Will the City Council’s Budget & Appropriations Committee find its own step or dance to the Anastasi Shuffle this week when it reviews the City Attorney’s Office budget? Two years ago Connecticut’s FOI Commission sided with retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who filed a complaint in May 2018 charging that a vote by the budget committee citing “pending litigation” for the basis of an executive session violated state law. Lopez asserted that the violations were at the direction of lawyers with the City Attorney’s Office. FOI agreed.
Lopez, in this commentary, reminds the public, budget committee members and City Attorney’s Office–just in case it slipped their legal memory–about the ruling.
May 2, 2020 is the Second Anniversary of the City Council Budget Committee’s public flouting of the Freedom of Information Act.
We should all wish the Budget and Appropriations Committee a Happy and Memorable Anniversary.
Anniversaries are usually a time of celebrating and remembering.
But in this case, we must hope and pray that the Budget Committee will remember, but will forego the celebration.
In thinking about the anniversary of the Budget Committee’s illegal executive session, a session orchestrated by Bridgeport’s City Attorney’s Office, when its budget was before the Committee, the words immortalized by Barbra Streisand in the song “The Way We Were” kept coming to mind.
Although the Budget Committee has two new Co-Chairs, hopefully, it will remember, “The Way We Were” two short years ago.
It is not “too painful to remember” that the Freedom of Information Commission not only found that the Budget Committee had engaged in an illegal Executive Session, but it also ordered the Committee members to obtain training on the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Given the fact that a majority of the City Attorneys were in attendance and witnessed this illegal session, the Commission strongly suggested that the City Attorneys also attend and get educated on the law.
The Freedom of Information Commission was obviously not impressed with the “Anastasi Shuffle,” a verbal dance which mesmerizes the City Council on a regular basis.
On Wednesday April 29, 2020, the Budget Committee will again have the budget of the City Attorney’s Office before it for discussion.
If, as is almost certain, the secretive City Attorney will once again ask for an Executive Session as he did one year ago, the question is not “could” the Budget Committee stand up to the City Attorney, but “would” it?
I hope that this is not a rhetorical question.
Many questions should be asked of the City Attorney, prior to approving any budget request.
Those questions should be asked in public and not in an illegal executive Session designed to squelch the public’s right to know.
For example, questions have recently been raised concerning the Guideposts contract and the payment of services to outside counsel, when the City has not been sued or named as a party in any civil case.
The City Attorney should be asked if the taxpayers should defray the cost of attorneys representing city officials and employees in potential criminal cases. If so, why?
During Ganim 1, our Mayor paid his own legal fees!
Does the City Attorney have contracts signed with the private attorneys?
If so, where are they?
Why have we spent any money for outside counsel, when the City is not a party to any action in Federal Court?
Are we so afraid of what might be uncovered that we need to hire an outside criminal defense lawyer, simply to respond to a subpoena?
Who is the City protecting?
I predict that the City Attorney will not answer these questions, or any other legitimate inquires the Budget Committee may have.
He will probably say that he can’t, citing a non-existent attorney client relationship, or he will concoct another transparently flimsy excuse for not complying with the Freedom of Information Act.
Don’t believe him, and don’t be fooled again.
Please remember, “The way we were.”
We must remember, that this is the same City Attorney’s Office which authorized money and expenses in support of an illegal school takeover and paid the legal fees of a flim-flam artist from Chicago, who made a fool of City and State leaders.
Will you remember over a half million dollars spent on a driveway, and legal fees paid in a lawsuit to which the City was not a party?
Will you remember, that this City Attorney’s Office sabotaged any meaningful reform of WPCA collection practices?
Will you remember, that at the direction of the City Attorney, our Police Commission, our Traffic Authority, was replaced in Parking Enforcement matters, with a political appointee in the Department of Public Works, following a questionable interpretation of state law?
And, will you remember, that this is by no means an exhaustive list of questionable dealings by our City Attorney’s Office?
Will you remember that this City Attorney’s Office routinely violates, and has contempt for the Freedom of Information Act?
Will you remember the old adage, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, or three or four times, shame on me?
Or will you “simply choose to forget?”