When citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee barks, do City Council members listen? Certainly not to Lee’s satisfaction, according to his latest talking points Monday night to the legislative body. Would some council members like to muzzle him? Lee himself is weighing a run for City Council.
Do you remember hearing statements that start with “WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS A” “good 5 cent cigar” or “a chicken in every pot” years before Colonel Sanders, and today in Bridgeport: Lower taxes for those paying at the 100% level, solid educational funding producing expected results for most students, public safety for all based on mutual respect, some current targets?
But how do you get to any of these goals and objectives? Leadership is part of it, but so is good management including employee and volunteer education and training so that people advance in their work. Observation and evaluation on a regular basis are parts also, so there are consequences for sub-standard activity when it flows from public funds.
Have any of you wondered why I regularly address you? Why was Cecil Young present before you regularly? Wasn’t it because he believed he had an issue, an employment issue that had not been dealt with fairly and justly? He also believed he had been shut off from any redress. So he appeared before you quite regularly, with exhibits, sometimes seeming to threaten but more often pleading for fairness and someone to listen to him. Perhaps he has found an answer to his personal issues, but he is no longer present.
In a similar way I have been here, at almost every session you hold, thankful that there is five minutes allocated to public outcry of unfair or unjust activity in Bridgeport. Many of you listen to me. You also receive my talks electronically. They are also archived and videotaped for later replay. I am happy to say many outside this room hear what I have been saying.
You have a WATCHDOG role in this City. But you are not fully alert to threats to the public you were elected to represent, you don’t do enough barking or growling, and there are more than a few who are only too ready to be petted or given a bone to chew on. Those are not WATCHDOG behaviors.
Two examples of current WATCHDOG failures in my opinion:
• In June 2013 fifteen of then-Council persons requested funding with public tax dollars of over $30,000 under the leadership and guidance of President McCarthy. Money was not taken from your Stipend account where charitable and political funding would have been prohibited by your debit card agreement. Rather money was authorized from Line Item 56180 OTHER SERVICES, paid from taxpayer funds, so you could deliver checks to charities before the primary or election. The City received no “services” and those who presented the check to the charity received the credit, not the taxpayer. Very bad precedent you see, because Purchasing cut the checks even though the Line Item used was inappropriate for these types of SUPPORTIVE CONTRIBUTIONS and the Council never met on the matter which is why there is no notice of a meeting, agenda, or minutes. Could this happen again? Why not? Is it an illegal activity, a misappropriation of public funds? What do you think? Why don’t you investigate who authorized the request by those of you who delivered such a check? Did the person have your authority to do this on your behalf? Could they do it again, for any reason?
• I am a real supporter of youth activities including sports, arts and music, travel, service projects and assistance with school work. Lighthouse is our major City youth services program. I have reported this core youth program has not been complete and accurate in budget presentations for some years. They are identifying less than 50% of their program funding to you. Are you pleased? Is there a reason why the fees paid by parents and families totaling $850,000 are not reported? Don’t you need them to know you widely appreciate this revenue for the sacrifice involved? Is there a reason why $1.7 Million of grants funds are not included in a budget request presentation along with some acknowledgement that the BOE does not charge for in-kind provision of building space in 24 schools or more, year ’round as a “partner?”
Would a group of elected citizens like yourself be expected to look into such things after they have been reported? Would you expect some explanation and perhaps reformation might follow? Is Open, Accountable and Transparent governance part of your reason for sitting as a City Council person? Do you see a WATCHDOG role for yourself and the Council? Time will tell.