Mayor Joe Ganim’s budget book for the tax year starting July 1 has been filed with the Town Clerk’s Office. In this virtual world of City Council meetings the way to submit public testimony is via written document.
City fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee is loaded with questions.
Today is the first Monday in April, time for an official meeting of the City Council. It is also time for Mayor Ganim, to present his annual budget “message” that will tell us:
— whether local property taxes will increase this year,
— what department budgets will look like when the Council approves a 2020-21 official operating budget
— what actions will become necessary in terms of borrowing funds, short term or long term, and the 5-year Capital plan to enact the priorities of the administration.
A citizen role in observing whether good governance is being met by elected and appointed parties is further limited this year because of the virus and the necessary close of public gatherings to restrict the spread of virus. The Council will meet on a technology platform and the public will be able to tune in to LISTEN. And there is no precedent at Council meetings of any kind for public comments to receive response from the City leaders, in the administration, on the Council, from Boards and or from operating departments except for FOI requests. No chance for the public to see the paperwork revealed to Council and Committee members contemporaneous with the elected and appointed representatives, even for the least “secret” matters. I compliment the leaders who provided an opportunity for the public to submit written testimony before 6:30 PM to PUBLICTESTIMONY@BRIDGEPORTCT.GOV. Will such reporting be read by Council members or members of the administration? Who has designed a credible mechanism for response to the public? There was no time or word limit to such written testimony in the notice observed on Only In Bridgeport.
Where are the minutes for each Board, Commission and or Council Sub-Committee posted publicly and how long do they remain unknown by taxpayers before approval and revelation? When are they made public and where are they posted and made available to all? For instance, if Mayor Ganim is posting his FY 2020-21 proposed operating budget, and has made such reporting and narrative available to the 20 members of the City Council, why is such information unavailable for downloading by citizens at the same time as the Council gets to see it? That might be a first step in OPEN fiscal governance!! Why are taxpayers denied ready and timely access to City plans and priorities like what will be done with their property taxes?
TRANSPARENCY of City projects, especially those functioning under 5-year Capital budgets would likely have revealed more than one year ago that Coronavirus devastating Italy is not the only issue that placed our former Bluefish ballpark transformation behind schedule. Where would such reporting be available to taxpayers? Today there are Council persons willing to commit considerable additional City funds, because a public-private deal put together by Ganim2 and a friendly developer has sprung some financial difficulties on the private party who likely should have pursued more due diligence before signing. HONESTLY, what are the terms of the original deal that has become delayed? It is now spring 2020 and the bright displays of daffodils have shown up for our delight due to Mayor Ganim’s foresight and investment. Why have other projects downtown not responded in the same manner as Mother Nature?
ACCOUNTABILITY is a final and realistic taxpayer expectation. While agendas, minutes, notes and narratives can be part of such package to explain what, how, why, when, for how much and who gets revenues, and produces service and work, it is the monthly operating budget report that has been public for years that I question today.
— Are all revenues, especially cash payments, received by each City department reported by the Finance Department routinely? I have raised questions previously about In-Plant Printing for several years, yet Finance while budgeting “$10,000” continues to report “0.” Is this “honest” or complete reporting?
— Line item expenses are reported against “unaudited” expenses that may change for the same year in different reporting year columns. Where is an annual report of the operating budget in the standard format provided monthly after each annual June 30 Fiscal Year closing provided by the City after the Audit and by which future department budgets are measured?
— Line Item 01620 provides information on City Contributions to organizations as Supportive Contributions. Who makes the spending decision each year? What is City policy on such use of taxpayer funds? The Legislative branch also provides some other fiscal support through Stipend grants? How much, why and how is not disclosed. Why not? What amount of City taxpayer provided revenues flow to individuals or organization where the use of Non-biddable designation covers an outlay but the product or service provided to the City taxpayer is left in doubt?
The taxpayer should trust those who are part of decision making. Trust is difficult to develop when communications are further limited, responses are absent and when questions of integrity or morality remain unanswered. Perhaps the City might ask an existing department, for example the Mayor’s representative for Integrity and Accountability to be the go-to person in the City for questions about such issues? If you do not appoint a person to respond to OVERSIGHT issues, the work of the City Council, are you telling the public that you are not responsible? Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee, 30 Beacon Street, Bridgeport, CT 06605 203-259-9642