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.