It’s impossible for taxpayers to get the best deal for their buck with no checks and balances in government. In Bridgeport, there’s no separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government, as required by the City Charter, a point hammered home by fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee in a letter to city councilors. From Lee:
Council members, all of you must sometimes ask: What are we doing here? What is our role? And more importantly what does the voting taxpaying public expect of us?
First you are legislators with responsibilities and limitations set out in our Charter. The Charter says that City employees cannot serve on this body. And the theory of “home rule” would support that status, but the State Legislature has made room for another interpretation that has been advanced in this City for some time because it serves to continue the status quo with a strong executive branch, no fiscal watchdog body and an ever-weaker Council.
Employment brings salary and benefits and status to an individual. If that position can be threatened then it can be used as a bargaining chip to control one or more legislative votes by an executive branch. If one or three or five or six employees in a 20-member body can be so controlled, then the representative body cannot be independent. If questions fail to be answered, and questioners on the Council are met with silence, poor info and removal from critical committees, the Council becomes weaker as a body.
Your Council has not been an independent voice of voter/taxpayers for many years. What is the evidence for my statement?
• For the past seven years you have maintained a City employee who works in labor relations as your President. During that time his compensation for his work has increased significantly. Indeed he will have earned over one million dollars in salary and benefits in the Finch years due to rapid compensation advances a few years ago. If he has been such a star in labor relations tasks, for instance, why has he been so slow as an elected representative to assist public understanding of the Airport driveway controversy and City expense while serving as a key member of the Airport Commission?
• Under your President’s direction a City budget was passed (2013) that cut the two legislative assistant positions, one of which was filled at the time. So your Council has no legislative aides. I listened three years ago to Councilman Holloway describe the 30-plus aldermen in New Haven who are served by a six-person legislative staff. Why do you have none? Would real staffing help you in your important work?
• Your body creates Ordinances and updates them. What happened with your Stipend Ordinance? It was debated and tabled, then replaced by a practical arrangement from Finance Department of a quarterly debit card advance that flies in the face of the still-existing expense reimbursement ordinance. Why? Slipshod Council administration? Certainly. But when one or more Council members including the Council President have been paid more than $9,000 in a year, who cares? And if the new system, though not backed by Ordinance, keeps those funds tax-free, who cares? Perhaps the IRS will.
• And since the newly adopted stipend system disallows political and charitable use of taxpayer money through Council stipend use, President McCarthy in June, 2013 offered Council members facing primary and election races a chance to use another line item called OTHER SERVICES for which the Council nor the City received any service. So why were taxpayer funds used to pay about $30,000 to local charities at the purchase request of 15 Council persons? No meeting call. No agenda. No minutes to record but recollections have stated that President McCarthy suggested the plan and 75% of then sitting Council members took advantage. No one has yet challenged my previous comments that this was illegal. Not one of them has explained why this was a fair and reasonable use of taxpayer funds rather than an illegal action. Reimburse the taxpayers with your own checks!
• The purchasing ordinance is lengthy and been debated, but the elimination by the Mayor of an Internal Auditor seven years ago, removed the person who was to perform an audit of purchases every three years and a report annually. Where are those authorized reports? Do you know? Do you know what the City purchased in 2014?
• Who represents the taxpayer month in and month out? Don’t look to Budget and Appropriations minutes for guidance. They do not care about taxpayer issues or they might have weighed in on abatements!
Can you see how the web of City job, increased personal compensation, unwillingness to deal with or respond to reasonable questions personally or through your committee structure are personal conflicts that have weakened your Council into insignificance? Perhaps Tom McCarthy should step aside in favor of a person less compromised and conflicted. That is not my unique view. Time will tell.