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Mac The Knife! City Council’s White Out Leads To Federal Lawsuit

January 2nd, 2013 · 20 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council, News and Events

Last May, the city’s legislative services director Tom White took issue with OIB’s assertion that he wanted to “reform the way” the City Council conducts business following a series of issues White had with several council members including Council President Tom McCarthy. There were problems apparently that White did not want to spill out publicly, perhaps fearing his job was on the line. Shortly after, the Council did not fund White’s $47,000 position for the budget year beginning last July 1. White has responded with a federal lawsuit claiming he “acted as the conscience and moral compass for the City Council, dispensing advice and opinions on the ethical behavior the public expected from members.”

White had voiced concerns about City Council members who held city jobs voting to increase their salaries as well as manipulating city expenditures to pad $9,000 a year stipends.

And in fact last May city fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee had penned an OIB commentary questioning city financial reports and council stipends. White, perhaps fearing retribution from council members, quickly dispatched a statement walking back the ‘reform’ characterization by OIB. White wrote:

Over the years, as reflected in my job description, I have made many recommendations to city council leadership on ways to improve legislative services department operations but saying I wish to “reform the way the council conducts business” is inaccurate and misleading and not the role of my position.

But in a federal lawsuit against the city, White claims the city violated his First Amendment rights as the victim of retaliation because he “acted as the conscience and moral compass for the City Council.” White has hired former Mayor Tom Bucci, an expert in employment discrimination law, as his attorney. Bucci has a mighty record representing city employees in claims against the city. The Finch administration has a history of firing, defunding positions, of malcontents. Bucci takes the city to court and wins settlements for his clients.

The lawsuit also claims council members were “inappropriately diverting expense payments from their individual stipends to the general revenues of the city budget to fraudulently increase their individual expense accounts. On one occasion, in 2007, a member of the City Council instructed the plaintiff to charge conference-related expenses to department funds in the general fund, rather than his stipend which he had depleted.”

White claims the city tried to fire him, but then reversed itself because it could show no cause. Instead, his position was not funded, but the city quietly replaced White by transferring Walter Boyer from the Departing on Aging to the City Clerk’s Office with the title “legislative liaison.”

McCarthy told the Connecticut Post the lawsuit is without merit.

White is seeking his job back, as well as back pay, benefits, damages and legal fees.

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    Tom McCarthy is an affable person who wears multiple hats in the City. As City Council President he is an elected representative of the people with an additional responsibility and title conferred on him by the majority of the other 19 elected representatives. With the relatively poor attendance records of many Council members at Committee meetings, Tom McCarthy needs roller skates some evening, being the extra warm-blooded replacement to make a quorum. On occasion he sits in on Committee meetings to see how they proceed. And he may share his opinion in such sessions.

    He also is a City employee using his legal skills apparently to benefit the City as a whole, though he makes the news far less frequently for his work or accomplishments in this arena.

    And he is a Bridgeport resident and voter with a personal opinion in contrast to a legal position, I assume.

    Perhaps it is in this capacity he believes such legal action is without merit? And how has the Council functioned since White’s termination around June 30? And what is McCarthy’s concept of legislative support for all 20 Council persons that was proposed for the Charter revision that failed? I missed his ‘public statement’ or testimony on this subject that was 1 of 70 changes embodied in the FAILED CHARTER question. Perhaps the CT Post will ask him what he had in mind, then and now? Or will it appear in the new budget year? Time will tell.

  • Steven Auerbach

    Tom White is a seasoned professional who has once himself served the city as an Alderman. He is articulate and intelligent. He is also one of the last Republicans in Bridgeport. If there were a Republican party alive in the city they would probably have been making noise. It is sad they would have done away with his position. These things do happen in a bad economy. Since he was replaced with another worker it seems strange to me. Having Tom Bucci, a former Mayor as his attorney can only be a plus for White. If Tom gets his job back and back pay it will be a real plus for Bucci and a real embarrassment for the Finch administration.

  • Jimfox

    McCarthy kisses a sailor on New Year’s Eve
    tv.msn.com/tv/article.aspx?news=782632

  • Joel Gonzalez

    They fired me because I’m White!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Make no mistake about it, behind that smile and ready wit there is a prick with ears and that is Tom McCarthy. He has been right in the middle of all of these firings of long-time civil service employees. He has also managed to pad his and other members of labor relations salaries. He is part of the most vile crooked administration I have seen in over 40 years.
    White was doing what he was supposed to do and he gets fired for it, well not really fired they just did not fund his position. How many of these council people have been using unauthorized city funds when they overspent their stipend? It would seem to me this is illegal and thus a crime; Tom Sherwood take notice.
    Just so everyone knows, Sue Brannelly has become Mayor Finch’s pit bull.

  • Phil Smith

    And McCarthy claims to be a labor relations expert? Give me a break. This could get really ugly. And it should.

  • BlackRockGuy

    Sue Brannelly is one of several members of the City Council who need to be removed.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Rumor of the day: Paul Vallas is set to sign a five-year contract with the BOE.

  • Bruce Lee

    This will get ugly. Walter “Mike” Boyer was Rose Hoyt’s boy at the Dept of Aging. He was laid off from there and then was hooked up with Tom White’s job. Just because the title is different doesn’t make the job different. Tom McCarthy is an attorney and he has to be thinking “how am I going to defend this in federal court?” I don’t think he would perjure himself but if he tells the truth his job would be at risk. Plus the council election is 10 months away. What’s a council prez to do?

    • The Fixer

      Is it the 9th commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Lie?

    • Zena Lu

      Bruce: CORRECT. When a company wants to do away with whom they deem a “cancerous” individual, the normal protocol (if one wants to stay out of court) is to change some of the most base-line job responsibilities, the title, compensation structure, and shift around some direct reports if applicable. Another way is to drop the job grade level a bit and shift some of the more menial parts of the job to direct reports, and immediately change the job description, title and pay. The defensible posture here is some of the job responsibilities are imperative to the position but others were as inherently important and could be effectively carried out by lower-level employees. The picture being painted here is in the interest of cost effectiveness the position was eliminated, and the person in it was laid off.

      It’s not so hard to stay out of court, especially if the person being let go is offered somewhat of a severance, is given a “pink slip” and signs away the right to sue. I would hope Mr. McCarthy had the foresight to tie up the loose ends especially before letting a good employee go. Why do I think not?

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I was wondering how many hours during the week when he is supposed to be doing labor relations work is McCarthy doing council work. I have noted he is at just about all of the mayors conferences and ground breakings (parks) so how does that happen? Please don’t tell me he works late and on Saturdays to make up for his time.

  • The Fixer

    The CT Post article says Mike Bayonne tried to make a backroom deal (in writing) to allow Tom White to resign quietly without blemishing his employment record. Bucci turned the table on him by using the letter as evidence in federal court.

    Bayonne is part of the Don Houston law firm. These outside attorneys are in City Hall several times a week. They are billing the City at an hourly rate to defend these reprehensible attacks on City employees. The City always loses and has to pay the employees and Houston’s law firm. Houston takes these loser cases because what does he care, he gets paid regardless of whether he wins or loses.

    Again, I suggest someone (HELLO CT POST) file an FOI to obtain information on how much the taxpayers are paying outside law firms to defend nonsense cases like this.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Fixer, the city pays millions each year to outside attorneys despite a City Attorney staff of a dozen lawyers and a budget of more than $4 million. The additional money is pulled from the Board of Education and other accounts. When 2011 mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster issued an FOI for outside attorney costs, several million was calculated. Interestingly, several attorneys notified OIB what the city released was below what they had been paid.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Lennie,
        The comments to you from the legal community about the accuracy of City-proffered “financial records” regarding legal expenses is interesting. It casts doubt on the accuracy as well as the timeliness of City financial output from this administration. How do you overlook miscodings in the Purchasing records? How do dollars get spent on line items that are not part of their approved budgets? How does a following year proposed budget authored by the Mayor’s office indicate actual dollars spent on Line Item 51402 City Council Stipends that is more than two times as large as any purchasing department reports from Legislative (and other ‘unauthorized’ City Departments)? I have asked this question before. Perhaps 2013 will be a year when an answer emerges? Taxpayer money? For sure! Accountability to the taxpayer? Not at all! Which City Council member wants to dig into this? Time will tell.

  • Mojo

    *** A bit of a sour-grapes reaction, to a slow but long time coming permanent pink slip for an independent thinker who made many council members look like they knew what they were doing at times! Besides it’s not the first time he’s sued the city of Bpt nor will it be the last if he’s hired back. I’m sure he could write a short story about many shady unorthodox deals and goings-on between the city council and the Finch Admin, etc. *** CLUELESS CITY GOVERNMENT ***

    • Mojo

      *** CORRECTION *** (Besides it’s not the first time an employee has sued the city of Bpt & gotten their job back nor will it be the last!) Mr. White did and also followed up on many city projects, ideas, etc. for council members and their districts, who in turn took credit for the work! If anyone knows just who is clueless on the council (without including a freshman council member either) it’s Mr. White. *** GOOD LUCK TOM! ***

  • Tom White

    As usual, the comments of OIBers range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

    This is the first time I have commented on the OIB blog and the only time I will comment on this suit. The suit speaks for itself.

    Steve, thank you for your kind words. I am not deserving.

    Andy, your first and third comments are on-target. Is anyone checking timesheets?

    Rafael. I have never sued the City before. The court record will be more interesting and meaningful than any short story I could write (unless Lennie helped). It seems it requires court action to get anything done in Bridgeport.

    Phil. If by ‘ugly’ you mean some unpleasant facts could be revealed in court, you may be right.

    Those who know me well know I prepare thoroughly. Stay tuned.

    • Bridgeporteur

      Tom goes way back as a bastion of integrity. Remember his battle against the Stop & Shop on Madison Avenue?
      No one more professional has ever graced the halls of the Government Center like Tom did.
      It looks like some cracks are showing in the Irish Mafia of Bridgeport, no? Time will tell.

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