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Questions For Departing City Council

November 6th, 2017 · 18 Comments · City Budget, City Council, News and Events

In the last regularly scheduled meeting of the 2015-2017 City Council, citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee was there, as he has been for many years, asking the legislative body about how it spends the people’s money.

Tonight is my last chance to provide this Council with information that may have escaped notice. It’s about facts from your Legislative budget that has not been shared with the voters. I have stated for many years that as elected representatives of the City, you have a role and responsibility to monitor city processes, to know what is going on, and to spend each taxpayer dollar looking for effectiveness, being tightfisted about it, as well as to oversee what we own as a municipality; to keep track of what we buy each year so as to gain long term value from such purchases. Of course I expect you to track revenues and City accounts of all kinds to be sure that you know about the flows of revenues for personnel, benefits, outside services, as well as things purchased. It’s your duty!

It seems appropriate to ask you about your own expenses as City Council. Three weeks ago I requested info on the past two years of Legislative Stipends. That would be the $18,000 per Council members that taxpayers appropriated to reimburse your debit cards charges. The City let me know last week that these records would consume 150 pages and cost me $75 at .50 per page. I practice frugality personally. I asked to see the records before deciding to print.

I will ask the next City Council to create a spot on the City web site that will show all taxpayers just what expenses various members of the Council think are necessary to their work as representatives. On that site you can also post reports on the quality “best practices” you claim to be seeking when so many of you attend one or more conferences in a year. You may be learning, but you are not sharing this expertise with those who are funding your junkets.

I have looked at the Legislative account called Other Services and found only one expense, for $5,400 for legal/financial services of a skilled professional at budget time that seems like a true Council expense for rendered services. I assume you were in agreement on that expense? But what about a multiple of that amount provided to
– AAU Basketball Program $1,000
– United Way of Coastal (table of 13 Mayor’s Gala) 1,950
– I Luv BPT LLC – Downtown Thursdays 5,000
– Anthony Darnell Taylor performer 1,200
– Bridgeport Regional Bus Council (2 luncheons-16) 980
– Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust ($65 for 10 tickets) 650
– Barnum Festival (3 events – 30 tickets) 2,900
– NLC Summit Dinner  (19 tickets @ $65) 1,235
– Boys and Girls Clubs (Orcutt 10 @ $40) 400
– Juneteenth parade advertisement 500
– Save Our Babies (10 City Council@ $50 banquet) 500
– McGivney (10 Council @ $125 Dinner) 1,250
– Puerto Rican Parade (10 CC @ $65 plus ad) 950

There is one last one listed in this category for FY2016-17. On April 28, 2017 some thrifty soul on the Council filed registrations for 12 City Council members to attend the NLC Summit in Charlotte on November 15-18, 2017? That’s within the next two weeks. Did 12 Council members survive the primary or election day tomorrow? The amount requested was $450.80. Twelve members reserving costs $5,410. Is this trip a reward? Or to educate representatives? Who will answer? Why did not each representative from their own stipend make such thrifty plans?

None of the above expenditures shows which member(s) of the 20 Council persons filled out these purchase orders. Did all of the Council members meet to discuss such use of taxpayer funds and vote? Where is such record? 128 tickets for events with meals were listed above. Who gets the free lunch? What is the legislative purpose of tens of thousands being spent in this manner annually without public input? Accountability? Is this legal?

As a group you did not represent the 21,000 youth in the school system with much financial assistance. You did not provide $3 Million of funding above the previous year as some tried to share with the public. The BOE has its own problems after the State cuts, and no doubt, the City will wrestle with its own cuts. Is it too much to hope that the next City Council will look after its own funds in a better manner, share the pain with the tax paying public, and develop a system for understanding who works for the City, what they are doing of value, and how much that costs the taxpayer? Time will tell.

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Bravo, JML. Can you give us the balance remaining? The city budgeted $180,000 for CC stipends. Are the totals for the 4 months of this fiscal year? Note: Two officials of the non- profits named above may become City Council member. The next fiscal year, Joe Ganim is going to cut the stipend amount.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      One more question JML. Did you get any of the out-going council member to sign your RED BOOTS?

      • The Bridgeport Kid

        You’re pretty sarcastic, Joel. That would indicate you’re an angry oerson that doesn’t know why he’s angry.

        John Marshall Lee is the most knowledgable about the municipal budget. If taxes go up it will not be the result of a referendum toincrease the library budget. The real cause will be Joe Ganim’s inability to cut expenses that he has a political interest in maintaining. JML outlined a few in his earlier post:

        “None of the above expenditures shows which member(s) of the 20 Council persons filled out these purchase orders? Did all of the Council members meet to discuss such use of taxpayer funds and vote? Where is such record? 128 tickets for events with meals were listed above. Who gets the free lunch? What is the legislative purpose of tens of thousands being spent in this manner annually without public input? Accountability? Is this legal?”

        • Joel Gonzalez

          If you don’t know if it’s legal, then you can’t say that it is illegal. I’m not the City Attorney’s messenger, it looks like you may have to ask them. If you request info via FOI, be specific and avoid so many question marks.

    • John Marshall Lee

      The Council might have “cut the stipend amount” in the year of the tax increase. That might have shown solidarity with the taxpayer at least symbolically. Did not happen, did it?

      Watch for upcoming columns Joel. Maybe Ganim2 will need to do some cutting in other budget places more important to his reputation than the Legislative budget? If Joe cuts stipends in the budget he hands out, how will Council members take it? Time will tell.

      • Joel Gonzalez

        If the mayor cuts the stipends in his proposed budget, I expect you to bring your Red Boots and support the mayor’s cut. If you don’t then whaty’s your motive or agenda for all the questions. If council members have a problem with the stipend cuts, they can challenge the mayor and you on that line Item. Time will tell.

      • Joel Gonzalez

        There are gaps in your analysis:
        “I have looked at the Legislative account called Other Services and found only one expense, for $5,400 for legal/financial services of a skilled professional at budget time that seems like a true Council expense for rendered services.”

        This “skilled professional” was supposed to find “new sources of revenue” according to McCarthy and was going to be paid $7,500. There’s $2,100 missing JML. Empty all your pockets and show me what’s in your wallet.

        Okay folks JML is cleared–only lint in his pocket and bills in the wallet. Could it be that the skilled professional was paid $2,100 down payment with funds from the prior fiscal year and the balance ($5,400) after (this fiscal year)? If you missed this, what else could you be missing or not understanding?

          • John Marshall Lee

            I have the purchase order for the Campbell Law firm who served the 2017-18 FY budget analysis by the City Council. Perhaps Joel is talking about a previous year where more money was spent on a different advisor? Was the CC happy with either advisor? What was the task envisioned? Did the CC B&A ever talk to the auditors who earn more than $250,000 annually from the City? They do many Municipal audits? Does any other City have practices that might be applicable to Bridgeport? Simple question for CC to ask? And the answer is?

            (Joel, are you waiting. I am disappointed that you failed to address me this afternoon when I said hello to you at Aquaculture. Your role in opposing the Library question has changed your normally sunny disposition. A shame.)

            I am headed off to vote personally. I expect to be represented by the City Council representatives in the 130 and hope others will work with them and others who show signs of advancing the interests of all in the City, justly and righteously, not just the few who have gotten really fat from the free meal tickets and other set asides that clearly set up opportunities for advantage, rather than being watchdogs as sometime has been said. Time will tell.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Guess that you are not worried about how the small amounts are spent, Joel? Without a meeting, discussion, or a recorded vote? Is that legal? Accountable behavior? We’ve pointed this out before but since there are no consequences, it is done once again.
    Who will use the 12 Council registrations made last April? What individual requested these funds to be distributed to these Vendors? Shouldn’t that appear on the Purchase Order? Why weren’t those registrations funded by individual stipend accounts? These were elected representatives responsible for allocating our funds effectively and legally. Whom will you trust with those responsibilities when you vote today? Time will tell.

  • DC Faber

    All city expenditure should be listed on the cities website for the people to see. In the digital age this should not be a challenge; but the city seems mired in a different age. These CC stipend come directly out of our tax dollars. Why they see fit to pay for charitable and other non district or office needs is figuratively criminal. I hope should the new CC open up the city charter, codify what such funds can and cannot be used for.

  • Tom White

    The charges to the ‘Other Services’ line item in the ‘Legislative Services’ Department budget are what a past finance director deemed to be inappropriate, and should have been out-of-pocket by council members with reimbursement.

    McCarthy was pissed when I sought advice on charges he wanted from ‘Other Services’ to avoid city council member stipends being charged and in some cases, taxed.

    I hope that the incoming city council will perform a forensic audit of stipend payments and any funding charged to ‘Legislative Services’ and make serious corrections to the so-called stipend system.

    JLM has been beating the drum about inappropriate charges that McCarthy and others have made for years. The first order of business for the incoming city council is to clean-up their own house.

    • Ethan Book

      While I support the Tom’s proposal that there be a proper audit of the City Council members’ stipend payments, it seems hypocritical that he would suggest this when, as a member of the 2016 audit committee of the Bridgeport Republican Town Committee, he allowed a former Town Committee chairman to chair the very audit committee which would review the same former chairman’s actions, that he and his fellow committee members failed to use due diligence in performing a thorough audit, that the resulting audit report has not been made available in writing and that neither he nor his fellow committee members have explained the methodology used by the committee in its review.

      • The Bridgeport Kid

        A forensic audit should be performed by an outside accounting firm, not by City Council members with institutional status quo to protect. There are many many dirty little sectets in Bridgeport City Hall. John ‘Marshall Lee has uncovered one or two, or three or four… Maybe, just MAYBE the incoming City Council will vote to authorize an independent audit. Hope is not an option here so voices must be raised to insist on it.

    • The Bridgeport Kid

      McCarthy is out, Paoletta is out… Looking good so far.

  • DC Faber

    JML would make an awesome Ombudsman for the City of Bridgeport. If not John, then having some oversight or establishing a board of finance would be a good step in forcing the city to have some sense of ethics which currently seems missing.

    • The Bridgeport Kid

      Here here!

      • Frank Gyure

        I respect a lot of people who make comments and observations. However,we live in a democracy,NOT a meritocracy. All government representatives need to directly answer to the people. A meritocracy creates a level of governance which increases the distance between the “people” and directly-elected representatives. We can have either a directly decided government(elections on every issue) or representative government where we elect people who we may feel that will act in the best interests of those who elected them. A meritocracy creates a divide between the governed and the govern-ors. Not a good place to be.

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