Dr. Mark Funkhouser, a former Kansas City mayor and auditor, is the director of the Governing Institute, a government watchdog and advisory organization. He writes “Connecticut’s largest city is the only city I’ve ever heard of where public employees are also members of the city council.” The potential conflicts associated with city employees on the City Council is a campaign issue just days from Tuesday’s general election, particularly in the highly competitive 130th District covering Black Rock and the West End.
Although the city charter prohibits members of the city council from holding any nonelected office or appointment paid out of Bridgeport’s treasury, five of its 20 members are city employees; the council president also is the deputy director of the city’s Department of Labor Relations. Bipartisan legislation closing a loophole in state law that allows these people to skirt the charter prohibition was defeated in the legislature’s last session.
Regardless of what’s legal or illegal, however, the weird arrangement in Bridgeport violates the most basic premise of effective governance: the principal-agent relationship. The city council represents the principals, and the city’s employees are the agents, hired to carry out the work of the city. It is the job of the city council to control the purse strings and oversee the work of the agents on behalf of the citizens. But in Bridgeport, elected council members who are city employees are essentially voting on a budget submitted by their boss–the mayor–and it’s asking a lot to expect them to effectively oversee their own work.
Read full commentary at Governing Institute.