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Hennessy Adds “Grandfathering” Amendment To Bill Banning City Employees From Serving On Council–Councilman Olson Supports It

February 15th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council

UPDATE: State Rep. Jack Hennessy’s bill, though courageous to reformers who seek state law enforcing the Bridgeport City Charter’s prohibition on city employees sitting on the City Council, was flawed in its quest to ban current city employee legislators from running for office in the future. They were the ones leading the charge against it, cranking up their Democratic friends in the state legislature. In an effort to save his proposed legislation, Hennessy has amended his bill with a “grandfathering” provision that would allow city employees currently seated on the council to run for their seats “in perpetuity.”

Hennessy issued this statement today:

In recognition of the strong headwind HB 5724 is facing and a desire to have it pass, I would like to extend a compromise making the bill proactive and “grandfathering” in perpetuity those who are presently serving on the council and are city employees. Perhaps this would defray some of the opposition to the bill. I have Reps. Auden Grogins and Don Clemons supporting the bill with this modification and Rev. Charlie Stallworth is leaning toward support but has not yet committed. I am continuing to reach out to find support from the rest of the Bpt delegation as well as other legislators representing the few municipalities this law would affect.”

Grogins sits on the legislature’s Planning and Development committee that conducted a public hearing on Hennessy’s bill on Wednesday. Grogins’ heavily active Black Rock and Brooklawn constituency supports Hennessy’s bill. There’s no guarantee Hennessy’ bill will pass, but this amendment now holds harmless council members in question. State leadership of Connecticut’s AFL-CIO that has juice with Democratic state legislators has come out against Hennessy’s bill. The City Council approves union contracts.

While the Bridgeport City Charter prohibits city employees from serving on the City Council a loophole in state law allows it. Hennessy says city employees serving on the city’s legislative body creates conflicts of interests such as council members approving their own wages and benefits. Hennessy reasons it’s impossible for the legislative branch of government to be a check on the executive branch if they’re appointed by the executive branch.

City Council President Tom McCarthy, deputy director in the city’s Labor Relations Department with strong union contacts around the state, has been burning up the phone lines against Hennessy’s bill. Five other members of the 20-member City Council are also city employees. Big Mac says any conflict concerns can be avoided on the council by council members recusing themselves on certain votes. He’s adamant that city employees on the council can serve their constituencies effectively.

Hennessy says assuming no legal obstacles exist in his amendment he will work actively to push his bill out of committee for a vote. If he’s successful it means no city employees beyond the current six serving on the council can serve on the legislative body. All 20 members of the council are up for reelection this year with some of them potentially facing Democratic primaries in September.

If the bill fails this year Hennessy says he’ll likely submit it again next year.

City Councilman John Olson, who represents the West Side 132nd District, penned this letter published in the CT Post:

State Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-127, has introduced House Bill 5724 that would prohibit elected officials from being employed by the city or town they represent. I support the bill.

In fairness, though, the bill should exclude currently elected officials who are municipal employees. The bill should apply only after those employees leave elected office.

My support of the bill in no way means that I accuse city elected persons who are city employees of illegal or unethical behavior.

My support of the bill is based solely on my belief that when city employees are also elected officials, the public perception of possible conflict of interest is unavoidable.

John W. Olson

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30 Comments so far ↓

  • yahooy

    These City Council pricks already serve ‘in perpetuity’ thanks to the Grand Calamarian. Some compromise. Does Hennessy think the brain-dead registered voters who don’t vote will get off their asses and vote these people out of office?

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I would rather see this bill go down as it is originally written than to see the watered-down version pass.
    The watered-down version is a waste of time. The six city employees will sit in their seats until they die. So what have we gained? Nothing, it’s been a big waste of time.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Andy, if it passes in this revised form it guarantees no other city employees can serve on the council. Would you rather have that or more city employees serving on the council?

      • barney

        I don’t like this bill. The original version or the newer one. I disagree with excluding all city employees from sitting on the council. Many city employees like myself would then not be allowed to run and serve on the council. I grew up “old school.” I was raised to live where you work. I was raised to give back to the community that fed you. I was taught to be civically responsible. Many Bridgeport residents live and work here because they believe they can make a difference. To deny them an opportunity to serve is wrong.
        Rather we should focus on ethics and morals. We should focus on conflicts of interest. We should focus on which council members should and should not vote on certain items. We should focus on term limits. We should not grandfather these self-serving idiots in office and prevent honest moral residents who happen to actually care about the city from seeking an elected office.

        • countdown

          barney,
          Let’s hypothesize you are a union member who works for the city were elected to the city council. Let’s also assume you are very sensitive to not creating the appearance or actual conflict of interest. You would NOT accept an appointment to the budget and appropriations committee because that is the committee that spends several weeks going through the budget and recommends cuts and adds that could affect your job or that of your daughter, son, mom, dad, spouse or domestic partner. They also spend weeks going through the annual audit and monthly reviews of the financial performance of the City. You should not be anywhere near those discussions because you are an employee. You also would not vote on the budget when the full council vote is on the agenda.

          You would not accept an appointment to the contracts committee because I think that is the committee that deals with the acceptance or rejection of the union contracts. Then there is the matter of setting the mil rate. Too low and jobs are cut. Higher means jobs are kept or maybe more folks are hired. Just think about these two examples. These are pretty important votes. Why should your district, the district that elected you be deprived of an important vote on an important issue?

          There are lots of examples I could cite but I hope you can see an employee on the council is not good for the district you represent and not good for the City as a whole. Bridgeport needs 20 independent thinking members who can vote on every issue and put the city first.

          Now I think the ‘grandfather’ compromise is a good one because I hope the six incumbents will call off the dogs that are fighting passage of this bill and go back to doing the city’s business; of course they shouldn’t be working on the budget or union contracts because that is a freaking appearance of a conflict. If the bill passes we know at some point there will be only five conflicted members, then four, then three … That is more hope than Bridgeport has now because the original bill is in trouble.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        Lennie, I don’t want to wait that long. These six are relatively young and could be here for another 10 years. This law if passed in this watered down form will be forgotten. You are right, it would not allow future employees running for office but these six have already done a lot of damage. Imagine what they can do in the next 10 years.

  • Bridgeporteur

    If Tom McCarthy is “burning up the phone lines” trying to get this defeated and he is doing all this on City taxpayer dollars, then this is a prime example of why we cannot have Council Members with City jobs. There is not a level playing field here that allows for a real democracy in Bridgeport.

    • countdown

      How can the Council President hat; the city employee hat in the Office of Labor Relations (the office that handles the union contracts, the grievances, the appeals and the terminations; and the Democratic town committee district committee hat (leader at certain times; a member at other times) exist at the same time without an appearance of conflict? Someone wearing three hats is in a very difficult situation that contributes to the cloud of mistrust that hangs over the city. The person can be the brightest, good intentioned, religious, and hard working. The appearance of conflict trumps all that.

  • Jennifer Buchanan

    First, if they are grandfathered in, they must run for election every year, if they lose they can never run again. This is not a lifetime City Council position. Next, the City Charter and the spirit of the state law agree, it is not good practice to have municipal employees serve on the City Council. This does not prevent municipal employees from being elected to RTM’s, just does not put them in a position where they are concerned their vote might cost them their job.

  • bridgeportnow

    John mentioned this compromise point possibility yesterday.

  • anna

    Smart compromise by Hennessy. It’s either this or he ends up with squat.

  • bridgeportnow

    If you are “Grandfathered” you stop lobbying against, right?

  • Tom White

    Lennie, I disagree with your suggestion this legislation is flawed. Jack Hennessy is to be complimented for his courage.

    We need to remember this is an amendment to an existing law that prohibits municipal employees from serving on municipal boards of finance. The amendment extends the prohibition to Bridgeport because the city council has the role of a board of finance.

    I shared my thoughts with Jack Hennessy. I instruct a class in Negotiation to graduate students after nearly 20 years of positions involving that responsibility. Suggesting to ‘grandfather’ the existing city employee/city council members is not a compromise. It is an accommodation acknowledging the compromised integrity of our representatives.

    There will be a winner (government employee unions and career small-time Bridgeport Democrat politicians) and a loser (the citizens of Bridgeport).

    The citizens of other towns have protection from conflict of interest which is afforded by the existing state statute.

    In Bridgeport, we must ‘negotiate’ with small-time politicians for the privilege.

    If only the state house and senate members from Bridgeport had the courage and integrity of Jack Hennessy.

    Hope springs eternal.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Tom, the legislation is not flawed, the strategy for how Hennessy presented it was flawed. Jack was biting off more than what the legislature was willing to pass. The bill was going nowhere the way he initially presented it. Now it has a chance, albeit still a difficult road. If it passes he reaches two thirds of his goal instead of nothing. Yes, it’s a bit of a swallow for a greater cause. I dare say you saw things you didn’t like when you worked for the City Council but sometimes had to make, as you say, accommodations. Those who say this should be an all-or-nothing bill will end up with nothing, and they will continue to complain for many many years.

  • Mojo

    *** The revised version should only allow the current six members to run in this year’s election; after that if they’re still city employees in the future, they’re barred! And what’s with the state legislators and their lack of support for this bill? Largest representing body in Hartford, yet the weakest, being complete followers all the way, no? Bridgeport continues to be doomed at both City level and State level with no apparent light at the end of the dark tunnel. *** GOD HELP US ***

  • lisalake

    This is bull****. This issue should be a ballot initiative. Why the hell don’t we ever get a say??? The CITIZENS should be deciding this!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Lisa, we did have our say when we voted for the charter a few years ago. The charter states city employees can’t serve as council people or on land use boards. However the state law states differently and the state law supersedes the city charter.

  • Jennifer Buchanan

    Here is the wording of the bill–five cities in CT operate similar to Bridgeport–Hartford, New Britain, Danbury and Derby. In layman’s terms–Our charter states no city employee can serve on the City Council. Current state law says city employees cannot serve on Finance Board or Commission. The city of Bridgeport has no board or commission of finance–those duties are part of the City Council. This bill is to expand the current law to take care of the loophole the city uses to have employees elected to serve on the city council–thus the finance board/commission of the city.

    REP. HENNESSY, 127th Dist.

    AN ACT PROHIBITING MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES FROM SERVING ON CERTAIN MUNICIPAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

    That subsection (e) of section 7-421 of the general statutes be amended to prohibit municipal employees from serving on the legislative body of a municipality if such legislative body has the responsibilities and authority of a board of finance and if such prohibition is set forth in the municipality’s charter.

    Statement of Purpose:

    To extend an existing provision that prohibits municipal employees from serving on a municipal board of finance except where permitted by charter or home rule ordinance.

  • John from Black Rock

    “Politics is the art of the possible.” The amended bill is now possible. Without the amendment it was DOA.

  • Tom White

    Lennie, you are correct. Hennessy’s strategy was flawed. Perhaps he expected people would do the right thing. What was I thinking. This is Bridgeport. These are Democrats. Mea culpa.

    Residents in Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Redding, etc. have the existing state statute to address conflict of interest in their towns.

    In Bridgeport, we must ‘negotiate’ for it which means we should stop complaining and just accept conflict of interest will continue. It’s about who has the votes.

    Lennie, when I saw things on the city council I felt were inappropriate, I spoke up to ‘council leadership.’ The result? If I made accommodations such as keeping quiet or getting them favors I might still be employed.

    Fortunately, a judge will look at the facts and I will not need to ‘negotiate.’

    • LennieGrimaldi

      But you will negotiate, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your lawyer will negotiate with the city’s lawyer and hopefully you will get what you feel is correct. So do I. Just because you negotiate doesn’t mean you get what you want. And so it goes.

      • Zena Lu

        I am in agreement that this bill was an overshot by Hennessy commensurate to the way things are played on the political scene with regard to Bridgeport.

        However, there is an element of gambling to the art of negotiation and I don’t know it was in the best interest of this bill to lay the cards out on the table before there was a counter bet or call made.

        Who knows? Maybe the offer could have been a better deal.

        But as it were, I suppose it’s never too late to change one’s mind.

        Let the good times roll.

  • Jennifer Buchanan

    I cannot imagine anyone who would put this bill before the congress–at least we have a bill to work with. I think it is time to unite to help get this passed; next step, work the election this year as if our futures depend on it.

  • BlackRockGuy

    There is a new Facebook page … Tell Finch to resign … please like and contribute postings … we can do this.
    www .facebook.com/pages/Tell-Mayor-Finch-to-resign/173494822665585

  • Bob

    Added to this bill should be TERM LIMITS at ALL levels of government.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Hennessy, your bill as it stands don’t mean Jack. Let me get this straight. If this bill passes, I as a City employee can’t serve on the City Council. I’ve heard the argument of those supporting this bill. If in fact being a City employees while serving on the City Council represents a potential conflict of interest, then what’s the danger of a city employees being not only a council person, but also the City council President? If Hennessy wants to compromise, do it the right way! Amend the bill to state no city employees shall be selected or appointed as City Council President.

    The other 14 members of the city council who don’t work for the city are the ones who should make sure city charter rules are followed. They cannot keep the council’s independence from the mayor if they select a City Council President who works for the city. I think it would be better if the bill simply capped the amount of city employees who can serve on the council at the same time to 25% of the total body–that would cap the number to 5 members/employees. This would mean one member has to go and none of the 5 could become council president. The Town Committees of all political parties must make sure the candidates they endorse don’t work for the city or they endorse no more than 5 people who work for the city. A city council person cannot accept employment from the city while serving as an elected councilperson. A city employee who would like to challenge a party-endorsed candidate can do so, if he or she wishes.

    House Bill 5724 was flawed coming out the door.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Flawed or unflawed, this bill is a surprise to everyone! And needs a response!! Imagine, your opposition to the bill at the hearing were three voices, Lydia Martinez, a former State Representative, imagine that, and a current target of investigation for election practices? Credibility? And Lydia, this bill is not about voter rights, OK? That was the Charter bill in November when you were ready to trash rights to vote for members of the Board of Education. Remember? So this is about “conflicts of interest.” Like when the Citizens Union recommends to the City Council certain programs ought to be funded and others not. And the City Council comes in and grossly changes the recommendations, and the Citizen Union representatives wonder what happened. So the State Planning and Development Committee may be confused by your comments.

    And then two union representatives stated their opposition. But their comments said nothing about the fact a job with a City is a de facto and perceived conflict of interest. It really is not something that allows recusals. A job, with pay, benefits, retirement income, lifetime medical, and status and influence is desirable when unemployment in the City is in the teens. It is special. And people all over the State know and can see the conflicts, but habits die hard in Bridgeport, but die they will, albeit slowly, one at a time, as the sheet covering the rigor mortis on the Bridgeport body politic is lifted. Time will tell.

  • Mojo

    *** WHERE ARE THE OTHER STATE LEGISLATORS ON HB-5724 BILL? ***

  • James Louloudes

    The bill is an over reach of government power preventing someone from serving their community from a non-paid elected position. It is the people who select to have these people serve their communities by their vote in November not the state legislator’s decision by voting in an unconstitutional law preventing someone from running for public office for no other reason than the job they hold with the city.

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