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.