Legislative Branch In Conflict, Torres Seeks Answers On The Powers Of City Council

Republican City Councilman Rick Torres asks a lot of questions. Asking questions can be an uncomfortable process, both for the pitcher and catcher. Uncomfortable for the pitcher because prying an answer from City Attorney Mark Anastasi can be an exercise in pretzel logic. It’s called Anastasi-speak. But it can also be uncomfortable for Anastasi because Torres is not inclined to ask and then let it go. He’s like Lieutenant Columbo coming back for more. Several council members are now asking questions, as a result of some dubious administration decision making, that has slowed the path of project approvals.

Several city departments have balked at Torres’ requests for financial information, saying we don’t report to you, we report to the administrative chain of command. Torres says some of the information he’s requested is just basic stuff. Mark Anastasi’s title is City Attorney, but in actuality he’s the Mayor’s Attorney, a role he’s had for more than 20 years, serving at the pleasure of the city’s chief executive. Anastasi has shown no inconsistency about his role. He is loyal to the chief executive he serves. And this is where the legislative branch is institutionally conflicted with the executive branch. The City Council does not have its own dedicated legal counsel outside the scope of the executive branch.

The City Council, as a complete body, has never demanded its own shackle-free counsel. The legislative branch relies on legal advice that in the larger practical picture answers to the executive branch. As a result, guidance comes with an asterisk. Lawyers being lawyers they will argue to suspicious council members there’s no conflict in the advice they give to the executive and legislative branches. Several of those city employee council members happen to serve at the pleasure of the executive branch, including the City Council President Tom McCarthy. It is Anastasi’s legal opinion, in defiance of the voter-approved City Charter, a loophole in state law allows city employees to serve on the city’s budget and legislative body, irrespective of some legal decisions declaring state law cannot be used as a convenient pretext to violate local rule.

In seeking financial information, Torres has asked Anastasi for a clarification on the reading of this section of the City Charter.

Section 4. – City Council—Power to procure information.

The city council shall have full power to require the different city officers and employees to furnish all the information which they may possess and to exhibit to it all books, contracts, reports and other papers and documents in their respective departments, or in their possession, requisite, in the opinion of said board, to enable it to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this chapter and it is hereby made the duty of all the city officers to furnish and exhibit the same when so required.

Torres says he’s awaiting a response from Anastasi for this email sent 10 days ago, with a copy to all council members:

I would like a definition of what the “City Council” means with respect to the City Charter. In chapter 9 section 4 states the following:

Section 4. – City Council-Power to procure information.

The city council shall have full power to require the different city officers and employees to furnish all the information which they may possess and to exhibit to it all books, contracts, reports and other papers and documents in their respective departments, or in their possession, requisite, in the opinion of said board, to enable it to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this chapter and it is hereby made the duty of all the city officers to furnish and exhibit the same when so required.

As you can see this statement is quite significant, powerful and all-encompassing. I believe this statement is among the most powerfully crafted transparency rules of governing that I have ever read. To a Council interested in oversight this would give us the right to look into every drawer and every file in the city.

2) How do you define the role of the Council President versus the role of any other Councilperson relevant to either’s ability to acquire information such as that provided for by the above sighted section of the Charter? Can you please provide Charter proof of your decision and/or state law proof.

3) Recently I was given information by the Budget Committee Chairperson. Although, I was the one who requested the information at the first Budget Committee meeting, the information necessarily had to flow, I was told by Mr. Nunn, through the Chairperson. Am I precluded from requesting or receiving information directly from city staff? As you know I have been relegated to the Council’s Siberia committee and I hold no Chairmanships. Does that mean that I cannot receive information directly?

4) You have stated that in Executive Session the council may deal with extremely sensitive information. Does this include personnel issues? My assumption is that we, the Council, has the right to see all information the city may have (Charter Chapter 9 Section 4) on any matter. Am I wrong? If this is so, why would Mr. Sherwood suggest that the reason that we were excluded from getting certain files in the past was due to their sensitive nature. Are there any sensitive nature issues that you consider that are beyond the purview of this body?

The way you answer these questions will determine how I perform my job. I would like a formal and documented opinion of these questions as soon as you possible. Interestingly, I am assuming that I have a right to ask you these questions in the first place, which, of course, is an answer in its own right.

How this Council behaves ought to be a matter of open description. This body ought to have duties and responsibilities which are listed for the public to see. Individual constituents ought to be able to ask their Councilpersons to look into things for them. I grant you that access of sensitive material ought not reach the public, if it is protected by law. However, everyone’s pay is public information. That should be available. Who works for city hall ought to be available. Where people work for city hall ought to be available. A full description of the responsibilities of city employees ought to be available.

Good government begins with an open door policy. City Hall’s doors are mostly closed, even to me. I hope we can work together to make Bridgeport a more righteous place.



      1. Is that rule being followed? Not 100% sure but I see quite a few city workers driving the same cars as before, but without identifying license plates. I would like an audit and investigation as to who has a city-sponsored vehicle and why.

  1. Good questions? I think so. They open a path to ‘checks and balance’ status, since information, accurate, timely, and comprehensive is key to good decision-making by Council members.

    By the way, Rick Torres is not the only person asking questions or seeking more info because of the recent election results. When Republican Donna Curran was one of two Council persons from the 130th district, she had little company in her pursuit of additional info.

    One example of multiple questioners happened at the last B&A meeting where a new member of that committee asked for a FINAL report for June 2013 that includes the audited changes and results. Previously the CFO of the City had expressed to me surprise that the Council would want such a report. But it has been asked for and is expected by the B&A for the FIRST TIME IN OVER 20 YEARS.

    Yes, the City has provided a June 12-month report in 2012 and 2013 but they have been conspicuously marked DRAFT and have not been followed with a FINAL report. Is that any way to manage, run or report on a half billion dollar operating budget?

    By the way it appears the Comprehensive Annual Financial Review for 2013 has appeared at the City Clerk office last Friday. Look forward to reviewing it on the City site soon. Lots of good news, I am sure. Time will tell.

  2. CAFRs are available by going to the Department Directory and clicking on the link with Finance. They are available from 2002-2012 at this moment. Probably going to be posted there soon. But it has been received by the City Clerk. And our taxes pay for this annual external audit. There is no formal meeting scheduled annually to review the findings. I wonder if there will be any comment on this by City government leadership. Time will tell.

  3. This means it would be a good idea to make any and all request for information under FOI in addition to Chapter 4 of the City Charter. When one or both are considered, there is no reason for anyone (City Staff) to delay or turn down requests of public information from the public and especially elected officials.

  4. Most questions are regressive. Today, winners answer their own questions as statement-based conversation is rapidly becoming the new norm.
    If your smartphone doesn’t enable you to answer your own questions, your learning curve might be incomplete.

  5. Exactly why every district needs a Rick. A true “independent,” not tied to anyone but his/her constituents. So happy for the folks in his District. They are very lucky. I am stuck with Denese Taylor-Moye here in the 131st.

  6. Rick,
    I believe Mark will point to the language that reads “in the opinion of said board, to enable it to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this chapter.”
    Since it says in the opinion of said board (board referring to the City Council) and does not say “or any member thereof,” Mark will say this would require a request approved by the full council. Anything less than that would be considered an accommodation to a member(s).

  7. Joel is correct in that this language does not really provide any more power than the state FOI and the state FOI is independent of local foot-dragging. Although it may seem like it takes forever, you as a single council person might have no luck obtaining documents through this section of the charter.

  8. Rick,
    You need to look at the FOI legislation/website for executive session. There are very specific reasons for conducting a meeting in executive session, and extremely sensitive matters is not one of them. Whenever someone makes a motion to go into executive session you should immediately ask what matter will be discussed. The city likes to say there is pending litigation or legal matters. Pending litigation is a legitimate reason but if they say that is the reason then immediately ask to state the court case. No court case no pending litigation. I have heard them lamely claim there is a contract before the committee and if it is not properly approved there may be litigation. Again, pending litigation does not qualify. Ask your council president to arrange for FOI training by an outside entity, not the City Attorney’s office.
    Go get ’em.

  9. City council from time to time has expressed an interest in having their own counsel. Lennie described the situation well. The city council members must attempt to get answers through a system that has demonstrated it can feed them anything and get the necessary vote. Charter revision of 1993 allowed them to establish their own office to gather information, research, etc. independent of the Mayor’s chain of command. Unfortunately, as Lennie described, the council president and other city council members are part of the mayor’s chain of command. Only in Bridgeport.

    1. From last night’s Bridgeport Board of Ed meeting:
      On average, the BOE spends $1 million each year on outside lawyers. The BOE is considering, and openly discussed, retaining a dedicated outside counsel.

      As reported in today’s CT Post: “… a plan [including an RFP being advanced] by Baraka to rein in legal fee costs … was praised by former board chairman Kenneth Moales Jr. as something he wholeheartedly supports. Vallas praised the effort as well.


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