By a 16-5 vote on Friday the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee advanced a a government reform bill backed by the city’s legislative delegation “To prohibit municipal employees from serving on any governmental body charged with preparing the municipal budget except when authorized by charter or home rule ordinance.”
This bill has been the historic baby of State Rep. Jack Hennessy who years ago lobbied the proposal when the City Council had an unusually high number of its members on the municipal payroll, in particular council president Tom McCarthy, when deputy director of Labor Relations, who had a cozy relationship with then-Mayor Bill Finch. McCarthy is no longer a city employee or council member.
How can there be true checks and balances in government, Hennessy argued, when so many City Council members work at the pleasure of the mayor? The city’s legislative body also has budget authority.
Bridgeport State House members who serve on the Planning and Development Committee, Steve Stafstrom and Andre Baker, voted in favor of the bill. State Senator Dennis Bradley, also a committee member, was absent.
In 2014, Marilyn Moore wielded the issue as a campaign cudgel against then-State Senator Anthony Musto who served as the bill’s chief opponent on behalf of the political establishment. Moore defeated Musto in a primary. She successfully shepherded the bill through the State Senate but not enough votes existed in the House.
With most local opposition to the reform measure out of the way, the city’s legislative delegation believes passage is now much stronger.
Language from the bill:
Any municipal employee shall have the right to serve on any governmental body of the town in which such employee resides except any body which has responsibility for direct supervision of such employee. Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, (1) no such employee shall serve on any of the following unless such employee is permitted to serve pursuant to the provisions of a municipal charter or home rule ordinance: [or serves because of membership on the legislative body of the municipality:] (A) Any board of finance created pursuant to chapter 106, [or] any special act or municipal charter or any body exercising the powers of a board of finance;
The line in bold above is key. The City Council essentially serves as a board of finance. Municipal employees cannot serve on boards of finance. Many towns in Connecticut have both a board of finance as well as legislative body. In Bridgeport those two units are rolled into one.
The bill would bring state law in line with the Bridgeport City Charter home rule that prohibits city employees from serving on the City Council.
Back in the day Bridgeport had something called the Board of Apportionment and Taxation that approved the city budget. About 30 years ago voters transferred that power to the City Council in a charter change, eliminating the former body.
OIB friend Phil Smith, a student of the City Charter, directed a number of charter reform initiatives during that era.