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Public Hearing For Government Reform Bill, Hundreds Sign Petition In Support Of Enforcing City Charter

February 9th, 2015 · 13 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council, News and Events

A public hearing for House Bill #5886 to enforce the Bridgeport City Charter barring city employees from serving on the City Council will take place Friday 11 a.m. in Room 2B of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, according to State Rep. Jack Hennessy who introduced the legislation with State Senator Marilyn Moore. Meanwhile a petition advanced by City Councilman Enrique Torres supporting the legislation  has been signed by hundreds of residents.

Hennessy is urging supporters of the bill to provide testimony before the Planning and Development Committee. If you cannot attend but want to submit testimony send to pdtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

Mayor Bill Finch, in words and actions, has ignored the Bridgeport City Charter approved by city voters that bars city employees from serving on the City Council to avoid conflicts of interest such as approving their own wages and benefits. Finch has balked at enforcing the charter and supporting the legislation primarily to protect strong ally City Council President Tom McCarthy who receives a six-figure salary serving at the pleasure of the mayor as deputy director of Labor Relations. Supporters of the state reform bill argue it’s impossible for taxpayers to get the best bang for their buck when the head of the legislative branch works at the pleasure of the mayor in violation of checks and balances.

Bridgeport City Attorney Mark Anastasi dubiously cites a loophole in state law as a pretext to violating the City Charter. State law prohibits public employees from serving on municipal boards of finance. The Bridgeport City Council, however, serves as a board of finance. The bill proposed seeks simply to extend state law to prohibit municipal employees from serving on any government body that has budget authority.

Hennessy’s reform bill has been killed in the past by elected officials doing the bidding of the political establishment, in particular Anthony Musto and Andres Ayala, both of whom are no longer in the State Senate.

One noteworthy person who says he’ll testify in support of the bill is retired FBI agent Ed Adams who led the investigation more than a decade ago that toppled the mayoral administration of Joe Ganim. Says Adams …

Having city employees serve on the City Council in and of itself is a conflict of interest. The Bridgeport City Council votes on pay raises, contracts and employee benefits. Therefore the City employees on the Council will vote to line their pockets with raises and better benefits rather than curb spending and think of the taxpayers. It’s a selfish act but it is human nature to look out for numero uno. It makes good sense to prohibit such a situation and I have no idea why we have not heard Mayor Finch supporting the passage of the current reform bill.

Torres says he will submit the petition at Monday’s scheduled City Council meeting as well as at the legislative public hearing on Friday.

Torres statement:

To expect an honest political process in the City of Bridgeport the City Council must be an independent legislative body of government; a balance to the power of the mayor. What is wrong with the Common Council is exemplified by Council President Tom McCarthy. Tom works directly for the mayor. The mayor may fire him without cause. Tom has no free will to represent us. Tom is the deputy director of labor relations. He has control over the other Councilmen who work for the city. All of this leads to a city completely run out of the mayor’s office, without oversight.

Bridgeport residents object to this practice. Our City Charter prohibits the behavior. State law prohibits the behavior for Finance Boards which generally control budgetary processes. Bridgeport, however, eliminated its Finance Board and rolled the Finance Board’s purview to the Common Council. State law does not provide for this particular type of governance. It is silent on the matter. However, it is clear of the intent of the state law; namely to deny legislators the ability to vote on their own salaries.

Judging by the cross section of community support from residents and members of the city’s legislative delegation, it appears a whole bunch more than the mayor asserts care about checks and balances in government. From the online petition followed by a sampling of supporters:

We the undersigned, want the enforcement of the Bridgeport City Charter banning city employees from serving on the Common Council. We also demand the elimination of all other conflicts-of-interests from city departments, boards, commissions and council.

Marge Hiller: The lack of regard of the Conflict of Interest statute in Bridgeport is disgraceful.

Sara Witherington: It’s long overdue.

Diane Speer: This is such a simple concept … no conflict of interest makes for better city government.

Ray Laroche: The problem IS Bill Finch. He must fly away and let Bridgeport prosper to greatness it once was.

Lynda Bluestein: If you want a job with the City apply for it. If you want to serve the City in elective office, run for it. Just don’t do both. It’s so wrong for so many reasons.

John Stevens: I have lived in Bridgeport for 33 years … I’m tired of the corruption.

Jesse Rodriguez: I’m tired of getting taxed for people that don’t want to work. Tired working paycheck to paycheck to provide for my family

Tom Errichetti: I’m signing because I believe the City Charter provisions should overrule state rule where City rule is more restrictive–and separation of governing individuals and employment is good policy.

David Riccoboni: City employees should not be able to serve on the Common Council. This is such a blatant conflict of interest.

Patricia Fardy: It time for change, this has been going on for too long.

Howard Gardner: This is overdue!

Mary Farrington: The hard working taxpayers of Bridgeport can no longer support the corrupt ways of our city.

Frank Porco: Favoritism has no place in Politics. It rots the system.

Ron Barber: I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Carlos Silva: there is a lot of political games being played and it only hurts the citizens of Bridgeport.

John Iannuzzi: This is absurd that we even need a petition like this … but OIB.

Cecilia Manley: Bridgeport needs to be free of conflicts of interest and corruption.

Cecelie Cooper: I’m signing this because there’s absolutely no checks and balances when you have those who serve in politics and are also employed by the mayor/chief of staff. When it comes to decision making most council members make irrational decisions for the community because they’re not thinking about the people, but rather their job because they’re afraid of losing the job if they do not act in the best interest of the mayor and his cronies.

Jeff Burr: Elected officials shouldn’t have city jobs.

William Verespe: Why are we not following the charter? Seems kind of ridiculous to me.

Melanie Jackson: We need to clean up our city government and eliminate conflicts.

Angel Reyes: I want to eliminate the corruption in Bridgeport.


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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Local Eyes

    The Founding Fathers placed specific checks and balances in our Federal government, many of which were incorporated into municipal and state law as used today. They tolerated conflicts and imbedded them into our legal framework. Legislators can change the state law, or …
    Those looking to avoid conflicts of interest can find their favorite dictator and consider moving there. Choices include Russia, China and any terrorist network eager to accept recruits. No conflict of interest there, right?
    But loopholes are legal.

    • Tom White

      State statute does allow municipal employees to serve on municipal legislative bodies. State statute prohibits municipal employees from serving on municipal boards of finance (and land use boards). The amendment is to address situations such as Bridgeport where the duties of a finance board are handled by the municipal legislative body.

      It is ‘City Council,’ not ‘Common Council.’ (Charter revision 1993)

      While I am at it, why do you refer to McCarthy as ‘Tom?’

  • Milkman

    This is Common Sense 101. Basic basic. I’m a business owner in Bridgeport. There is no rocket science going on here. Bridgeport needs to lose the banner of corruption it has embraced for far to long. There is a better way and honest governance might not be sexy, but it will lead to light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Pete Spain

    Milkman, well said! Boldness and common sense. Please trouble yourself and submit a brief letter supporting Rep. Hennessy and Senator Moore’s legislation. Better still, testify in Hartford on Friday. Thank you!

  • Harvey Weintraub

    Finch must be seething right about now. And McCarthy? What will he do if he can’t be Finch’s puppet? He lives for that job.

  • Pete Spain

    Have all the candidates running for the general assembly from Bridgeport in the Feb 24th special election SIGNED the petition?

    Why wouldn’t they? It’s not a political-party matter. I see the names of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters on there.

  • Tom White

    The Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee is complicit in embracing conflict of interest by nominating candidates (actually, appointing elected officials) who are conflicted.

    The original legislation in 1992 to allow municipal employees to serve on municipal legislative bodies as well as land use and finance boards was put forward by government employee unions with the support of Democrats.

    • Pete Spain

      Tom, I’ve heard this background before. Thanks.

      Today, it seems the issue has gone beyond the narrow confines of the intent of, and players behind, the 23-year-old legislation. Otherwise, how do you explain the legislators leading the charge now? Marilyn Moore and Jack Hennessy have both worked closely with the Working Families Party. Tony Hwang is a Republican. It’s beyond party. It’s about serving the greater good.

      If someone looking for my vote in the special election on Feb 24th doesn’t sign the petition–yes, even if the petition was started by someone they’re running against–they will ensure they will not get my vote.

  • Baffled in Bridgeport

    Bridgeport voters should know each legislative member’s position on this bill including whether or not they support the bill as is or only if there is a grandfather clause amendment. Ditto every candidate running in the special election. And Pete, you are right–they should all have the guts to sign the petition.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    In the world of Bridgeport politics what is right, what is the law means nothing. Let’s look at a few things. Every election we have a female council person who turns in hundreds of absentee ballots and has been fined for her illegal activity.
    We have a councilmen/city employee on paid leave since October for allegedly sexually harassing a college intern. This is his second offense. Here we are almost four months later and no decision and we are paying him over $1,000 per week for staying home. Is that ethical?
    We have a restaurant owner who owns a restaurant downtown where all the high-ranking idiots have lunch in the afternoon and drinks after work. Now here is the funny thing, a source reported their bar tabs (these bastards pay for noting) are added to the bills for catering city hall events.
    Getting to the elections, here we have DeJesus running while owing back taxes, we have Moales running and he owes a ton. How do these people get nominated? Nobody cares, that’s how.

  • Jimfox

    Steven Stafstrom, Bridgeport City Council, Hamilton Burger

    If the State of Connecticut can supersede the Bridgeport City Charter, then the federal Government should be able to supersede the State of Connecticut on Ethics.

    Office of Government Ethics

    88 x 6

    Letter to a Private Attorney dated March 10, 1988
    We received your request for a decision on whether “conflict of interest” statutes, particularly 18 U.S.C. § 203 and § 205, would affect a Federal employee under consideration to become a Member of a Board of Directors of a grantee of a particular program operated by [the Department employing the individual]. This Office does not render decisions, but does provide advice to individuals seeking guidance. That advice follows.
    In your letter you indicated that you believe the duties of a Board Member, which may give rise to a conflict of interest, fall within three areas. The first is that of negotiating grant awards and making subsequent changes to, or modifications of, those [Department] or other Federal or District of Columbia agency awards. The second is the “give and take” that occurs in meetings between the Board Members and Federal officials during the officials’ frequent visits to the grantees to instruct or advise them to take specific actions in order to comply with grant terms or be eligible for future funding. In the last area, the Boards vote on grant terms, including budgets, and must instruct their staff regarding negotiations with Federal officials.
    18 U.S.C. § 203 would prohibit any Government employee who is also a Board Member from receiving, directly or indirectly, any compensation for services rendered in relation to any proceeding, application, request for ruling or other determination, contract, claim, controversy, or other particular matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct or substantial interest. Therefore, if a member of the board were paid for his or her activities in representing the organization for the purpose of getting the Federal grant, a violation of this proscription would be apparent. The services for which compensation are paid need only be related to a proceeding in which the United States is interested. Even if neither the [Department's] grantee nor the Government employee intends any improper attempts to influence official conduct, there is still a tendency in such a situation to provide conscious or unconscious preferential treatment to the grantee, or the inefficient management of public affairs. This could result in a violation of 5 C.F.R. § 735.201a as well as 18 U.S.C. § 203. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 203, therefore, there could be a violation of the statute if the Federal Government employee, as a Board Member, is paid to represent the grantee before any Government agency, department, or court, or employee thereof, on any matter in which the Government has an interest.
    In advising your grantee-client, you may wish to call his attention to 18 U.S.C. § 203(b) which proscribes the reciprocal conduct of paying such compensation.
    Regardless of compensation, 18 U.S.C. § 205 prohibits a Federal employees from acting as either an agent or attorney for prosecuting a claim, or as an agent for anyone before any department, agency, court, officer or commission in connection with any proceeding, application, request for ruling or other determination, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, or other particular matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Generally, public officials are not permitted to step outside of their official roles to assist private entities or persons in their dealings with the Government. Concededly, the Federal employees under consideration may be unaware that there might be a violation of law in many of the activities of a Board Member. Nonetheless, section 205 is a general intent proscription not requiring proof of specific intent, willfulness, or a knowing and corrupt intent.
    In addition to sections 203 and 205, U.S.C. § 208(a) bars a Federal officer or employee from participating personally and substantially as a Government employee through decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, rendering of advice, investigation, or otherwise, in a judicial or other application, request for ruling, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, or other particular matter, in which, to his knowledge, he, his spouse or minor child, partner, or an organization in which he is serving as an officer, director, trustee, partner or employee, or anyone with whom he is negotiating for future employment, has a financial interest. This section is not limited to those in the highest echelons of Government service, or to those Government agents who have only a direct financial interest in the business entities with which they negotiate on behalf of the Government. Indeed, there need not be any actual corruption or any loss suffered by the Government as a result of the employee’s conflict of interest in order to violate this section. Therefore, an employee in an agency working with loan determinations to a grantee on whose Board he serves would have to recuse himself from that work.
    In addition to the criminal statutory provisions, an executive branch agency’s standards of conduct regulations based on Executive Order 11222 may further restrict an employee’s service as a Board Member of an organization receiving Government grants. Pursuant to 5 C.F.R. § 735.203, the agency may require written approval or actually prohibit the acceptance of the directorship because the agency wishes the employee to fulfill his Government responsibility completely without recusing himself from matters affecting an outside employment or activity. Government employees should not have outside financial interests, direct or indirect, that substantially conflict with, or appear to conflict with, their Government duties and responsibilities per 5 C.F.R. § 735.204(a) (1). Therefore, an agency can prohibit the acquisition of, or take an action against any employee who acquires a financial interest that would require recusal under § 208 to such an extent that the employee’s use to the Government would be affected.
    Should the agency approve admittance of a Federal employee to the grantee’s Board of Directors after consideration of the above, the employee must still be concerned with other standards of conduct issues. With regard to “matching” funds for the grantee or other operating funds, the employee may not solicit donations for the organization from people with whom he does business within the Government (§ 735.202(a) and § 735.201a). Additionally, he could not use, directly or indirectly, Government time, equipment, or facilities, including support services, for his outside work (§ 735.205). Nor could he use information not generally available to the public, gained through his employment, to serve the interests of the grantee (§ 735.206). He also could not use his Government title in performing the grantee’s business (§ 735.201a (a)). Finally, he could not use his Government employment for a purpose that gives the appearance of using his office for private gain by anyone, giving preferential treatment, impeding Government efficiency or economy, making Government decisions outside official channels, losing his independence or impartiality, or adversely affecting the confidence of the public in the integrity of the Government (§ 735.201a).
    I trust that this helps alert you to the statutory and regulatory concerns in having Federal employees serve as Members of Boards of Directors of Federal grantees. While we would be happy to discuss this with you further, it is now more appropriate for the Federal employees under consideration to contact their Designated Agency Ethics Official for specific guidance. If service on the boards would not be approved under the Department’s regulations, an expanded discussion of any of these issues is unnecessary.
    Frank Q. Meeker

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