Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer and award-winning columnist, shares his take on city employees serving on the City Council. He argues that public employee unions have way to much influence in how local and state governments are run. Check it out.
Most cities in Connecticut long have been operated more for the benefit of their own employees than for the benefit of their residents, and Bridgeport may be the worst case, its City Council being dominated by members who are also city employees and members of public employee unions, which have been looting the city. Surprisingly, the conflict of interest has offended a state representative from Bridgeport, John F. Hennessy, a Democrat–that is, a member of the party controlled by the unions–and has prompted him to propose legislation to knock the city employees off the council.
Bridgeport’s city charter already prohibits membership by city employees but state law supersedes the charter to allow such service. Indeed, the state constitution is absolute on the subject in favor of the broadest democracy. “Every elector who has attained the age of 18 years,” the constitution says, “shall be eligible to any office in the state,” except as the constitution itself provides otherwise–and it allows no exception for municipal offices. So the Bridgeport legislation would be unconstitutional just as the city charter is on this point. But that’s not why it has no chance in the General Assembly. It has no chance there because the unions control the majority party.
That is, this conflict-of-interest problem is up to ordinary democracy to correct at election time.
That will be hard as civic interest and public participation continue to decline throughout the state. The unions have taken over the cities precisely because the cities are so impoverished and no longer have an independent, self-supporting, taxpaying middle class capable of holding government to account. The public employee unions themselves now are the only political class in the cities.
Bad as this is, democracy can’t be saved by restricting democracy, and even if it was enacted the Bridgeport legislation probably would have little practical effect. For as long as the public employee unions are the main political force in the city, a City Council member who was also a city employee but was disqualified from serving might easily be succeeded by his or her spouse, who would know equally well how to keep putting city employees first.