When the City Council votes on a pact with Joe Gaudett transitioning from police chief to supervising a department as a contract worker, it will be asked to approve a three-year package of roughly $125,000 a year that allows him to also access his $78,534 current annual city pension.
Lawyers for the city and Gaudett are examining the finer details of the contract before it’s submitted to the council’s Contracts Committee for review that could be approved by the full legislative body in March.
The genesis of this arrangement goes back to the final days of the mayoralty of Bill Finch who exercised his authority granted by the City Charter appointing Gaudett to a final five-year term. Several sources close to Finch say had Finch been elected to another term it was doubtful he’d have reappointed Gaudett whom many observers say is a strong community face of the police department but not the strongest manager. So Finch’s last-minute appointment was viewed as shoving a middle finger in the face of Ganim who defeated him in last September’s Democratic primary. The defeat was a major personal blow to Finch who had difficulty stomaching his loss to Ganim.
Ganim received strong support on the campaign trail from the police union whose membership butted heads with Gaudett over a series of issues. And in fact Ganim had announced during the campaign he would make a change at the top if elected. Finch’s reappointment of Gaudett forced Ganim to devise a strategy to move out Gaudett. He started by bringing in former Chief Wilbur Chapman as a senior adviser on public safety who started the process to marginalize Gaudett as chief carrying out mayoral directives.
Negotiations ensued with Gaudett to work out a pricey buyout of his contract worth about $700k. When they could not come to terms, discussions centered on Gaudett resigning as chief but accepting a contract position overseeing the Emergency Operations Center reporting to Chapman. As a contract employee Gaudett could continue accepting his annual pension accrued as a result of his police service.
If the City Council approves the deal, it would allow Ganim to slot in his own person in an acting chief capacity such as police confidante Captain A.J. Perez whose public profile has been raised by Ganim. According to the City Charter, following a police chief vacancy, the Civil Service Personnel Director (David Dunn) has 150 days to conduct a test for a permanent chief that could include a written examination or simply oral interviews before a search committee that in the past has been selected by the mayor. A private firm could be brought in to vet and conduct background checks on candidates. The search committee would narrow choices to three finalists. The mayor would appoint a chief from the top three to a five-year term with an option to appoint for another five years. A chief, based on a charter change approved by voters more than 25 years ago, cannot serve for more than 10 years.
Based on past practice it could take a year before a permanent chief is selected.
OIB reader Phil Smith, a student of the City Charter, wrote in a related comment article that transitioning Gaudett to a contract employee with associated issues sets a poor precedence that could violate the City Charter. From Smith:
According to your report, Chief Gaudett will resign as Chief and be hired as “a contract worker overseeing a police division such as the Emergency Operations Center reporting to former Chief Wilbur Chapman.” I guess that means the Mayor intends to waive competitive bidding and award him a $375,000 no-bid contract.
Sadly, that would be the least of the problems with that scheme. Just saying someone is a contractor doesn’t make it so. There are clear standards for determining who is an employee and who is a truly independent contractor. A person who is supervising the provision of city services and is supervised by a representative of the city is an employee not a contractor, regardless of what you call them.
The Civil Service provisions of the City Charter clearly require “all positions and offices in the Police Department” (and most other city positions) be in the classified service. I’m not aware of any vacant civil service position that is available for Gaudett to assume. Yes, the Civil Service Commission and the Council could create a new position for him, but under existing civil service rules he still has to finish first on a test in order to be appointed. Unless, of course, the Mayor is planning to circumvent the testing process in order to get his way. Talk about politicizing civil service.
Apparently the plan is to have him report to former Chief Wilbur Chapman. In other words Chapman would be responsible for oversight of a part of the Police Department. That clearly violates Chapter 13, Section 5(a)(1) of the Charter which vests the responsibility–and accountability–for the “administration, supervision and discipline” of the Police Department in the Chief of Police. Legality aside, it is a formula for chaos.
Then there is Chapman’s own position. If the deal is as described, it gives a member of the Mayor’s staff responsibility for managing Gaudett and, by extension, an important part of the Police Department’s operations. That is a horrible precedent.
The problems don’t necessarily end there. A Paoletta-era court decision and the language of the Charter that requires the Mayor to exercise his authority “through the Chief of Police” and not an intermediary as Mayor Paoletta had attempted to do, suggests his current role may violate the Charter.
Finally, where is the money to pay for this deal going to come from? The Mayor and his Finance Director keep telling us the city is in dire financial condition. We all know the Police budget is awash in red ink. Is this expenditure really necessary? Of course not.
I understand Mayor Ganim wants “his guy” as the Chief of Police. That is entirely understandable. But that’s not the system we have in Bridgeport. It’s not a coincidence the Chief of Police is a civil service employee not a mayoral appointee. It was done to provide the professionals in that department with some measure of protection from the kind of political manipulation we have seen recently.
In the final analysis the issue is bigger than Joe Ganim or Joe Gaudett. The issue is whether we are going to follow the law or allow the Mayor to use taxpayers’ money to get around it. It really is that simple.