In a commentary published in the Connecticut Post, former Mayor Nick Panuzio is weighing in against a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. A former administrator at the University of Bridgeport (and currently a member of the Board of Trustees), Nick served as Bridgeport’s Republican mayor from November 1971 to September of 1975 when he resigned from office 55 days before the completion of his second term to accept a position in President Gerald Ford’s administration. Charming, funny, strong public speaker, Nick started a trend of Republican mayors occupying City Hall for 10 of the next 20 years. Nick leveraged his contacts in Washington to create a government relations profile that has sustained him all these years. In fact he had represented the city’s lobbying interests until recently. It was Nick who took the lead on behalf of Mayor Bill Finch when the mayor empaneled a committee to examine what went wrong in the aftermath of the election-day ballot shortage in 2010.
Nick’s legacy as mayor is arguably the sweetheart 20-year-and-out pension deal he gave the city’s uniformed services as he curried votes to win a second term in 1973. In 1974 Nick ran for governor, nearly becoming the GOP’s endorsed candidate against Democrat Ella Grasso who would become America’s first woman governor elected in her own right. For whatever reason, Nick is no longer lobbying for the city. In his opinion piece he has taken a position against Finch. Is this sour grapes? Or does Nick make strong points? His commentary below:
I have watched with interest the appointment of a charter revision commission that has been listening to the thoughts of citizens concerning changes that are necessary. As a former mayor of Bridgeport, I would like to express my opinion on several points.
We should remember that charters are like constitutions. They should be changed seldom and never to only satisfy one issue. They should be in place for years with little if any changes. Recent charter revisions were for giving the mayor a four-year term, eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and for changing the structure of the Board of Education.
If the charter revision commissioners are open to suggestions, I would like to make a few:
First, they should deal with the conflict of interest of individuals working for the city and simultaneously serving on the City Council and receiving a stipend for serving. They vote on the budget that contains their salaries as well as their stipend. I am not a lawyer but I believe this is a conflict of interest and is fundamentally wrong. When the Board of Taxation and Apportionment was in place there was no such conflict.
When I was mayor, there was not a single council member -Democrat or Republican–who worked for the city.
Second, the Board of Education should be an elected position. This is an example of changing the charter to meet an immediate need. I recognize the problem the mayor has with the poor showing of children in the schools. Is that the fault of the board, the superintendent, principals, teachers or anyone else beside the board?
In addition, the Democratic Party has been in control of education in Bridgeport for at least the last 21 years. If the mayor can find good people to appoint that live in the city, then the Democratic Party can find them and get them elected. All of the people on the board were selected by the Democratic Party, and the mayor, as the titular head of the party, should be able to get qualified people nominated and elected. It seems to me that more power is placed in the hands of the mayor by making the members of the board appointed. We should not be doing it just because others are doing it. All power in the hands of one person, no matter how dedicated, is not good.
Third, I was the only mayor who was opposed to the four-year term for the office of mayor. I recognize that we have had three mayors elected for the four-year term and the chance of changing that are slim. However, I believe that a two-year term guarantees that the public has greater control over the actions taken by a mayor. I hope the commission will keep the election for the council to two years.
Fourth, there should be consideration given to minority representation on all boards for, if nothing else, the ability to monitor the actions of the majority. The Board of Education was always nine members, with three for the minority and six for the majority.
The minority members can operate independently from the mayor and really act to represent the children of the city.
The City Charter is a sacred document that should not be changed to meet an immediate problem. It really is like the constitution. can you think of where we would be if every time we have a problem in Washington they tried to change the Constitution?
The mayor can figure out how to get qualified members of the board and correct the problems for the kids.