What pol will grow a spine? What political chickens will run for the hen house?
The newly formed neighborhood action group Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport will host a public forum March 16, 2 p.m. at the Bridgeport Public Library on the long-shot legislative bill advanced by State Rep. Jack Hennessy that proposes to close a loophole in state law that allows municipal employees to serve on local legislative bodies. The Bridgeport City Charter prohibits city employees from serving on the City Council. The forum will take place on the first floor of the library, 925 Broad Street Downtown.
The public discussion on HB – 5724, co-sponsored by State Rep. Auden Grogins, will be led by Hennessy and David Walker, the former United States comptroller general, who resides in Black Rock. Other members of the citywide coalition include former City Councilman Tom White, 2011 mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster, former president of the Bridgeport Board of Education Max Medina, East Side community activist Angel Reyes, 2011 candidate for city clerk Marilyn Moore. Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport features a cross section of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Members of the city’s state legislative delegation and other city officials have been invited to the public discussion.
Hennessy says city employees sitting on the city’s legislative body leads to conflicts of interests such as voting to approve their wages and benefits. Six serving on the 20-member City Council are currently on the public payroll. Hennessy’s bill faces ferocious opposition from municipal and state labor unions lobbying Democratic legislators they support for election to kill it. The City Council approves union contracts.
The municipal lobbying group Connecticut Conference of Municipalities also opposes the bill on behalf of its client member City Council that approved nearly $90,000 in service fees this budget year.
While Hennessy and Grogins push the bill’s passage, the four other members of the city’s State House delegation Christina Ayala, Ezequiel Santiago, Don Clemons and Charlie Stallworth are either opposing or ducking the bill for fear of alienating political supporters on the council. Santiago, a city employee, is actively working against it. The two state senators representing Bridgeport, Andres Ayala and Anthony Musto, have not publicly announced support or opposition for the bill that is before the legislatures Planning and Development Committee. Citizens for a Better Bridgeport hope public support will keep the bill alive.
“This bill will impact the Bridgeport City Council elections and address the issue of conflict of interest in government elections,” Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport issued in an eblast invitation Thursday. “It is important all citizens understand this bill is an amendment to an existing state statute and why elected officials will or will not support this bill.”
State and federal law also prohibit respective public employees from serving on legislative bodies.
Jack Hennessy and Grogins will present the language of the bill and the merits of the bill at the public forum. Citizens will be encouraged to have their opinion heard and will have the opportunity to sign a petition indicating their opinion of this bill, according to the eblast.
Several members of the coalition say they will be keeping score regarding local legislators supporting or not supporting the government reform bill. All 20 members of the City Council are up for reelection this November with potential September primaries in the mix. State legislators face reelection next year.
This bill is a nice profiles-in-courage test. Walker, for one, says those opposing the bill will face ballot box opposition with an effort to “take you out.”
Jennifer Buchanan, a member of Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport, shares an explanation of what Hennessy’s bill attempts to accomplish:
This is an amendment to a current state law–which has been ruled constitutional.
Current State Statute: Sec. 7-421. (e) Any municipal employee shall have the right to serve on any governmental body of the town in which such employee resides except any body which has responsibility for direct supervision of such employee. Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, (1) no such employee shall serve on any of the following unless such employee is permitted to serve pursuant to the provisions of a municipal charter or home rule ordinance or serves because of membership on the legislative body of the municipality: (A) Any board of finance created pursuant to chapter 106 or any special act or municipal charter.
Here is the Bridgeport City Charter
CHARTER OF THE CITY OF BRIDGEPORT
g) (1) 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.
(2) No person while holding office as a member of the city council shall be a member of any of the boards of the city, and no member of the city council shall be appointed to an office by any of such boards for which compensation is to be paid.