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.”
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.