Hennessy UPDATE: Community activists from throughout the city have come together in support of State Rep. Jack Hennessy’s bill to bar city employees from serving on the City Council, something prohibited in the City Charter, but allowed through a loophole in state law. Harborview Market in Black Rock, owned by two-time Republican mayoral candidate Rick Torres, serves as the location for the community meetings. The group assembled Thursday night. Hennessy’s bill faces serious opposition from groups that support the Democratic-controlled state legislature such as organized labor whose contracts are approved by the city’s legislative body.
Hennessy’s bill CT HB-5724 has the support of State Rep. Auden Grogins who represents two of the most active neighborhoods in the city including Black Rock and Brooklawn. Hennessy represents the North End in the State House.
Grogins sits on the legislature’s Planning and Development committee that conducted a public hearing on Hennessy’s bill last week. In an effort to give his bill a pulse in the face of opposition Hennessy recently added an amendment to his bill that would grandfather in the six City Council members on the public payroll. Some supporters of the bill such as Grogins argue there’s no compelling reason to bar Board of Education employees from running for council seats, claiming there’s no inherent conflict of interest because they’re not discretionary appointees of the mayor where the real concern rests. Addressing those two issues Hennessy issued this statement today to OIB:
“In hopes of drawing support from my own Bpt delegation and stopping the heavy union lobbying against the bill, I had proposed a “grandfather” concession. Except for Rep. Don Clemons, my concession went no where. Therefore I pulled back on supporting the idea.
I also am against any watering down of the bill for adding any language regarding BOE employees. This bill has no effect on current law regarding BOE employees serving on the city council so why even bring it up?”
Community activists and elected officials who participated in the Harborview Market meeting Thursday night included Grogins, Hennessy, fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee, former United States Comptroller General David Walker, 2011 mayoral candidates Mary-Jane Foster and John Gomes, City Councilman Andre Baker and Jennifer Buchanan, part of the so-called Smut Busters that engineered state legislation last year that regulated massage parlors and strip clubs in the city.
Hennessy says city employees serving on the city’s legislative body creates conflicts of interest such as council members approving their own wages and benefits. Hennessy reasons it’s impossible for the legislative branch of government to be a check on the executive branch if they’re appointed by the executive branch.
City Council President Tom McCarthy, deputy director in the city’s Labor Relations Department with strong union contacts around the state, opposes Hennessy’s bill. Five other members of the 20-member City Council are also on the public payroll. McCarthy says any conflict concerns can be avoided on the council by council members recusing themselves on certain votes. He’s adamant city employees on the council can serve their constituencies effectively.
All 20 members of the council are up for reelection this year with some of them potentially facing Democratic primaries in September.