Harvard, Princeton, Yale: The City Council’s (Almost) Ivy League Club

Lopez
Carmen Lopez smells Ivy

Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez observes that the city’s legislative body must be an equal branch to the executive level. In Bridgeport, however, and other places (paging an outgoing Republican U.S. House of Representatives), those lines via party dominance can often blur the traditional government role of checks and balances. Lopez, in this commentary, declares “The Co-chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee attended Harvard. Princeton and Yale are also represented on the City Council. In fact, the City Council can almost establish an Ivy League Club. Yet these Ivy League legislators seem to have missed the class on the responsibility of an independent legislative body.”

Yale, Pete Spain, Princeton, Christina Smith
Harvard, Maria Zambrano Viggiano.

As if the residents and taxpayers of Bridgeport, don’t have enough questions they are trying to answer regarding the way their City is governed, the front page of Sunday’s CTPOST November 25 edition asked the readers “what will Ganim’s $70,000-a-year community liaison do for the city?

Brian Lockhart, a CTPOST seasoned investigative reporter, asked many relevant and timely questions regarding the Mayor’s new hire, Carolyn Vermont. He reviewed the job description for the position and asked if Ms. Vermont was the most qualified for the position, given her work experience. He even asked if the decision to fill the position now, instead of at the time it was funded in July 2018, is simply a “politically strategic one.”

While the article is probative, informative and very interesting, perhaps unintentionally, it serves to highlight the deep dysfunction suffocating the life out of Bridgeport’s municipal government. The subtext of the article reveals a City Council completely oblivious to its role as an independent branch of municipal government with checks-and-balances responsibilities. Instead, its members are compliant political props who are at the disposal of the Mayor, as he seeks to enhance his election year image.

This subservience is a hangover from the “Tom McCarthy Era” during which the City Council President actively transformed that body into an appendage of the Mayor’s office, while a full-time City employee.

There is nothing these City Council members won’t say to justify putting taxpayer dollars at the disposal of the Mayor.

Council President Aidee Nieves, opined that the “liaison official” would “put boots on the ground” in order to “bring back what the residents want.”

Budget Co-Chair Maria Zambrano-Viggiano weighed in on the issue claiming that residents need “a point of contact” in City Hall, and they need to “feel they are represented.”

Call me naïve, but I always thought that those roles were performed in a system of representative government by members of the City Council, as part of their legislative duties. If our legislators need to defer expenses, they have $9,000 per year available to assist in performing constituent service, something that legislators at every level are charged with doing.

Maybe if the City Council devoted less time to Mayoral photo-ops and self-congratulatory citations, they might be able to serve their constituents with greater energy. They might also have the time to take a course on the role of a legislative body, after they finish learning about the Freedom of Information Act.

I know and like Carolyn Vermont. I also agree with Senator Moore’s assessment of Ms. Vermont-Fuller’s smile; it is engaging and warms the heart.

But neither her personality, her smile, nor her resume is the issue.

Describing someone as a “liaison” or “community activist” should not disguise the fact that these are code words for political patronage. If the position remained vacant since July, why must it suddenly be filled on the eve of an election cycle?

That is a good question, but one that does not seem to concern the City Council.

If they truly want to serve their constituents as independent legislators, council members might consider re-establishing the Office of Legislative Services. This office is mentioned in the City Charter, but was axed during the McCarthy Era, because rubber stamp legislators don’t need any independent assistance.

I grow weary of hearing some of my Black Rock neighbors bemoan the lack of higher education of many involved in municipal government. The Co-chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee attended Harvard. Princeton and Yale are also represented on the City Council. In fact, the City Council can almost establish an Ivy League Club.

Yet these Ivy League legislators seem to have missed the class on the responsibility of an independent legislative body.

Instead the mayor is free to ignore our City Council, and the legislative body has willingly abdicated its ability to think, act and reason, to Mayor Ganim’s City Attorney.

Brian Lockhart has asked the right questions. Now it is up to the constituents of these City Council members to demand the right answers.

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16 comments

  1. Oh my goodness Judge Lopez, I don’t think the responsibility of the city council can be articulated any better or in easily understandable English than you did with this post. Ron and I have caught some hell from members of the Black community for our concerns about the appointment of Carolyn to her city position because they felt that Black’s should support Black’s irrespective of their ability to do the job for which they were hired.

    A sweet smile has never been a prerequisite for employment and shouldn’t be in the case of Carolyn Vermont and an Ivy league education shouldn’t be a prerequisite for doing what’s right, what’s moral and what’s just. Carolyn and the members of the city council, if you can’t say Amen, say Ouch.

    1. Don, the Bridgeport City Council member don’t understand that they are the “legislative” branch of City government and they are the only part of City government that can make new laws or change existing law. The “executive” branch of city government is Mayor Ganim with separate power and duties. This city council truly thing that are celebrities, they don’t want to do any research on issues and they accept whatever the City Attorney Office (who work for the mayor) tells them, they don’t question anything.

      The council didn’t look and see if there is a need for this new position and what is the background of Carolyn Vermont and her past work experience and where is the $70,000 coming from in the budget? I had high hopes for Pete Spin and also Christina Smith who I don’t know. Being new is not a excuse for not speaking out and challenging issues, the mayor and the city attorney. Ernie Newton is apart of the system and he’s not going to step on the mayor. There is another factor that protects these council members, there is no “local” newspaper covering the action of the mayor and the council and there’s no Republican Party to give another path and viewpoint.

  2. Donald…the position is being filled simply because Joe Ganim has this need to know that he can count on certain people to vote for the agenda he submits to the City Council. And he needs to count on people to vote for him in the mayoral election

    I live close enough to the Little League field behind Blackham School, in the 134th City Council district represented by Michelle Lyons and AmyMarie Vizzo -Paniccia. on July 4th, 2017, there was what sounded like a professional-type fireworks display at the Little League field. the next day, I emailed Michelle Lyons at her City Council email address, to inquire if there had been a permit issued for that fireworks display. Nearly 17 months later, I still have had no response from Michelle about that fireworks display. Rumor has it Michelle does not know how to access her City council email account.
    if Michelle Lyons isn’t capable of serving her constituents , she doesn’t need to serve at all.

  3. In this article concerning Mayor Joe Ganim appointment of former Greater Bridgeport NAACP Executive Director Carolyn Vermont to his staff as community liaison, that pays $70,000. ‘Carolyn is a true supporter and activist for the most vulnerable in our city,” said Ganim in a statement. “Her extensive knowledge of the city along with her passion and devotion to children’s and community services make Carolyn a valuable team member to serve in this role for my administration.”What the hell is Mayor Ganim talking about?

    Council President Aidee Nieves, opined that the “liaison official” would “put boots on the ground” in order to “bring back what the residents want and ”Budget Co-Chair Maria Zambrano-Viggiano weighed in on the issue claiming that residents need “a point of contact” in City Hall, and they need to “feel they are represented.” Again, what the hell are they talking about?

    Roger Vann, Chief Operating Officer of the national civil rights organization, sent a certified letter dated March 11, 2013 to Carolyn Vermont, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP.

    Here is the letter dated March 11, 2013 by Roger Vann, chief operating officer and chief of staff, directing the reorganization of the Bridgeport branch that also includes an election of officers. The last branch election was November of 2010.

    The National Board of Directors, at its February 16, 2013 meeting, has directed that all elected officers and executive committee members be removed and the Greater Bridgeport Branch be reorganized. This action was taken due to non-compliance with NAACP policy. Specifically, during the recent branch election cycle, it was found that memberships had not been properly processed in accordance with Article IV, Section 11 of the Bylaws for Units. “The National Office and Units of the Association shall share in all membership dues as hereinafter provided.” In addition, there were issues of financial reporting and mismanagement of records.
    All records and other NAACP property are to be forwarded to National Headquarters, Rev. Gill Ford, National Director of United Administration, 4805 Mount Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215 within the next five (5) business days from the late of this letter, to be inventoried. The failure of any officer to forward all records and/or NAACP property may result in additional action being taken by the National Board of Directors, including suspension or revocation of membership in the Association.

    Carolyn Vermont cause the entire black community in Bridgeport to lose the only civil rights organization in Bridgeport to fight racism and discrimination in Bridgeport, it was Carolyn Vermont terrible leadership that hurt the black community and this shows how out of touch Mayor Ganim is with the black community, this is a disgrace, the hell with a smiling face, that’s not leadership, this is simply pandering by Mayor Joe Ganim.

  4. Good points, Ron. If not for OIB, there would be virtually no flow of useful information concerning Bridgeport City government to the community. Hearst media has moved its base of operations out of Bridgeport, down-county — to better serve their “home boys.” I don’t think that there’s much question as to whether or not there is an intent by the media (currently a virtual Hearst monopoly in SW CT), and the Connecticut Oligarchy that they serve and of which the Hearst family and upper echelon Hearst media executives are members/affiliates, to keep Bridgeport “barefoot and begging” — for obvious reasons. So, they give Bridgeport — the state’s largest, poorest (in real, tax-base, unemployment, real-poverty-rate/cost of living terms, as well as with respect to disparity in state assistance) — virtually no political/government coverage, with the exception of sporadic “investigative reporting” on inconsequential issues, which allows the state and region to exploit and neglect us even as our own City Hall/City Council conduct themselves as juvenile Key Stone Junior Cops in an unattended candy store (albeit, Ivy League + an apparent, few, computer-semi-illiterate Junior Key Stone Cops)…

    So, Ron: You area about one of the critical aspects of Bridgeport’s dysfunction — lack of necessary media presence/concern with respect to Bridgeport’s urban/political issues… OIB is great, but obviously lacks the resources to do what a set of full-scale, local, media operations used to do in Bridgeport when (when we were considered a worthwhile place by the rest of the world…)

    But not to be remiss: Great observations and follow-up spanking by Judge Lopez of City Hall and the CC…

  5. While we seek those answers can someone tell me If the “Tom McCarthy Era” during which the City Council President actively transformed that body into an appendage of the Mayor’s office, while a full-time City employee”, does Joe get credit for ending his employment with the city and his abusive activities that transforming that body into an appendage for the Mayor Office? Good job Mayor Joe in ending the “The Tom McCarthy Era”. At least the club is well diverse. Or should we say with all these questions, a well education, diversity group is not what it’s cracked up to be, PS. Full Disclosure I’m not and Ivy League Grad. So you might not want to hear my answer. but I will give it to you anyway, because answers are like “Ferdy”s” everybody has one. Thank you Jesus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec7rCsNFn30

  6. Wowww I guess (HBCU) Historically Black Colleges And Universities don’t count.
    I am proud to have Graduated from One (WSSU) Winston Salem State University Winston-Salem NC
    Thanks Carmen! Our Moto: Enter To Learn Depart to Serve!

      1. RON I know you don’t like any one questing your Ladies Maria and Carmen, my comment was in a joking way to say everyone on the city council didn’t go to IVY League Schools! Just standing up for my Blackness lol.

        1. Ernie, it was “sarcasm” about Ivy League Colleges but I see that you saw a need to throw shade at me with your “RON I know you don’t like any one questing your Ladies Maria and Carmen,” comment. I am without doubt a big supporter of Judge Carmen Lopez and two other women who are mentioned on OIB, Senator Marilyn Moore and Lisa Parziale, I have the highest respect for these three women, they are honest, they can’t be bought or rented and they have no problem fighting for what’s best for Bridgeport but Ernie I know you were just joking.

  7. Going back to the original subject,what we really need is Charter Revision. The last Charter Charter Revision(whatever year) created a strong “mayoral-chief executive” form of government in Bridgeport. If the People of Bridgeport want a more effective,informed “legislative-body(City Council) it would require Charter change.

  8. Frank, it’s a sad state of affairs when you need a charter revision to MAKE a city council do its job. Every member of the City Council took an oath of office so they should just try to live up to the oath that they agreed do in the affirmative.

  9. Frank, the Charter change you are referring to was done in 1993.

    Bridgeport City Charter, Chapter 5, Section 6
    “The City Council may, by ordinance, provide for the establishment of a non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to assist the members of the Council in the performance of their official duties”.
    Bridgeport Municipal Code 2.12.100 established the Office of Legislative Services. (12/7/98)

    The Office of Legislative Services actually does exist and is funded every year by the city council.

    It exists in the city budget for no reason other than as a repository for the $180,000 in council member stipends and the ‘other services’ line item that the city council president accesses to pay for parties and other social events for the city council.

    Then-council president McCarthy and other council members decided to eliminate the non-partisan staff person and shift that funding to the City Clerk’s office for a ‘Legislative Liaison’ reporting to the city council president. The position has no job description and the incumbent continues to take direction from the current city council president, arranging for attendance and travel to needless conferences and payments for social events, etc.

    Judge Lopez gave credit to CT Post writer Brian Lockhart for investigative reporting. Brian is prolific, but does not do investigative reporting. His stories are mostly compilations of comments. I am sure he would prefer to do investigative reports, something ‘The Post’ has not done in many years. Bridgeport and its residents would certainly benefit from investigative reporting.

    This current city council lacks a critical mass of clear thinking people to address the issues that Judge Lopez has shared.

    1. Tom White, you wrote, “The City Council may, by ordinance, provide for the establishment of a non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to assist the members of the Council in the performance of their official duties”.
      Bridgeport Municipal Code 2.12.100 established the Office of Legislative Services. (12/7/98).” Tom, who has held that position before and why isn’t being filled now?

  10. Ron, as most people are aware, the classified position of Legislative Services Director was the position I had.

    Because they (McCarthy et al) had no cause for termination and I was not an at-will employee, they did it as a lay-off. The city council created the position of legislative liaison in the city clerk’s office without the the awareness of the city clerk. McCarthy testified under oath in court documents that this new position was not the classified position I filled.

    Why isn’t it being filled now?

    Possibly because, as Jeff Kohut has said, the ignorance and arrogance of the council members.

    Another possible reason is because a classified employee laid off from a position must be offered the position if it was again funded. If they do not offer to rehire the person who was laid off and hire someone else, the City will find itself in court.

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