He’s Baaack! Financial Watchdog Returns–Good Gravy, An Avalanche Of Financial Reports

John Marshall Lee
John Marshall Lee

City budget examiner John Marshall Lee, the resident stick in the eye to city bean counters, is back from vacation in Ireland. (Some pols wish he’d take up permanent residence there.) For a good year now he’s been on a harangue about the lack of city financial reports. Well, it seems he’s got his wish. Read the latest essay from General Lee.

A step in the right direction? A bit of luck, possibly? How say ye?

I missed reading OIB daily (and writing as well) for the past 20 days. On Sunday I returned from 17 days in Ireland, first singing with the Mendelssohn Choir of CT in Galway and Dublin, and then as a walker of the Dingle Way, some 120 km of pathway in western Ireland, County Kerry with great views of the Atlantic Ocean. It was certainly cooler and greener. I visited the dry docks where the Titanic was outfitted in Belfast, and also the neighborhoods of “the troubles.” I got to view first hand the overbuilding of offices, hotels, and vacation homes across the country and the slowdown in the Irish economy. Finally, I got a chance to reflect on what keeps occurring at all levels around our world where a few people have the power to deny access to information about decisions that are made to spend tax monies and/or obligate future payers to repay debt, that do not benefit all the people.

So while I had my head in the clouds near Brandon Mountain hiking along the Way including a one-day 2600 foot ascent (and descent), I now see you were focusing on the State Senate primary, hot weather alerts, a new OPED leader (but the retention of the former placeholder with City funding?), cultural offerings for the summer and the Bass Store announcement. An average two weeks for OIB, I guess. Earthshaking? Not quite.

I was present Monday evening, July 16, when the Budget & Appropriations Committee convened for a meeting postponed from the previous week. Tom Sherwood walked four Committee members through several items having to do with authorizations for changed Roosevelt and Longfellow School projects for future City bonding. There was Q & A and unanimous approvals. Then they approved minutes of several meetings in less than 60 seconds without change.

Finally, they raised the last “monthly” financial report they had received (five weeks ago) that included the March, April and May results where a deficit of $2,690,707 was still projected when the report was issued the first week of June. Co-Chair DePara commented on the changed ‘difficult to read’ format, the lack of “monthly” timing, and basically the inability of this B&A group to do any serious budget oversight if formats are not helpful and reports are not regular and timely.

Then came a major surprise!!! (And I swear I was not in the Irish mist nor had I touched a wee drop of anything that day that would have helped in making up a story for OIB.) Friends, Bridgeporters, fellow taxpayers … Tom Sherwood indicated that this Friday, July 20, a TWELVE MONTH FINANCIAL REPORT (unaudited, as expected) will be available in the City Clerk office for the first time in more than 20 years!!

It’s always been easy for any administration to provide this year-end report, but is has not been done. (Why not? Your guess may be as good as mine. Why now? Perhaps this failure has been pointed out too often in the past two years to ignore any longer?) Right in the face of clear Charter or Ordinance language, a succession of Mayors has allowed multiple due-diligence activities (monthly reports becoming quarterly and never covering a full year, internal audit activities terminated without notice to the public, hearings on capital budgets missed, etc.) to lag and/or miss the fiscal mark. The publishing of this 2012 twelve-month report is a first step in the right direction. Now, for the first time in too long, anyone who wishes should be able to review all line items of revenue and expense and to view the variances. We all can see the “ghost positions” and “ghost expense” accounts that are underspent annually, and also look at specific areas of overspending. It is a start towards City Council and public fiscal education.

Of course the year 2011-12 ended June 30 so fiscal analysis, even if the skills and training as well as good regular reports had been available to Council members, will do nothing to perform practical oversight of City spending as the B&A stewards should be doing. The City representatives continue to be overtasked, undertrained, with too many conflicted by personal interests when called to vote, and out of touch with the dual roles of citizen representation and stewardship of the public trust called for in our City. While these reports were made a standard agenda item for B&A this year, the committee members have not taken their oversight duties seriously, based on the public record. There are about 15 months before the next Council election. That is plenty of time to see whether “Budget Oversight” and financial stewardship become a meaningful part of Council activity. Time will tell.



  1. John, that sounds interesting: “this Friday, July 20 a TWELVE MONTH FINANCIAL REPORT (unaudited, as expected) will be available in the City Clerk office for the first time in more than 20 years”

  2. *** Why bother when most city council persons don’t take the time to read or have a clue concerning quarterly budget financial reports! Most are gullible and will vote for anything that’s second-guessed to be the right choice by the city admin. or legal council. Plus there are not enough of the ones who understand or care to make any difference! It’s water under the Rooster River Bridge, no? ***

  3. Mojo,
    I suspect if most City Council members were given a simple test regarding the fiscal matters on which they vote, they would not pass. And the reason I say that is because I also suspect they do not read what information they manage to receive, and fail to request often and early enough additional information that would provide them with a platform of background info that would assist them in stewardship and oversight responsibility.
    Both of my statements are born out by over two years of listening to discussions of Council members having to vote on an issue, by the questions they ask (and/or fail to ask), and from the opinions they offer in support or justification of their decision. Most of this is out of sight and hearing of citizens, because the Council committee meetings for the most part are off limits to public input (something which should change), and therefore the public is not there. Some of the meetings in the budget process are even further from public view in that there are no professional minutes or recordings of the substance of hours of budget discussion. We cannot afford, or they choose not to afford minutes? But the Council members get at least two meals during their Saturday service? MINUTES NOT MEALS would be my fiscal solution. Without meals paid by the taxpayer, not even through the $9,000 stipend route, I predict meals would be shorter. Perhaps Budget Oversight Bridgeport (BOB) should provide redundancy of recording efforts next year with video and audio taping of Council work. All in support of informing citizens, taxpayers and hopefully voters of how our elected Council persons are representing our interests. Time will tell.


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