Should City Council Members Be Paid?

The newly empaneled Charter Revision Commission begins its regular meetings this week examining a host of city issues that may be shaped in the form of a question for city voters to decide, presumably in the November general election. Should the question of compensating City Council members be placed on the ballot?

Phil Smith, who served as the key staff person overseeing a number of Bridgeport charter revision questions through the years, says he believes the charter already gives the council the power to set salaries, even their own, through ordinance.

Section 7. Salaries of elected officials.
(a) The city council, by ordinance, shall have the power and authority to determine and change the salaries or other compensation of all elected officials of the city.

Council members currently access a $9,000 stipend in lieu of an actual salary that generally covers associated expenses such as travel, gas, cell phone, laptop, etc. Some council members have donated a portion of their stipends for community causes while others have used it to cover a cocktail or two or three, but who’s counting.

Many council members through the years have spent 10 or 20 hours a week on constituent work, resolutions, ordinances and some committee co-chairs even more particularly during the budget-making process. The practice of the current stipend amount began under Mayor Joe Ganim in the mid-1990s, in lieu of an actual council salary, because it was believed a charter change was required per advice of City Attorney Mark Anastasi. A number of council members had reasoned it was costing them money to serve on the 20-member legislative body thus the need to increase the stipend.

Phil Smith adds, “establishing a specific salary through charter revision would have one advantage: it would take a charter change to increase it.”

What’s a reasonable salary structure for council members? Let’s say $20,000 a year is fair. A charter question, according to Smith, would go like this …

Should the City Charter be amended to establish a salary of $20,000 for City Council members?

Smith says the charter revision commission could also eliminate the dollar figure to leave it an open question for the council to set the salary, if passed by voters.

Former City Councilman Bob “Troll” Walsh has argued against paying council members, but the Troll adds he could swallow it if  it keeps city employees from serving on the council, an issue he says leads to conflict of interest. It could prevent double dipping.

Walsh, at a public hearing last week before the charter commission, argued against compensating council members, but he added this point.  “However, if a council member is to be paid, then clearly you can impose a rule prohibiting an individual from holding two jobs with the city.”

So what say you? Would compensating City Council members lead to quality candidates?



  1. As much as I would like to blame Joe Ganim, the stipend dates back to the Paoletta administration. It was substantially increased under Ganim.

    Why a stipend rather than a salary? Under state law, a referendum was required in order to establish a salary and nobody wanted to go there. No referendum was required for the stipend.

  2. Yes, City Council persons should be paid and the pay should be about what State Reps. get. There should be ONLY one council person for each of the ten districts plus one at-large council person.

    1. Let’s forget the subject of pay for the moment. With only 11 Council persons, how would you handle the current level of committee work that is handled by seven subcommittees at this time? It would seem to me this would tend to make the City Council a Committee of the whole. Take the most intelligent, committed, educated, non-conflicted and energetic eleven Council persons you have met in the last 40 years and ask yourself could they function under such a system? I am not so persuaded.

      Currently the item of $180,000 is budgeted and the ordinance calls for that amount to be divided equally. That is how we get $9,000 stipends that are intended as reimbursement of representation expenses. Is the system working today as reimbursement, or up-front money? Are all items submitted understood to be expenses of being a Council person? Is there a reason the actual system is not open and published annually? Which Council persons have not used these funds at all or to the full expense and why? Why has Council person Curwen recently raised an issue regarding stipends? What is he thinking about?

      The Council is our City legislature. At this time it is hard to argue they regularly grasp the sense they are acting on behalf of all of the public. The narrow view is often in evidence when Citizen Union funds are re-allocated to a special District project or when B & A are doing their annual review process, does not often give way to the broad view of what would help the tax paying public!!!

      Who really wishes to argue the City Council is independent of the Mayor’s office? Please provide some evidence for that. Some few may complain about getting independent advice, legal or otherwise, but they fail year in and year out to use the $100,000 they put in the Legislative Budget to hire ‘outside experts’ who might share a view of ‘best practices’ in other communities that might work in Bridgeport too. Are they terminal d.a. as tc indicates? Are they conflicted for one of several reasons? Have they been so conditioned by a series of administrations regularly feeding them (as our watchdogs on so many issues) only so much, when they stop infrequently to reflect on their behavior, they believe they are doing a great job on behalf of the public? Relative to what standards of: increasing Grand List relative to City expenses; improved data results for the school system; robust and regular economic development with substantial non-governmental funds; award-winning performances by responsible City employees in their departmental work, seen by many and acknowledged by all (in contrast to regular and embarrassing employment actions where those departing sue the City or are charged with illegal behavior)?

      Don’t we have a ways to go before thinking about raising the amount available from taxes to compensate our legislators in Charter revision??? How about some wise, expert and non-conflicted (by CT statute) members of a Finance Board to take the heavy lifting from the B&A legislators? How about some new/added requirements to secure for the public, regular availability of information as well as the opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions on the state of the City? Time will tell.

  3. Ron, I like your idea. If it costs money to reduce the number of dumbasses serving on the council then I am in favor of it.
    I don’t believe they will reduce their numbers or be in favor of term limits, however the stipend is enough for these largely do-nothing elected officials.
    They all fight like hell when they are challenged in a primary so that tells me they want the job even though it has no salary.
    For anyone who states we may get a better quality of representation, that is total bullshit. It seems the only way to get rid of these people is when they say they have had enough. Other than the troll who has left the council to go back to private life? Other than the B& A once a year which one of these do-nothings put in 20 hours extra a week?

  4. Lennie,
    If I had a dollar for every time a city official said “I want to do that, but the Charter doesn’t let me,” I could have retired to Florida years ago. Seldom is that excuse, in fact, true.

  5. Council members make the claim “the Charter doesn’t let me” because they don’t understand it; because they haven’t read the City Charter. The City Council does what Mark Anastasi tells them.

    The City Charter should provide for the City Council to hire its own independent attorney instead of depending on the City’s Executive Branch attorney, the City Attorney’s office. The Legislative Branch, the City Council, is independent of the mayor’s office and should have its own attorney to help them understand the City Charter.

  6. I agree with Bob Walsh. They should be paid $20K a year and the tradeoff would be no councilmen or their spouses have City jobs. This is not a lot of money. A lot of money is what Stafstrom and Murphy get for their politicking. The rest of us who get involved and try to make change for nothing but the love of our city must be laughed at behind our backs by the likes of Stafstrom, Murphy and out-of-town department heads.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree no City Council Member should be permitted to be on the city payroll. The conflict of interest is just too apparent. But I do agree they should receive reasonable compensation for their time.

  8. No, Bob Walsh did just fine all those years. I had no problem serving and leaving a surplus of my stipend which was $4,500 a year back then. If they get paid, they no longer could be called servants, but employees and there should be a recall question for all including the mayor. The last thing you want is to have Labor Relations handling their employment issues. If they can’t stand the financial frost, get out of that refrigerator called the Council Chamber.

  9. City council should be paid, but maybe require that should be spent in Bridgeport. You want to bring people to the city? Maybe could be a good example.

    On tonight’s Bridgeport Now live at 8pm on Ch88, a special guest to discuss seemingly worsening crime situation in the city. One viewer called up recently saying he witnessed gunshots going off downtown. Should there be a curfew? Students seem to support it, according to today’s CT Post.

    On Charter Revision, I’m told a city lawyer and two other lawyers are mainly rewriting documents pretty much alone, despite hearings.

    1. I challenged your comments, and you are a very tender sort if my challenge tore you a new one. I am off to attend tonight’s Charter session momentarily. Why don’t you come to one or more and listen and think? Then your comments will have some weight. Then your mind will have some experience to reflect upon. Then you might even have a different impression of the process. Then I would like to hear from you.
      This City has too many who are making it up as they go along, rather than being present and part of the process. Maybe I could even see it the way you do. Time will tell.

      1. I did not say you were not at the public hearing on the charter. I picked up on your comment about three lawyers writing the Charter. You would have had to attend one of the subsequent meetings (or listen to other people who made assumptions about what is happening who also did not attend). I am glad that you were at the public meeting. There were many comments made that evening that are being recalled by those on the Charter Committee.

        Next up Thursday, I believe, if it works into his schedule, is Mayor Finch. The Committee worked its way through the current Charter through the City Attorney section tonight. Maria Pereira, Angel DePara, Sue Brannelly, Dave Goodman and I were the outsiders in attendance, other than Attorney Medinick, Anastasi, and Maley. C. Valentino raised the idea of a 30-member Council and mentioned minority representation by capping majority at 2 per district. There was not much discussion of this idea. Discussion around paying Council members also occurred and the point was made since the Charter limits any person to one City check, this might be a way of making Council elected who are currently working for the City to make a choice of elected office or City job. Time will tell.

  10. Priorities and sequence: first let the charter provide for a Board of Finance with five citywide elected experts in the fields of finance, municipal pensions and the like. Let them get Bridgeport’s fiscal house in order. Then in five-ten years circle back to whether the council should be paid part-time positions and the reduction in size. First things first. There needs to be five experts meeting monthly to focus on the fiscal challenges. They are huge!

  11. Beacon, you mentioned the Charter limits people to one City check. I guess this is another piece of the charter which is ignored. There are several people collecting City pensions who come back to work as part-timers, seasonals and contractors. They are all politically favored, of course.

      1. In Chapter 5 that deals with the City Council, section 5(g)(1) presently states: “No member of the city council shall, during the time in which he/she serves as a member of the city council, be appointed to or hold any office, the emoluments of which are to be paid from the city treasury.”
        That’s the language currently. Wish to define emoluments? Does this include stipends? Wish to define office? Does that mean a job in a city department? Does the city treasury include a pension check as several have mentioned today? Hope this stimulates some reflection and gets one or more to look at the section of the charter devoted to City Council itself. Time will tell.

        1. BEACON2,
          It is important to note two things. First, it is a prohibition on appointment, not service. Second, it applies only to appointments which take place during the time the person serves on the Council.

  12. Police Chief Joe and Fire Chief Brian Rooney have both retired and get their tax-free pension plus the mayor re-appointed them for another 5 years as the chiefs of their departments and the City Council agreed.

  13. I’ll try to find the language I heard discussed in the current charter, but getting a check from the City as earned income for current work and also getting one from a Pension Plan because you have retired from a position with the City might be seen as not getting two checks from the City. The Pension Check comes from a fund it may be argued that is guaranteed by the City but funded during the working years by both the employee and the City. Not sure. But it is an interesting observation that has been made before.

  14. For all those who have been attending the charter meetings, thanks for doing so. It’s really important to know what is going on. These meetings should be televised live or shown afterwards on www I just put in a request from their web site. Just like the Master Plan and the NRZ changes some time ago, the charter revision will have big implications and outreach and awareness is key.


Leave a Reply