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General Lee Tells City Council To Follow The Charter, Review Financial Reports

December 8th, 2013 · 6 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, City Council, News and Events

Government watchdog John Marshall Lee offered some pragmatic advice to the City Council last week–marinate in the City Charter. His presentation to the city’s budget and legislative body follows:

About 25 hours ago most of you stood before a gathering of this community, placed your hand on a holy book and said I Do and/or I Will when the Oath of Office was read. Including: “Solemnly swear you will faithfully and impartially execute duties of said office according to the laws to the best of your skill, wisdom, judgment and ability.” To those of you who are new to this body or who approach it with a fresh mind and solid expectations for the role this legislative body must play for the people of Bridgeport, I will encourage you to read and review our City Charter often until it becomes second nature. The Charter is currently and regularly violated in one or more ways and that has been the case after several of the recent Councils have been sworn in.

I am a co-founder and member of Budget Oversight Bridgeport, otherwise called BOB. We focus on monthly financial reports that should reach you by the fourth Friday of a following month per the Charter. But they are not available to you by that date. Sometimes they take more than two months. And the majority of the Council does not currently receive this report online. Why not? This is not OPEN governance. If Mayor Finch can twitter, you ought to be able to take advantage of technology to better govern. The June fiscal year closing report has not been provided in over 20 years until the last two years. But the June report cover indicates it is only a DRAFT, not ready for prime time, I guess. Why not? Will you be looking for a Final report for last June 2013? Please share that request with the City Finance director. That would be more ACCOUNTABLE governance than we suffer today.

Around financial issues, you certainly have power to request information per the Charter. Use that power well. Make the information available and TRANSPARENT. You know your Budget & Appropriations Committee will hold extended sessions in April each year as they consider what the Mayor provides to you. But is that the only time you intend to provide comment on budget matters? The last Board allowed over $4 Million of vacant salaried positions to be approved annually. BOB called them “ghost positions” that would hide where the money would be spent. In September 2012 when the administration removed those positions from the budget, where was the discussion or comment from B&A or the rest of the Council? Where was that money spent? If there is no FINAL JUNE MONTHLY FINANCIAL REPORT, you just can’t tell. Is that the level of budget review and oversight that taxpayers want you to practice?

Where was money spent? Can you answer that question of a constituent when your reports are late, when they do not show variances in detail or when you do not practice “oversight?” Balancing a budget takes work and regular vigilance even though Bridgeport does not have a specific “financial review body.” It’s your job. Please attend to it. And that goes for the Capital Budget the Charter treats separately than the Operating Budget. Look it up.

Your other duty is to pass City rules and regulations that are called Ordinances. You might first read them so as to understand what was passed previously. You may learn that some are out of date or out of tune with the times and require change. Is that something the Ordinance Committee might reasonably take up as a regular assignment? Start with the Purchasing Ordinance that directs you to expect an annual purchasing report and an audit of purchasing every three years. Neither of these duties is happening! Why not? Would the Stratford “gravel gate” fiasco have happened if full reports were provided to Council members well before the administration asks for approval? I don’t think so.

Consider exactly what the Council Committee saw in terms of paperwork. It was very light in terms of a project that would spend $40 Million of Federal money as well as State and local funds. Make believe these are your dollars. They really are. Get good value for your public and be able to explain it to anyone who asks. These are your income taxes and property taxes and those of the folks who voted for you cycling through different pathways. Does it make sense to you? If not, vote no, until you get the facts that convince you and that you can point to when questioned by your constituents. That is a path to more OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT governance. It starts with you honoring the oath you took yesterday. Time will tell.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Lisa Parziale

    Since I had worked very hard to help the many people involved who brought change to the Board of Education, I decided to attend the swearing-in of the candidates. I stayed to observe the City Council members take the oath of office, and silently wondered how many of them realized what they were swearing to uphold. The City Charter of Bridgeport has been disparaged, ignored, and blatantly violated while no member of the administration or City Council has challenged this travesty. Hopefully, with the addition of new Council people, it will become a consistent reminder and “miracles of miracles” it may shake the conscience of some reelected ones. If not, we’ll have to continue the effort to effect change from the top down and throw the jerks out. It’s only a matter of time!

  • Mojo

    *** Let’s hope those who didn’t have a clue and are still on the council start to listen a bit better and are not afraid to ask questions in general and also demand more information in writing when needed. Also do not hesitate a motion to table ’til they get the info they’re asking for! The new council members must try to stop the rubber stamping; the entire council must slow down the pace of the meetings, ask more questions and demand better concrete answers in writing if needed and not give in to the usual few who are not doing their jobs and protecting the taxpayers of Bpt. Be transparent and the voice of the people who voted for you in your district because what’s good for your district will be good for the city as a whole! *** GOOD LUCK! ***

  • Mojo

    *** After every new city council election has gone by, a review of the city charter and Robert’s Rules of Order should be given to all new and old membesr, along with a quarterly B&A, city dept’s budget breakdowns to help the council members overall come city budget season. *** I KNOW, DREAMING! ***

    • John Marshall Lee

      Mojo,
      Your concept is right on! However, there was no review of the City Charter, and I doubt with the number of differences between what is directed by the Charter and what is incomplete or failing on the part of the administration, we will see any time spent on this. After all, if addressed on this subject, most Council persons would assert all City behavior is in line with Charter statements currently.
      What was interesting at the City Council meeting was attention to Council rules. Council member Holloway observed when Council rules fail to address a situation, Robert’s Rules is the fail-safe reference. A few moments later when several of the new Council persons chose to abstain from a vote, they were told the “rules” indicated they must declare a reason for such abstention. No one, including Councilman Holloway indicated where that rule on ABSTAIN may be found, and at least one new Council person has reviewed both sets of rules, and come up with NOTHING about a vote to abstain.
      However, Rule X, ALL MUST VOTE may be referenced as the source of this Council practice. “No member shall be excused from voting on any question unless he is personally interested in the result, except by unanimous consent.” When a City employee who is on the Council does not understand his livelihood, income and benefits are on the line when he/she is called to vote on City legislation, it is much easier to understand why Ethics rules and “conflict of interest” concepts are “dead on arrival” relative to City governance improvements. Time will tell.

  • Pete Spain

    In his concise, direct and respectful address to the City Council, John Marshall Lee was … on the mark and on the money.

    Thank you, JML.

  • Mojo

    *** How about the, “when in doubt, vote ‘NO’ rule!” *** It does not matter one way or another because after 6 months on the city council, most members will fall in place on the city government most gullible team and become rubber-stampers without even realizing it!

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