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Spending Taxpayer Money On Nonprofits–Legit Or Buying Votes?

May 5th, 2014 · 12 Comments · City Budget, City Council

City budget hound John Marshall Lee says it’s easy to be generous with other people’s money. He charges, in remarks made to the City Council Monday night, council members donations to nonprofits are “outrageous and illegal. What will you do about it?”

Council President McCarthy, members of the Council, respected citizens and taxpayers. Were I to walk into your enclosure, pick up a chair and walk out with it, perhaps one of you would ask a City police officer to stop me, or maybe not. Why would you do that? Because you care about public property or because you would like to question my behavior as a fiscal citizen watchdog. I won’t be taking any public property or money tonight or any night but let’s look at what last year’s Council did.

Let’s travel back in time one year. If you were one of 20 people on the City Council you knew that elections would be held in November. And primaries were talked about in several Districts. You knew that assessments of properties for a revaluation dated October 1, 2013 were upcoming although the Administration was resistant. You were in the budget process and like every year the public was upset about an increase. And an increase was in the cards. And since you had terminated your only active employee as of July 1, 2012, you had no dependable assistance in doing whatever homework you felt was indicated in meeting your City duties.

As a group you were spending about 50% of the Stipend funds because some people were not using stipends at all or only slightly. Rumors were circulating about more than $9,000 being spent in a fiscal year and those rumors proved true. You had also taken the idea of new rules to cover a debit card process to the Ordinance Committee, but the current Ordinance was never changed as the study was tabled. And still is, unless it died.

The process of Debit Card and reimbursement has not been a complete fit for several reasons, but it was clear to anyone who signed the City forms that all tax liabilities rested with the Council member. Stipends were not to be used for charitable purpose. And Stipends were not to be used for political advantage.

Someone had a bright idea in the midst of those days. “Hey gang, let’s use some other funds that are in our LEGISLATIVE BUDGET, and make payments to our favorite non-profit programs? If we make them late enough in June, they won’t show up in the June, 2013 Draft report.” And so it came to be, without a referral from the Council to a Committee, without a Committee meeting on an Agenda or with Minutes showing motion, without a second or any record of a vote that 15 sitting Council persons requested City payments to favorite non-profit groups locally. You were not facing conflict of interest rules as you do with HUD-CDBG funds or even rules against political or charitable funds in certain revised Stipend process. And the funds came from your own budget in a Line Item called Other Services yet no services were received by the City. It’s outrageous and illegal. What will you do about it?

The following items represent the Payouts Legislative Department (01095) Other Services (56180) March-June, 2013 starting with the name of City Council member, the dollar amount and organization receiving payment:

City Council $3,000 Barnum Museum

Richard Bonney 500 Healing Tree Ec Dev. King’s Pantry 500 , 500 Hall Neighborhood House, 500 Bridgeport Black Pride

John Olson 1,000 Village Initiative Project, 1,000 Habitat for Humanity

Warren Blunt 500 North End Community Council, 500 Juneteenth of Fairfield County, 500 N. E.C.C. –Lake Forest Blockwatch

Evette Brantley $ 1,000 Bridgeport Black Pride, 1,000 Village Initiative Project

Andre Baker 1,000 Village Initiative Project 1,000

Thomas McCarthy $500 Barnum Museum, 500 Bridgeport Caribe Youth League, 1,000 Bridgeport North End Little League

Sue Brannelly 1,000 Black Rock Little League

Steve Stafstrom 1,000 Burroughs Center

Jack Banta 500 Bridgeport YMCA South End, 500 Bridgeport Caribe Youth League, 500 R.N.P. –Prospect House, 500 Home for the Brave

Mike Marella 1,000 Alpha Community, 1,000 Park City Pride

Lydia Martinez $ 1,000 St John’s-S.Luke-Paul Food, 100 Puerto Rican Parade, 400 McGivney Center, 500 Greater Brdgpt Adolescent Program

Rich Paoletto 1,000 Bridgeport P.A.L., 1,000 CT Zoological

AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia 100 Downtown Cabaret, 150 CT. Zoological Society, 100 Bridgeport Public Education Fund, 50 Park City Pride, 250 Park City Pride, 100 Girl Scouts, 100 Discovery Museum, 100 SVA Bridgeport, 50 SVA Bridgeport, 100 Barnum Museum, 50 Hurricanes, 250 “, 100 Sheehan Center, 50 Bridgeport PAL, 250, 200 Hand For A Paw

Michele Lyons $ 500 BRBC for Police Memorial, 500 Center For Women, 1,000 Bridgeport North End CC

Denese Taylor-Moye 500 Healing Tree Economic Development, 500 RYASAP, 500 Council of Churches. 500 Bridgeport Black Pride

GRAND TOTAL $30,500

Illegal use of City funds?

Open? Accountable? Transparent? Stewardship?

I find no record for contributions attributed to Councilmen Austin, Ayala, DePara, Silva or Holloway. If they knew of or were offered the opportunity to give away public funds and chose not to use taxpayer money secretly, I believe they used good judgment. However, as elected representatives, they failed their role as watchdogs to blow a whistle that could have called a halt to the unlawful taking of City funds. If no Council representative understands a duty as steward of City funds, then the City has none, and that crosses the line in Bridgeport to illegal behavior on the eve of budget decisions for 2015! Current City Council Stipend process does not permit use of City Council Stipend (51402) funds to be used for “political” or “charitable” purpose! What did you base your use of taxpayer funds on?

Will the Mayor or you ask the not-for profits for a return of City funds from last June since NO SERVICE was performed for the City in any prescribed manner as called for by a Line Item specifying Other Services (56180)? Will the Mayor investigate and correct the “secret and illegal” mess caused by the City Council Stipend Ordinance and the new debit card Finance Department process that are not in accord and that have permitted City payouts in excess of $9,000 in a year that would never occur in a pure reimbursement system?

Will the respective Council persons who directed the payments, dig down in their own pockets, to make the charities whole when they return the taxpayer funds? Or will taxpayers have to personally take this matter to the courts for satisfaction? There are those prepared to do that. And will people finally see after four years of protesting the lack of a FINAL OPERATING BUDGET MONTHLY REPORT what springs out when you are able to see at least part of the fiscal record? Time will tell.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    In five minutes you get to read all but one paragraph into the record. But the looks on Council faces were serious. How many of you will come out tomorrow night when there is another “budget hearing?” And the public gets three-minute time slots to deliver a message of what a poor job they are doing guarding and guiding public money in Bridgeport.
    I will have a petition with me for you to sign asking the Mayor to take action by requesting City funds be returned. Council persons can publicly explain why they thought this was a good idea spending public money for their own favorite non-profits, withough sharing the info with the public. Stewardship of public money is completely dead.
    If the Mayor and Council fail to act on this it is time to initiate court action against their illegal behavior, since the Council persons requested the funds but the City processed them. How will Mark Anastasi explain this one? Time will tell.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    You can bet Finch, McCarthy and Anastasi will huddle today to come up with reasons, loopholes, etc. I’m guessing this will be an explanation. “While the city didn’t receive any direct services from those organizations, indirectly, they serve the people of Bpt by exposing them to the arts, athletics, community pride etc.” And Finch will just sit there, not saying a word, trying to not get involved. Bet on it.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    John, let Anastasi come up with another of his bullshit rulings but tell me and the readers who the council person is who used the stipend for shopping at Stop & Shop also who the council person is who spent more than the allotted $9,000. John, it’s time.

    • Jennifer Buchanan

      The council people who pay their Cablevision bill every month are at the top of my radar.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        I know who they are but it’s up to JML to release their names. BTW misappropriation of funds is a criminal offense.

        • John Marshall Lee

          There is more than one inquiry ongoing regarding FOI requests and the CITY COUNCIL STIPENDS that have been budgeted in the Legislative Department @ $180,000 for a number of years. When you divide by 20 Council members it means up to $9,000 can be spent in a year to assist a Council person in performance of Council duties AS A REIMBURSEMENT WHEN PROVIDING A REASONABLE ACCOUNTING. However, the City moved to a debit card where money is available as an advance (rather than a reimbursement) quarterly and neither duties or purpose are required. The debit card indicates they relate to a Tax ID number that claims a tax exemption. Isn’t that interesting? Something to be looked into, because along with the Cable charges for these South End Council members are numerous monthly charges from BJ’s, Walgreens, Walmart, Super Stop & Shop, Home Depot, Pricerite, Dollar Plus, and oh yes, Staples!

          Now I pay for Cablevision each month for TV, phone lines and computer access from my own earnings after tax and I see that Council persons Banta and Moye are using their debit cards for varying amounts each month but running between $136 and $211 since signing up for the service in the 2013 calendar year. I do not know how the costs of travel, meals, hotel and conference attendance are being handled but the reports are not integrated as of these two reports.
          There are Council persons who use little or none of the Stipend share. And the record shows Council persons in past years have been allowed to run up over $9,000. No one is minding this store. Accountability is critical. The watchdogs we assume are on the Council are showing to be anything but that.
          This is something else for the City and Council to fix rapidly in terms of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT governance. Perhaps the sunlight on the accountability will cleanse and show a good story, but the secrecy maintained for too long makes that unlikely.
          The line of succession in the City makes it critical. If the Mayor is incapacitated, I understand Council President Tom McCarthy is next in line and that means more than running Council meetings when the Mayor is not present. And God forbid the Mayor and Council President are traveling in a car to visit Sikorsky Airport for a Commission meeting and are unable to perform their duties, I am told the heir apparent is South End Council member Denese Tayor-Moye, with more than 45 uses of the Council debit card at Super Stop & Shop stores alone. What is the purpose of the tax -free charges in terms of Council duties that may not include CHARITABLE or POLITICAL purpose, pray tell???
          I have asked the questions of the Council in more veiled ways over the past two years. And no one answers any questions. It is beyond time for answers to taxpayers. The current system shows how Council members have neatly and secretly used public money NOT FOR PUBLIC PURPOSE. Who will lead the cleanup? Time will tell.

  • John Marshall Lee

    The two Council persons whose Stipend reports are discussed above are Jack Banta and Denese Taylor-Moye. Apologize for not identifying them above. Time will tell.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    This kind of larceny would not have happened if Tom White still worked for the council but as you all know he was ambushed by Brannelly and McCarthy and subsequently let go. Funny how Tom McCarthy went over the $9,000 maximum allowed on his stipend. Why are they getting away with these crimes, and make no mistake they are crimes. Tom Sherwood and the financial people are part of the problem as this happens when they are in charge of finances. Should people be arrested for what has happened and my answer is yes. We were supposed to be able to trust these people but we can’t.
    The people of Bridgeport started cleaning up this cesspool we call the city council during the last election. We must continue the movement and get rid of the rest of these dishonest leeches. I am tired of them wasting my tax dollars.

  • Tom White

    Lennie, your heading is misleading. The funds were in a line item of a department budget. The budgeted funds are for functions of a department.
    The heading should be ‘Council Misappropriates City Funds’ or Council Embezzles City Funds.
    The fact payments were made to organizations held in favor by some council members is significant as well.
    It appears Sherwood and McCarthy thought they found a source of funds in addition to their overly generous stipends, but JML caught them.
    Did this happen while I was staff for the council? Yes, and McCarthy was advised this practice was inappropriate by the then-acting finance director. Soon after, I was removed from the budget.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    What do the council people have to say about this latest embarrassment? Were they aware they were breaking the law? I can’t wait to hear what excuse Moye and Banta are going to use to justify the use of stipend money for their own personal gain.
    Here is another story that rag known as the Connecticut Post refused to write about. They were offered the material that proves the allegations against the council members and refused to take it. The reporters stated they would use FOI to get the same paperwork they were offered, NO STORY YET!!!
    There is definitely a need for law enforcement on the States Attorney Level to get involved. You cant just misappropriate funds and not get arrested. But then again, this is Bridgeport.

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