Is It Time To Bring Back A Financial Review Board?

I’m hearing chatter in the community–and I think it’s going to become louder–from business interests, newspaper friends and OIB readers that maybe it’s time for the city to say we can’t handle this financial mess, give us a fresh start and we’ll swallow a financial review board.

So, I’m throwing open a question: what are the pros and cons of a review board, and is it time to bring one back?

Quick background: The city was under the thumb of the Bridgeport Financial Review Board from the spring of 1988 to the summer of 1995. Essentially its charge, through legislative decree, was to make sure the city’s budget was in balance. The mayor and staff built the budget, the City Council set the mil rate, but every month with a couple of staff accountants maneuvering on a regular basis through city finances, the oversight board kept city bean counters’ balls to the beehive. One false move and we sting you.

If the city wouldn’t keep its budget in balance the review board had the legislative authority to make sure it was kept in balance. And don’t even think about setting your tax collection rate at 96 percent if the review board believed the city could only collect taxes at 93 percent.

The review board was created in 1988 when Mayor Thomas Bucci went to the state for help to close a $50 million fund balance deficit. The Connecticut Legislature said okay, we’ll allow you to use our good credit to bond your way of out of this, but we’ll require a nine-member panel made up of government, union and business interests to oversee revenue-versus-expenditure items and seek ways to create efficiency.

Members included State Treasurer Francisco Borges, David Carson, chief executive of People’s Bank, and Cesar Batalla, community relations chief of Southern Connecticut Gas Company.

Review board staff supervised just about every financial move by the city. It was tough medicine, with private and public fights aplenty.

Bucci fought with the review board. Mary Moran, the Republican who defeated Bucci fought with the review board worse than Bucci, so much so she plunged the city into a federal bankruptcy filing. The review board and state fought it in court and won. Moran lasted one term. It took Joe Ganim, who defeated Moran, four budgets with the assistance of Finance Director Jerry Baron, to meet the rigid state criteria of financial stability that dissolved the oversight board.

Understand that just because you have a review board doesn’t mean taxes will not increase. It simply means no deficits. Under the review board, taxes went up in 1988, did not in 1989, increased in Moran’s two years and slightly Ganim’s first year. For the next three years taxes did not increase, with a lot of help from Governor Lowell Weicker and an improving economy.

The important thing to remember is that the primary function of the review is to make sure budgets balance.

Finch, whose organizational skills are underwhelming, would be screaming by the minute to close the budget gap at the review board’s insistence. They would order him to close parks, layoff staff, shut down recreation, close senior centers and eliminate take-home vehicles. It’s not pretty. Not that it is now and it probably will get worse.

What we’ve seen with Finch is a competent legislative mind plunged into a chief executive’s role that requires discipline. They’re different worlds, and it takes a special temperament to navigate the city administratively with an oversight camera up your ass.

Bucci tried. Moran couldn’t. Ganim handled it successfully. Can Finch?

My Book Party

Speaking of the review board, it is also covered in my upcoming book Bow Tie Banker, a biography of the above-mentioned David Carson who was chief executive of People’s Bank during the economic tsunami that hit New England in the early 1990s taking out Bridgeport-based banks such as Citytrust and Mechanics and Farmers. The book highlights Carson’s efforts to save the state’s largest bank with federal regulators poised for action. We’re having a kickoff book party Dec. 2, from 5 to 6:30 at the Barnum Museum. All OIB fans welcome. Say hello to Carson, have a refreshment, mingle with the crowd. Lots of Bridgeport in this book.



  1. Tom Bucci “tried” after finally ‘fessing up that we were 60 in the hole. Moran tried going a different route but used the wrong term in bankruptcy versus municpal reorganization. Also bankruptcy couldn’t work because Bankruptcy Court would rule that you can raise taxes for additional income. Ganim was also the beneficiary of Clean and Green money aka “Cleaning of the Green” and was the first mayor to receive Native American Wampum from slots. Big Foot Jerry Baron knew how to cook the books in between chowdowns at local osterias. Ralph ‘N Rich’s even had named his favorite wine after him. It was called “Mr. Baron’s Opus”. He came from the Buddy Cianci School of Marinara. He was a kosher guy who even worked on Good Friday. When Jerry said “Ciao”, he really meant CHOW!

    Maybe we can have streaming or would it be screaming video of the strategically placed camera up hizonner’s ass. He would first have to get his head out of his ass for aperture implantation. It could be a new TV internet show with Andy Nunn called “Anus ‘N Andy”.

    I had a lovely vintage Lewellyn Ice Wine last night. Critically reviewed and painstakingly picked from the frozen grapes of wrath.

    As the Rabbi said; “It won’t be long now.” It won’t be long before the Financial Review Board is back in town. Paging Jacob Ukeles!

  2. This city needs a state financial review board in place for at least another full generation–until the last of the crooks, incompetents, and political hacks being supported/groomed for public office in Bridgeport by the Bridgeport DTC and state Democratic Central Committee are gone and their heirs have moved on …

    Joe Ganim didn’t start his raid on the Bridgeport “cookie jar” until after the financial review board left. We all know where the city has been headed since then. We also know where it’s going without a financial review board in place …

  3. Lennie – Here is an early holiday gift to all your OIB fans, the famed Washington “Plum Book.” This treasure trove of job opportunities is published by the federal government with every change in presidential administrations. It lists the 8,000 openings that are available. However it goes without saying you’ll probably need more than a resume and a town chairman’s reference to become CIA Director or an ambassador to the homeland of your relatives (So Lennie, put away that book “Italian in 10 Easy Lessons”). This 209-page paperback, officially titled “The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions” is available in hardcopy from the Government Printing Office or online (link below). Happy job hunting!


  4. Sadly, but remaining hopeful, the financial board must come! We need to see something working. It is not happening now–the employees do not believe the mayor (and they have very good reason not to) and the mayor does not want to discipline himself to manage and stop letting others do it for him. He needs to roll up his sleeves and figure it all out. He does not seem willing to take these steps.

  5. I have a question for those in the know …

    Finch’s budget called for hiring a half-dozen planners. Why do we need them given the state of economic affairs? No one can be looking to do business in B’port at this time so is this money factored in as a savings or did it go to renovate somebody’s office?

  6. Lennie – Nice job yesterday at the U of B. Lose the sweater, though. 🙂

    It amazes me that not that long ago, the City was under the glaring eye of the State FRB, and amazingly, we are knocking on the door again. I understand that everywhere is going through hard times, but B’port was there first. I guess we can be proud of being the leader in something. What amazes me is that it’s the same party, the same bosses, and much of the same staff (or at least ideology) that did this.

    When are we going to realize that our “Champions of Election Day” are nothing more than political hacks with big mouths, small minds and very little true ambition?

    I for one welcome the Board. It may mean many dark days before clear skies, but I’d rather let an “outside” group straighten this thing out. I feel as if the Mayor is better suited to the pomp and circumstance of State Legislator than the Commander-in-Chief role that he seems to be floundering in now.

    If someone has a better idea, I’m all ears.

  7. WOW!!! Now we are going in the right direction. Real good comments on this subject.

    A real great thinker has addressed the issues of Bridgeport; he said, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us,” by POGO the character of Walt Kelly.

  8. I disapprove of any Financial Review Board coming to Bridgeport. I regret that I’m in the minority but that’s what happens when you’re the self-styled Contra-Man (wink).

    I support Mayor Finch’s plans to balance Bridgeport’s budget and think readers have embraced a FRB much too early and without merit.

  9. So … the big boss asks the boe for $7 mill and the board says they will help where they can … hmmm … lemme translate this for everybody … the suits and ties in the boe just got big raises … nope … they won’t give a dime … teachers union is the strongest union … they won’t give a dime … the boe custodians … mechanics … yup … they take it up the ass … and on the city side … the cops and fireman … yup … up the poop chute … there’s your money from the two sides … no cleaning supplies or parts to clean and repair the schools … no bullets or hoses to fight crime and fires … there’re the givebacks … along with our souls.

  10. Gossip Of The Rialto

    John Gilmore was one of the great ones of Bridgeport’s Fourth Estate.

    As Lennie waxed poetic a couple of posts ago about the beat reporters for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram; politicians and reporters had different relationships in those days. The reporter would cover the Common Council meetings in those days, file their story, go out for drinks with the pols and then head over to Sol’s Cafe for some after-hours libations with the proprietor Solomon Roth. You could be in Sol’s with its thick smoke, Chinese-looking red felt covered walls with the window curtains drawn shut and never see the light of day even during the day. The pols usually could be seen at the Side Effects West or J. F. O’Connell’s in those days. Many a night was finished off at the old Mainline Diner. You would wait up for the Telegram to be delivered to the News Corner on Main and John St. to see how you had been covered the night before. The morning sunrise glistening the McLevy Green dew like a glass of Tullamore on the rocks.

    Those were the days my friends.



  11. Think about visiting the Barnum Museum Gift shop for Christmas gifts. A lot of neat items from Bridgeport and reasonably priced. The shop could use the business.

  12. I have another idea for the mayor’s consideration. Stratford has long fought airport expansion and cost Bridgeport and sadly Stratford (though it will not admit it) a lot of revenue. Mr. Mayor, tell Stratford you will acquiesce to its demands and “close” the airport. However, all of our low-cost housing needs will be accommodated at that location. I wonder what Stratford would do? Don’t you? I’m really trying to come up with unique ways to start the money flowing again. I can’t think about anything else.

  13. To hell with the state doing it, why don’t we do it. And why does it only have to be during hard times, we should review how this city spends money all the time. It’s our money and our city, so concerned citizens should unite to look at our finances.

  14. *** With a financial review board, it would take lots of pressure off Finch & his “no-name” admin. & the city council as well. All board decisions such as more layoffs, closing of some libraries & programs; even switching to a (#4-day) work week for non-essential workers, say 8 to 6pm. might be possible! Also, laying off the Finch election cronies would be a “possibility” too. It’s sounding better & better as all the blame can be shifted towards the board, as it works towards balancing the city budget. But only one question remains, what to do with the city’s B&A committee? #7 council members sit on that committee, which is supposed to oversee the city budget, but only #2 or #3 really know what they’re doing? ***

  15. I have two comments to make about this financial review board situation. Lennie says that a review board would eliminate recreation, senior centers and take-home cars. Excuse me, but isn’t this what I (and many other City employees) have been proposing for months? I have said it right here on this blog. 1) If you shut down the night rec programs, then you need to lay off the rec staff and Gene O’Neil. Why keep the staff if there are no programs? 2) Consolidate the senior centers into 1 large center which decreases staff and makes better use of the Eisenhower Center. This is assuming that Rose Hoyt has the good sense and dignity to finally retire. 3) Take away the take-home cars. These are not contractual. People like Mike Feeney, Tom Sherwood and Alanna Kabel don’t have contracts and don’t need take-home cars. Take a look in the basement of the Annex garage and you can count the # of BPT license plates. It is ridiculous.

    We can make these changes ourselves right now. These are no-brainers.

    My 2nd comment is that Mayor Finch is so afraid of the financial review board because it will uncover and finally stop all the wasteful spending. What do you think the FRB would say about all the office renovations, new carpeting and office furniture at the Annex? What would the FRB say about the renovations to the private Annex gym or Charlie’s girlfriend’s kitchen? What would they say about the new positions and new hires? Yes I daresay that the FRB would uncover these frivolous expenses and publicly expose them. What an embarassment to Mayor Finch.

    I don’t know if the FRB is a good thing or bad thing. But I would love to watch Tom Sherwood squirm when he had to answer to a group of financial professionals. They would see right thru his double-talk. In a minute.

  16. I am in favor of the financial review board because the city needs someone or something to oversee how our money is spent. The city council should be doing this but they are a bunch of lemmings. They have had a year under this new mayor and one would think that everything is wonderful because other than Bob Walsh no one says squat.
    With maybe 5 exceptions at least 15 council members either work for the city or have a close relative working for the city. How can we expect them to go against the administration and look out for us?
    This administration has used blackmail of these employees to get what they want. If you want an example just look at the last DTC election where Mark Anastasi was forced to have his wife change her vote.
    Rich Paoletto is going to be promoted now that his old boss Joe Minopoli has been laid off. Where do you think that vote is going to go?
    So with all of these council people on the dole who is watching the store? No one and that is why I feel we need the review board.
    I also think we as voters need to get rid of these city employees sitting on the council so that we can get proper representation.

  17. “Willy Chute // Nov 14, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    To hell with the state doing it, why don’t we do it.”

    Because William Finch does not have the intelligence to solve the issue.

    “Local Eyes // Nov 14, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I support Mayor Finch’s plans to balance Bridgeport’s budget …”

    WHAT PLANS??? William Finch does not possess the intellectual capacity to put a plan in place that will solve the financial crisis in Bridgeport.

    With Finch in place … we’re screwed.

  18. The Boe is so short-staffed as it is that there aren’t enough custodians to clean the schools properly, not enough mechanics to repair the schools properly, and not enough union workers to do the other necesary things to keep the schools running and safe … if there is an frb to oversee the Boe budget, they better put the magnifying glass where it belongs on the non-union white-collar waste … the old joke is … when I retire I will go to the Bpt Boe and be a consultant … never holds more true than today.

  19. #30 – Amen to that. A few months ago the BOE laid off its ONLY painter; then they realized they could not contract out his services so they had to call him back. They nickel and dime the little guy and take care of their own. How many retirees have come back as consultants? Allan Wallack is a good example. He was in charge of athletics, then he retired and came back to oversee the construction of the new schools.

  20. In the old days there was 1 man running the maintenance and 1 man running the custodians in the boe and it worked … now there are more supervisors and consultants than can be counted and not enough workers to do the damn work … and in no way are there enough security guards and school police to protect the schools … but who goes??? … school cops, a painter … secretaries … suits and ties??? … hell no they get raises!!!

  21. Bpts Finest – it’s the same case in Public Facilities. Count the number of foremen, supervisors and deputy directors compared to 15 years ago. It’s nuts.

    And yahooy, I haven’t seen any city councilmen on the lay-off list nor have I heard any rumors of any in the future. Actually, last week Tom McCarthy and Rich Paoletto were away on “council business” in Orlando using their council stipends. So what do the councilmen do when we are on the verge of an FRB takeover–they go to Disney World!!! Funny that they can go when there was a travel freeze issued for everyone else. Their stipends are part of the city budget–just shows the double standard of Bpt city govt.

  22. city hall: What better place for a bunch of cartoon characters to go than to Disney World. I wonder how many went? I know Michele Lyons did not go and has spent the week working for her constituents fighting zoning. Their problem is that there is no leader amongst the whole bunch of them. They give us lip service and that’s it. In less than a year they will be up for reelection and it’s time to replace most of them with people that give a damn. I will bet when their bills for this trip come in they will total over $10K.

  23. Council Members in the land of Mickey Mouse! Now there is a picture. When they give up their own stipends (slush funds) I will believe that they are serious about cutting spending.

  24. I am against a review board. We don’t need Hartford raising our taxes (look at the job that they did with the State budget) and Bill Finch doesn’t need someone to hide behind.

  25. So without a FRB, how do we make Mayor Finch listen to reason? It is not the union workers who got us into this mess and they can’t solve their financial problems on our backs. He needs to dump Feeney, Nunn, Kabel, Osborne, Sherwood and the like and bring in competent people who can work towards getting us out of this debt.

    If they start at the top and make a good-faith effort to cut back (take away the cars; stop the renovations; cut out the temps and the consultants; replace the highly paid do-nothings) then the employees will take them seriously and follow suit.

    I don’t know if Finch can do this on his own. I think he needs a FRB to do it for him. He hasn’t shown any leadership in this area so far. Sherwood is still here, isn’t he?

  26. What about if City Hall closed down for 3 days. Completely. And every school in the city did the same. This would require forced furloughs, but no money would be spent at all in that time. No salaries, no utilities. How much $$ do you think that would save?

  27. *** Basic approach is out the window with this “No-name Admin.” they’re going to need all the help they can get from the state before things get any worse! But definitely “NOT” a bailout like the feds. (Dems. mostly) want to do with the top #3 car companys. OBAMA’s got the right idea for the most part, give them some of that $700-billion bailout money (shot in the arm) amount to help get things started on an overall restructuring plan. These companies have been having trouble just keeping up with the retirement payouts in general due to many overpayments to ceo’s, union demands, medical benefits, insurance etc. American Car companies need to restructure from top to bottom & sideways too! So if they belly up, it may send a big message to big business in general that Big Brother is not always going to be there, every time they mismanage the business & try to get too big for their own good. Wall St., World-wide credit & foreclosures, & the American dollar is one thing but now car companies, states, cities & towns all want to be considered for $ bailouts? No good for American Taxpayers.

  28. *** The city is creating so-called titles for future jobs & hiring in the dept. that handles blight in the city among others. While I’m in favor of moving the city forward, especially the overall cleanup of neighborhood blight that affects prop. values & economic development, @ this time due to the budget problems I believe such a move should be put on hold ’til things get better $-wise. *** Also, I believe that the FRB basically still has to get the final approval on request from the Mayor’s office & the city council depending on the items. So their oversight on the city budget may not always be the last & final word! What say you Lennie or any OIB blogger that actually knows the answer? Anyway, the city needs help big time, just watch the Bpt. city council taped meetings on Sat. nites @ 11pm on cable. Look @ the number of council persons in attendance; the overall agenda! Also, listen to some of them speak on items for the record, etc. It’s sad, it really is watching them trying to speed things up to finish early on a #1-page agenda! With no real city interest in mind @ times, except for the usual few. *** Yeah, Bpt. needs all the help it can get, that’s for sure! ***

  29. “Local Eyes // Nov 16, 2008 at 11:58 am

    (gruff Mexican voice) We don’t need NO STEEN-KING Financial Review board!”

    Well then, LOCAL EYES. Who’s going to fix this problem … you? Finch sure as hell has demonstrated that he is hopelessly clueless as to what steps are necessary to restore financial stability in our city. Yet he stubbornly maintains the same team of financial wizardry that has put us in this quandary. His actions in this regard could be considered impeachable if he had a truly independent watchdog-like council.

    This city has been under the thumb of self-interested, agendized politicians for such a long time that we certainly cannot even begin to attempt to effect good order without the input of truly qualified professionals who can come in and ignore the politicians and restore our financial condition. Mario Testa has ruined this city by manipulating the voting public to put into office the likes of Fabrizi and Finch; rocket scientists they are not.

    A financial review board is need now more so than when Bucci screwed the pooch. You dickhead Testa loyalists need to understand that the current crowd can’t do it because they are too stupid and self-interested.

    We need solutionists, not loyalists.

  30. *** #45- Right now ’til I hear something more concrete, I’m for the FRB. However I don’t buy into the Testa opinion that he’s ruined this city one bit. Besides, Testa had no say into the decision to pick Finch to run for Mayor either; plus Fabrizi was a far better Mayor than Finch could ever be! Many of these problems start @ the dist. local level by the picks the DTCs make & the rest of the party just going along with it. Then when the day of the election comes, most voters again will vote for the party not the best individual candidate that will actually do a good job! Really you need @ least #3 strong political parties to change things for the better. It gives voters a bigger pool of candidates to pick from if the present governing party is not getting the job done. It’s far too easy to blame #1 or #2 individuals for problems that pretty much are started by a political party & the candidates they choose to endorse, then co-signed by the same party voters in the election! ***

  31. Bridgeport shouldn’t (wouldn’t) need the oversight of a Financial Review Board if the city’s leaders had the brains, vision and guts to fix the city’s fiscal problems.

    The problems weren’t created overnight; it took Bridgeport’s political wizards decades to screw things up to where they are today. So forget the quick fixes. Sacrifice (equally shared), focused effort, creative thinking and a willingness to forget “business as usual” attitudes form part of the answer. Long-term solutions ARE there … and they ARE achievable. It just takes strong leadership and the know-how and applied intelligence of city employees to make things happen.

    A state-mandated Financial Review Board will never provide a free lunch for Bridgeport. But it will bring to the table people with insight, perspective, objectivity, management skills and a discipline that gets results.

    If we’re confident our elected officials (and staff) have an abundance of these qualities, then we certainly wouldn’t benefit from another FRB helping hand. You decide.

  32. You can thank John Stafstrom for Finch, he was DTC when Finch was nominated. Stafstrom is still pulling many of the strings because Finch thinks he owes Stafstrom.
    Fabrizi did a fairly good job until the last 6 months when he started to put into civil service his political cronies who normally would have been replaced with the change in administration.
    The problem is leadership as we know there is none in the mayor’s office but there is another culprit and that is Tom McCarthy.
    McCarthy knew that Fabrizi’s last budget was a smoke and mirrors deal. The very first budget that Finch has he appoints Curwen to head the budget committee. So here we have Sherwood and Curwen teamed again to weave another BS budget.
    I for one favor the review board because we have no one here in Bridgeport with the balls to do what has to be done.

  33. Mr. McCarthy is a nice person … but basically a lapdog for who is over him … The big boss tried to do a smart thing in cutting from the top and leaving the forces in the streets … (me for 1 … lol) … but of course that got shot down … so where do they go … once again I will repeat myself … cops, fireman … custodians and mechanics on the boe side … and the cream will stay at the top and watch as the tide goes out at Seaside.

  34. Bpts Finest: That’s why I think that we need a financial review board. If there are to be layoffs the RB will cut a lot of the political hacks that Finch has hired.
    Finch used the PD layoff list as a hit list on upper management. To date Finch and his cronies have used this layoff list for settling scores. For example the Traffic Engineer was laid off because he pissed off people in the administration; we now have hired the company he works for as consultants. The friend of the tax collector who pissed everyone in the admin off was laid off and soon the tax collector left for New Haven. Andy Abate WPCA was laid off for the same reasons. The list goes on and on. Joe Minopoli laid off after 30 years with the city so a city councilmen could take his job under a different job title. With these layoffs and others sure to follow we can afford to open a new department for John Gomes, Carolanne Curry and Eze Santiago $200K in salaries $100K to remodel their office, we added another person to the mayor’s staff and a PR person for $80K. This is another set of reasons we need the RB.
    The councilmen are useless. They go to Florida while the city is heading for the toilet. The last council meeting 9 councilmen were absent and we pay them a stipend of $9K a year. 3/4s of them work for the city so if they don’t want to get laid off they go along.

  35. #48 & #50–Correction, Finch does not appoint the co-chairs of the Budget & Appro. Committee, the council president does. However the Mayor could make a suggestion to the council president! Councilman Curwen has been Co-chair of budgets now for about #12 yrs. and probably knows the city budget better than any sitting council person today. As far as the traffic engineer is concerned, if it’s Mr. Mortessa you’re talking about, he wasn’t doing his job correctly anyway so no great loss to the city! Now, Mr. B. O’Brien & assistant were not hired to kiss admin. and elected official’s butts, they were hired to improve and enforce the city tax assessor’s policy’s thus improving prop. tax revenues. And this they did very well, so in my opinion it’s the city’s loss and New Haven’s gain. Mr. Abate apparently has been another do-nothing administrator at the WPCA and should have retired a long time ago! I also doubt it was due to a Mayor’s so-called hit list on all of the city layoffs. Last but not least, there is no better gentleman than Mr. Joe Minopoli and it’s possible that the city also during these layoffs decided to downsize certain depts. as well. It’s been something that’s been talked about for some time now, but the city’s never gotten proactive on doing it! *** Once again a reminder to all OIB bloggers and friends, etc. There’s still time to get your WWII Vets. Memorial brick for the walkway to and around the actual site which will be located at McLevy Hall in Bpt. There are $50. and $100. donation bricks that will be engraved with your family’s name and personal message available. Collections and donations are still needed to hopefully get the Memorial done by either Memorial Day or Vets. Day in 2009. If not for Vets. in general during WWII, we would not have the freedom we and our loved ones enjoy today! “Never forget that!”

  36. This is easy …

    Bridgeport does not need an FRB. It has to make the choice–cut services (and jobs) or raise taxes.

    The answer is also simple–cut services. Save the people from an even larger tax burden.


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