
Ganim could not get his police chief on the phone.
With the chief effectively AWOL, Ganim conferred with Deputy Chief James Baraja on the next steps: a public apology to the family, condemnation of department insensitivity to death notification, removal of two detectives pending review.
Some challenge the mayor’s authority to order temporary removal of detectives. The police union will oppose it.
Former Mayor Tom Bucci who knows the City Charter as well as anyone on the planet and is no fan of Ganim, says “I can’t say he doesn’t have the authority to do it.”
Not persuaded? Presented here the first line in the City Charter specifying the powers and duties of the chief of police: “Subject to the operational control of the mayor”
Powers of the mayor below, as well as power of police chief.
Section 1. – Selection; Powers; Duties.
The chief executive officer of the city shall be a mayor, elected pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 2 of this charter.
The mayor shall take care that the laws are executed and enforced within the city; shall be the conservator of the peace with the city; shall have and may exercise, within the limits of the city, all the powers given the sheriffs or other officers as provided by law; and shall exercise ultimate operational control of all departments and agencies of the city.
The mayor shall devote the full time necessary to the duties of the office and shall be responsible for the proper performance of their duties by all the appointive officers and departments and employees.
The Mayor shall be, ex-officio, a non-voting member of every board and commission of the city and shall have the right to attend all meetings of every board and commission of the city and to address it at any meeting. No board or commission shall have the authority to exclude the mayor from its meetings. The mayor shall have the power to convene a special meeting of any appointive Board, provided he/she specifies the reasons for calling the special meeting and the business to be transacted. Unless expressly provided for in this charter or the ordinance creating the board or commission, the mayor shall have no right to vote at any such meeting. The provisions of this Section shall not apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission; the Zoning Board of Appeals or any other board or commission whose decisions are appealable to the superior court based on the record before such board or commission.
It shall be the duty of the mayor to recommend the adoption of all such measures connected with police, fire, and public safety, public health and social services, public facilities, planning and economic development, finances, policy and management of the city, and the improvements of its government, and improvements all of which shall within ten days thereafter, be entered in the records of the city council. It shall be the further duty of the mayor to fill, by appointment, any vacancies in office in all cases in which the Mayor is given by law the power to appoint.
The Mayor shall have authority at any time to examine all data and property of the city in the possession of any officer, agency, department, commission, board, authority, employee or any other member of the municipal government, and may exercise this authority in person or through any other official appointed by the mayor for that purpose by written designation and authority.
In addition to the powers enumerated herein, the Mayor shall have authority to perform such acts and duties as may be prescribed in this charter or by the laws of this state or the United States or by the ordinances of the city of Bridgeport.
Subject to the availability of funds, the Mayor may appoint such assistants as the mayor deems necessary for the administration of the duties of the office of mayor.
Section 17. – Removal of Certain Officers.
If the mayor believes that any person appointed to the office by him/her or any of his/her predecessors to be incompetent, or guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance, or violation of ethics as determined by the ethics commission, such mayor may, upon thirty (30) days written notice, summon the officer before him/her at a place and time specified in such summons to show cause why he/she should not be removed from office. Such summons shall include a written statement of the charges against the officer. If, after full hearing, the mayor finds that such officer is incompetent or guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance, or violation of ethics as determined by the ethics commission, he/she may remove such person from office.
Section 5. – Powers and Duties of the Chief of Police.
Subject to the operational control of the mayor, the Chief of Police shall be responsible for:
(1) The administration, supervision and discipline of the Police Department including suspension, loss of pay and discharge of members of the department;
(2) The proper care and custody of the property, apparatus and equipment used by the Department;
(3) The preservation of the public peace, prevention of crime, apprehension of criminals, the enforcement of traffic laws and regulations, protection of rights of persons and property and enforcement of the laws of the state, and the Ordinances of the City;
(4) Making all appointments and promotions to positions in the Police Department. The Chief of Police shall be the appointing authority for all subordinate positions in the Police Department;
(5) The assignment of all members of the Department to their respective posts, shifts, details and duties;
(6) Making rules and regulations concerning the operation of the Department and the conduct of all officers and employees thereof subject to approval by the Board of Police Commissioners;
(7) Conducting an investigation and initial informal hearing or hearings in relation to any charges against any officer or member of the Department concerning abuse of power, negligence or dereliction of duty, incompetency, incapacity to perform or some delinquency seriously affecting the Officer’s general character or fitness for office. At the completion of the investigation and hearings the chief shall, forthwith, reported the results of any such investigation and hearings, including the discipline, if any, imposed to the board of police commissioners;
(8) Establishing procedures for the filing and recording of all complaints and the disposition thereof;
(9) Attending meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners as a nonvoting ex-officio member.