Legislation introduced by State Rep. Jack Hennessy that seeks to “prohibit municipal employees from serving on any governmental body charged with preparing the municipal budget except when authorized by charter or home rule ordinance” now has official language and is expected to be voted on this week by the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. The bill, if passed, would validate language in Bridgeport’s City Charter that bars city employees from serving on the City Council. Hennessy’s trying to close a loophole in state law that allows it.
Hennessy’s bill is now co-sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Auden Grogins, as well as suburban Republican members of the State House, Tony Hwang, Brenda Kupchick and Terrie Wood.
State and municipal union leaders have forged an intensive effort to kill the bill, leaning on members of the Democratic-controlled legislature who rely on union support for their elections. The Bridgeport City Council approves union contracts.
Hennessy says if the bill is enacted it shall take effect October 1. Hennessy tells OIB that Board of Education “employees will still be able to serve on the city council if HB 5724 were to pass” covering the five city employees on the city’s legislative body, Tom McCarthy, Warren Blunt, James Holloway, Richard Bonney and Richard Paoletto. It would not impact, for instance, Michelle Lyons, an employee of the Board of Education, who is not a mayoral appointee.
Supporters of the bill maintain this is a good government initiative that would eliminate conflicts of interest such as City Council members voting to approve their wages and benefits. Even if the bill is voted out of committee it still faces an uphill battle for passage from union opposition.
Republican Party State Chair Jerry Labriola last week announced his support for the bill.
“Allowing municipal employees to serve on legislative body expands the political rights of those employees,” he said. “But, it also brings with it the potential for conflicts of interest when the Council acts on issues that include municipal budgets, salaries, union contracts and the oversight of the municipal agencies where those Council members are employed.
“Each municipality should be free to determine for itself how to deal with those potential conflicts. If the municipality chooses to prohibit employees from serving on their legislative bodies, as Bridgeport’s City Charter does, the legislature should respect that decision, rather than imposing its will on the community.”
Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport, a newly organized neighborhood action group, has been urging the bill’s passage. So far only Hennessy and Grogins out of the city’s eight-member legislative delegation have announced support. State Senator Andres Ayala and State Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, a city employee, are publicly opposing the bill. State Senator Anthony Musto and State House members Don Clemons, Charlie Stallworth and Christina Ayala have so far taken a hands off position. This is a tricky position, in particular for Musto who represents the highest turnout areas of the city with a constituency largely in support of the bill. Musto fears alienation of Bridgeport political support if he supports the bill.
The full text of the proposed bill is here.