Pass the boxing gloves. Those battling barristers are at it again.
Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez (a former attorney for the city) had a bunch of questions for City Attorney Mark Anastasi regarding the Civil Service Commission firing of Personnel Director Ralph Jacobs who claims he was canned because he did not play ball with Mayor Bill Finch over political hirings. The mayor says that’s baloney.
Carmen contends the city violated Freedom of Information laws in the termination of Jacobs from his non-political position. She also queried how much the city has shelled out in outside attorney fees. The billable hours are bulging, as noted in Lopez’s letter.
Gee, is no one in the City Attorney’s Office qualified?
Anastasi responded to her info requests and she responded in kind. Some of her requests, she writes, Mark falls short, and the former judge doesn’t hold back lecturing him in the nuances of state law. Anastasi apparently doesn’t see an email request as a legitimate query for public documents, even though state FOI officials accept correspondence in such a fashion. And, by the way, electronic mail of public officials is open for public inspection. Except in Bridgeport!
Why do I get the feeling this will not be the last correspondence between these two? See Lopez letter to Anastasi below:
October 24, 2009
Re: Your Letter dated October 15, 2009
Dear Attorney Anastasi:
I am in receipt of your communication of October 15, 2009, as well as the materials that you appended to that letter. The materials that I received are as follows:
1. A summary of remarks which I made at the October 5, 2009 public speaking portion of the City Council meeting.
2. A copy of page C-14 of the City Charter which includes Chapter 7, Section 4, to which I made reference in my email of September 28, 2009.
3. A copy of page 180 of the Budget of the City of Bridgeport, which indicates an appropriation of $512,145.00 for account # 61060SS, City Attorney SPEC-SVCS.
4. A copy of the minutes of the Civil Service Commission meeting of July 14, 2009, which was called to order at 3:15p.m., consisting of sixteen (16) pages.
5. A copy of an itemized bill for services rendered by the law firm of Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, P.C. for services regarding “131 Ralph H. Jacobs v Civil Service Commission of Bridgeport,” consisting of six (6) pages and covering services rendered from July 14, 2009 through August 24, 2009 totaling $24,964.25.
I respond to each of the issues raised in your letter of October 15, 2009, in the order in which they were addressed. By doing so, I do not mean to imply that this is a complete legal response to the issues raised in my pending Freedom of Information (FOI) complaint, Docket # 2009-552. That response will be tendered at the appropriate time to the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) or a court of competent jurisdiction. Nor do I take your letter to be a legal response to my complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission, in that you have not responded to all of the issues that I raised in said complaint (i.e., illegal executive session).
In your opening paragraph, you state that you had been “unable to locate” the statement that I made to the City Council during the public speaking portion of the October 5, 2009 City Council meeting. I certainly would have provided you with a copy had you requested and I am enclosing a copy so that your file will be complete.
City of Bridgeport’s Commitment to the FOIA
You begin your substantive response by attempting to assure me that “compliance with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a priority for the Administration of Mayor Bill Finch.”
I find that sort of political comment to be gratuitous and unfortunate.
When I was a member of the City Attorney’s Office in the late 1970’s, I always acted, as did my colleagues, as if we were representing the City of Bridgeport and its interests and not those of the Administration of Mayor John C. Mandanici.
You proceeded to explain that the City of Bridgeport will continue to “comply fully with the provisions of the FOIA.” It is noteworthy; however, that you follow this statement with an attempt to explain why full and complete compliance with the Act is not possible.
As I indicated in my FOI complaint, the votes of the members of the Civil Service Commission at its meeting of August 21, 2009 at which Mr. Jacobs was terminated were not available within 48 hours, as required by Section 1-225a of the General Statutes, nor were the minutes available within seven (7) days of the meeting.
As I said in the enclosed statement, compliance with the FOIA is critical particularly when meetings are held during working hours or where decisions of land use agencies are involved because of stringent time limits for appeals to court.
Posting of Public Meeting Minutes on Website.
Your stated position on this issue seems to indicate that the City is under no obligation to post the minutes of its various agencies on the Municipal website, because none of the City “agencies” (Police Commission, Fire Commission, Planning and Zoning, Ethics, ZBA, Civil Service, etc.) has its own website, and each is a separate agency for purposes of FOIA.
I find this argument to be disingenuous.
The City of Bridgeport, a specially chartered municipal corporation, can only act through its agents, employees, boards and commissions. That is basic corporation law. Following your logic, the City of Bridgeport would never have minutes of a public meeting, because the City of Bridgeport as a separate legal entity never holds a public meeting. Meetings are conducted by Boards, Commissions, and Agencies of the City as well as the City Council.
Furthermore, your argument pre-supposes that each Board or Commission in the City should have its own website, a process which would be extremely expensive and redundant since the municipal website is already available.
Electronic FOIA Requests for Records
The FOIA requires that requests for information be made in “writing.” (General Statutes, Section 1-212a). I believe that an email request is in full compliance with state law. Indeed, my complaints to the FOIC have been filed via e-mail and have been accepted. The commission has also ruled that e-mails are public records which are subject to disclosure, which is a recognition that ordinary everyday business affairs are conducted by government officials by e-mail and it is an accepted method of written communication.
Hopefully, the FOIC will address this issue.
Retention of Outside Legal Counsel
In your response to my request for information on the retention of outside legal counsel, you took pains to “refer me to Chapter 7, Section 4 of the City Charter.”
Although I thank you for pointing out this section of the Charter to me, if you will take a moment to look at the email that I sent you on September 28, 2009, you will note that my opening paragraph referred to that section of the Bridgeport City Charter.
During my remarks to the City Council (copy enclosed), I cited Section 2.10.110 of the City of Bridgeport Municipal Code. That section, which is still on the books, seems to represent a decision by Bridgeport’s legislative body that it has a role to play in the selection of outside counsel.
As City Attorney you are not free to ignore or dismiss that legislative determination as contained in our ordinances.
Furthermore, your claim of absolute authority in this area is undermined by the Civil Service Commission minutes of its July 14, 2009 meeting, which you provided to me. In the minutes, on page fourteen (14), you are quoted as saying that the Civil Service Commission does not have the opportunity to select its counsel, but does have the “opportunity to reject any selection.” The Civil Service Commission, in your presence, in fact, approved a resolution to hire the firm of Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, PC.
There is an old axiom which holds that “the law does not require useless acts.” If your authority to engage outside counsel is absolute and unfettered, then the Civil Service Commission vote would be the definition of a useless act.
It would seem to me that adherence to the ‘rule of law’ requires you to abide by an ordinance passed by the City Council, even if you disagree with such ordinance. There is no contradiction between ‘your right’ to engage outside counsel and the legitimate exercise of advice and consent by the City Council as mandated by ordinance.
Regarding my request for a copy of the written retainer agreement between the City and outside counsel, you stated that “there is no written retainer agreement specific to the Jacobs matter with this law firm.”
Perhaps I was not specific enough in my request for information.
I would ask that you provide me with a copy of any retainer agreement between the City of Bridgeport and Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, PC., which applies to any matter in which that firm has represented the City of Bridgeport.
This would include any retainer agreement which may be in your files which complies with Rule 1.5(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Your letter of October 15, 2009, on City Attorney letterhead indicates that the City of Bridgeport employs a City Attorney, a Deputy City Attorney, eight (8) Associate City Attorneys and four (4) Assistant City Attorneys. The name of Attorney John Bohannon appears nowhere on the letterhead. However, Attorney Bohannon is listed as the individual to whom the $24,964.25 legal bill was sent.
The minutes of the Civil Service Commission meeting of July 14, 2009, (page 14) indicate that Attorney Bohannan is representing the Civil Service Commission and Mr. Jacobs in “another matter.” If he is unable to represent the Commission in any matter regarding Mr. Jacobs, why are the invoices being sent to his attention, rather than to your attention, as City Attorney?
Furthermore, I am puzzled by the August 20th entry on the bill for services submitted by Durant, Nichols. Apparently, an attorney billed the City six (6) hours for a “conference call with Melanie Howlett regarding FOI issue and prepared for hearing.” (Presumably the August 21, 2009 hearing in which Mr. Jacobs was terminated.)
If the City Attorney’s Office is unable to represent the Civil Service Commission and we must engage outside legal counsel, due to an alleged “conflict of interest” why is a member of the City Attorney’s office collaborating with special outside counsel for the Commission?
You end your letter with the same gratuitous comments concerning how the “Finch Administration shares your commitment to open and transparent government.”
Once again, my comments are directed to the practices and policies of the City of Bridgeport and not the “Finch Administration.”
Thank you for waiving the copying fees associated with my request for information. Your consideration is appreciated.
Very truly yours,
Carmen L. Lopez
175 Balmforth Street
Yes, There’s An Election
One week from election day. If you want to attend a forum featuring candidates for Board of Education check this out:
Bridgeport PLTI Alumni Association and the Bridgeport Area League of Women Voters present Education in Bridgeport: Connecting the Board of Education Candidates to Parents
Thursday, October 29, 6:30 to 8:30pm
Messiah Baptist Church
210 Congress Street
2009 Board of Education Candidates
Sauda Efia Baraka (WF) Leticia Colon (D) Pat Crossin (D)
Maria Pereira (WF) Raul Quiroga (R) Bobby Simmons (D)
Juan Hernandez (R) Nate Snow (R)
News release from BOE Working Families candidates
Working Families Board of Ed Slate Criticizes School Administration for Failure to Inform Public of Radon Threat
Today, the Working Families candidates for Bridgeport Board of Education reacted with anger at the recent revelations regarding radon levels in the Bridgeport schools. A dozen Bridgeport schools have tested positive for potentially dangerous levels of radon, a gas that increases the risk of lung cancer.
“I think the Superintendent has fallen short of his responsibility by failing to keep the members of the Board of Education informed on what’s going on inside Bridgeport’s schools,” said Sauda Baraka, a member of the Board. “He has an obligation to keep us informed updated on immediate hazards to the health, safety and welfare of our children and staff in our school buildings.”
“That we would expose our children and their educators to this cancer-causing agent is unconscionable–that the situation would be hidden and covered up is deplorable,” said Maria Pereira, Working Families candidate for Board of Education. “Parents, staff and this Board should have been informed immediately of this health risk, but instead the policies surrounding public health concerns were ignored.”
Sauda Baraka, a member of the Board of Education is running for re-election as a candidate of the Working Families Party, along with running mate Maria Pereira.
Maria Pereira is a Bridgeport mother who started taking interest in the Board of Education after discovering that her daughter had had nine math teachers in a single year. After attending Board meeting and speaking with several Bridgeport public school system administrators and officials, she decided to run for a seat.
Sauda Baraka is currently serving on the Board of Education, elected as a Republican, but was not nominated for re-election by the Republican Town Committee. Sauda has been a parent advocate for over 25 years and is a leading voice for reducing the drop-out rate in Bridgeport’s high schools.
Working Families is a fast-growing political party across the state. According to the Secretary of State’s office, over 2600 Bridgeport residents voted for Jim Himes on the Working Families Party line in 2008.
Working Families is a minor political party in Connecticut formed by a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and neighborhood activists who united to fight for a fair economy. The Working Families Party was formed to inject issues like healthcare, quality education, and livable wages into the public debate, and to hold politicians accountable.
News release from Mayor Finch
Mayor Urges Reinstatement of Commission for People with Disabilities
Mayor: Needs of disabled too often are overlooked or underrepresented
Mayor Bill Finch today affirmed his support of the reinstatement of the Commission for People with Disabilities in the City of Bridgeport.
The Mayor and his staff have been working with local advocates for the disabled to resurrect the commission, which would serve the needs of the approximately 18,000 people in the City who live with a disability of some kind.
“It is unfortunate, but too often the disabled population is often overlooked or underrepresented,” said Mayor Finch. “I fully support the resolution before the Miscellaneous Matters Committee to reinstate the commission, which will give the disabled population a strong voice to address the issues of access, physical or otherwise, that they face every day.”
The Commission would have as its primary purpose to advise the Mayor and the City administration on the needs of individuals with disabilities in relation to housing, employment, transportation, economics, health, recreation and other relevant matters, and make recommendations to the Mayor, City administrators as well as the City Council.
The City Council’s Miscellaneous Matters committee will meet this evening at 6 p.m. to consider the resolution.