Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez writes in her latest commentary “Most of us would agree that keeping a muzzle on the Chief of Police, or any other department head, is not a policy that enhances the public good, or supports the public’s right to know.”
Watch what they do; not what they say!
Thanks to newspaper reports, many of us have had an opportunity to learn what Mayor Ganim has been saying regarding the December 12, 2021, untimely deaths of two Black Women, Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields and Ms. Brenda Lee Rawls. We have also learned what he is saying about his Police Department.
We have also had the opportunity to watch what he does.
We can reach only one conclusion: what he says and what he does, don’t add up!
According to press reports, there are a few things that we know. And there are many things that we still don’t know.
We know that on Friday, January 21, 2022, the family of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields, through their attorney, filed a Notice of intention to sue the City in connection with the death of Ms. Smith Fields, and the ‘unacceptable’ investigation process utilized by the Bridgeport Police Department. That means that the City, as of that date was on notice that it will be a defendant in a lawsuit against it.
We also know that on January 30, 2022, nine days later, despite being on notice of a potential legal claim against the City of Bridgeport, Mayor Ganim sprinted to the TV cameras and lobbed a grenade aimed at our own police department. He did this, despite knowing that an investigation was in progress.
In her February 1, 2022 CTPOST article, Sandra Diamond Fox quotes the Mayor as saying, he is “extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and finds actions taken up to this point unacceptable.”
According to the CTPOST, we now have Acting Chief Rebeca Garcia’s four (4) page comprehensive letter, addressed to Police Commission Chairman Dan Roach discussing the situation and the response of the Police Department. It was released by the City on Friday, February 11, at 7:30 P.M, without comment or explanation. The impetus for releasing the letter was a Freedom of Information request seeking disclosure.
We now know, that Mayor Ganim was dragged, kicking and screaming to a position of transparency, after initially withholding a copy of Chief Garcia’s letter, based upon a spurious claim of privilege.
It is unfortunate that our Mayor did not offer any details, or even acknowledge, actions already taken by his police personnel prior to his media splash on January 30, 2022.
But it is even more unfortunate that police personnel cannot answer questions, posed by the media or by ordinary citizens, due to Mayor Ganim’s “media policy” which imposes a gag order on municipal employees, including the Chief of Police.
In his February 4, 2022, article CTPOST scribe, Brian Lockhart states that “what has been missing in all of this is Garcia’s side of the story.” He continues by reminding us that “Garcia … like other department heads under Ganim, is not allowed to speak to the press without permission.”
Why she is not allowed to speak to the press?
Consistent with Mayor Ganim’s need to control every aspect of his administration, he has implemented a written “Media Policy.” This policy requires all department heads to “call the Mayor’s Communication Director,” before responding to any media inquiries. The Media Policy includes a script for the Department Head or Supervisor to follow once a member of the press approaches a municipal employee.
This is a gag order dressed up as a municipal policy. Chief Garcia did not promulgate this policy, Mayor Ganim did.
While Mayor Ganim is not the only chief executive to adhere to such a restrictive media policy, he does happen to be the Mayor who keeps members of Boards and Commissions in their positions long after their terms have expired. According to the City Website, two members of the Civil Service Commission, Melva Falberg and Richard P. Rodgers are serving terms that ended in 2017 and 2010, respectively.
Every single member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, according to the City Website, is serving an expired term, and the Chair of the Commission, Mr. Melville Riley, is serving as Acting Chair.
In addition, the Mayor also has a well-established practice of keeping department heads in acting positions, rather than empowered as the actual head of the department. Just think back to “Acting” Personnel Director of Civil Service, David Dunn, and of course, “Acting” Police Chief AJ Perez, both of whom distinguished themselves with terms of imprisonment for federal convictions in connection with their service to the City.
And of course, the Website also states that our Fire Chief Lance Edwards is also serving in an acting position. The department of Public Facilities is also led by an Acting Director Craig Nadrizny.
A fair question for the Mayor is: What are you afraid of?
Does the truth frighten you so much that you must control every detail of information given to the residents of the City? Why do you need to regulate and control every detail of a department head’s speech? Why can’t the Chief be available to respond to inquiries from the press?
Must everyone who works for you, surrender their right to communicate with the public, while distancing themselves from accountability?
While gag orders have become a common practice in government, they are frowned upon by the courts. These gag orders are referred to as ‘prior restraint’ of speech. They are intended to prevent speech even before any words have been spoken.
Although public employees rarely challenge these gag orders in court, when they are challenged, the employees have prevailed on many occasions.
Most of us would agree that keeping a muzzle on the Chief of Police, or any other department head is not a policy that enhances the public good, or supports the public’s right to know.
It is the antithesis of transparency.
Mayor Ganim, lift the gag order!