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