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The Great Debate: Must The Legislative Branch Have Counsel Independent Of Chief Executive?

December 17th, 2017 · 15 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council, City Politics, News and Events

It’s been a debate chronicled on OIB for a decade: should the city’s legislative branch secure its own legal counsel independent of the executive branch, in support of checks and balances in government? How can the City Attorney’s Office provide legislative guidance that may be in conflict with the wishes of the mayor?

What seems like a novel thought is not always the case in the archaic world of the state’s largest city. With a City Council in place featuring new faces the urge for reform has been revisited. There’s a simple solution for the City Council to have its own counsel that does not report to the mayor: we’ll not fund the City Attorney’s Office until we get what we want. Does the will exist?

CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart has more:

Some City Council incumbents, including President Aidee Nieves, and freshmen members of that newly sworn legislative body want to hire an independent attorney.

But breaking up with the the mayoral appointed city attorney may be hard to do.

“In concept, I would like us to have our own attorney,” Nieves said. “But how that works, I’m not sure.”

“They have their own attorney,” insisted R. Christopher Meyer, who runs Bridgeport’s legal department. “Me.”

Full story here.

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    Chris Meyers is a skilled attorney but, like Mark Anastasi before him, knows who hired him: Little Joe Ganim. The latter does not want to give the legislative branch any more power than it has already.

  • Lisa Parziale

    Kudos to the new CP and Councilman Newton. This is more than doable and I feel the entire body should get behind this long overdue issue. The City, through the City Attorney’s office hire outside counsel on a regular basis, note the recent hiring of outside attorneys to represent the Registrar, City Clerk, Head Moderator, and AB moderator in the case involving the 133nd District. The Council should use their authority and move ahead with this. There will be procedures to follow, an attorney can be put on retainer exclusively when needed. It didn’t take Chris Meyer’s long to become lord and master of legal opinions, he went so far as to swear in a council members, kiss ass Chris, you trump Mark Anastasia and his delusions of grandeur. In two years you’ll be back to earning an honest living and this reputation you’ve acquired in two years will bite you in your little butt. I’ve known you before you had a license to practice law; I guess sitting in the shadow of the Ganims has finally caught up with you, and your claiming your fifteen minutes of fame. Shame on you for tainting your good family name.

    • Jimfox

      Lisa you’er so Right! remember this responds from Hamilton Burger to Rick Torres
      City Attorney Anastasi Tells Torres To File An FOI Request, Swain Says Opinion ‘Severe Roadblock’
      June 25th, 2015 · 22 Comments · City Council, News and Events
      Leave it to Bridgeport’s verbose City Attorney Mark Anastasi to save the best for last. In his nearly 18 months on the City Council, Republican Rick Torres, also a mayoral candidate, has railed about the lack of city information flow to the budget and legislative body. In a legal opinion regarding a resolution for departmental information, Anastasi writes “NOT legal and proper for adoption.” Anastasi’s final paragraph offers a suggestion: if an individual council member wants public records file a freedom of information request. “Receipt of an FOIA request generally is acknowledged within four (4) business days and non-exempt documents are produced for review and purchase within a reasonable time period.” Really?

      Councilor Trish Swain, who’s not seeking reelection, opposes Anastasi’s opinion:

      I was dismayed to read the attorney’s response and hope we can all work together in the spirit of this resolution so that the Council Members can get the information they need to do the job for which they were elected. In essence, the City Attorney states that City Council’s power to procure information refers to the council as a whole, disallowing individual council members to make information requests. This seems to be a severe roadblock to the checks and balances that the council is suppose to provide. We have been elected by residents in our district to form a legislative body which votes on many important issues in the City. As volunteers, it is difficult enough to educate ourselves on these city issues, and I’m saddened that the denial of resolution #105-14 will make it even more difficult to do our jobs properly.

      Grab a cup of joe and read Anastasi’s complete legal decision.

      Re: Resolution #105-14 “City Council Members Requests for Departmental Information”

      Dear Council members:

      The above-referenced resolution proposes in part to mandate that “written request for Departmental Information of any kind from any City Council member to any City Department or Department Director or their designee will be provided expeditiously.”

      CONCLUSION

      In accordance with my February 3, 2014 Memorandum to the City Council regarding “Authority of City Council Pursuant to BPT Charter, Chapter 9, Sec. 4″ (copy attached) and for the reasons set forth herein, proposed resolution #lO5-14 is NOT legal and proper for adoption.

      RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF BPT CHARTER & CODE OF ORDINANCES

      Charter, Ch. 9 BUDGET AND FISCAL CONTROLS, Sec. 4 “City Council-Power to procure information” states:

      “The city council shall have full power to require the different city officers and employees to furnish all the information which they may possess and to exhibit to it all books, contracts, reports and other papers and documents in their respective departments, or in their possession, requisite, in the opinion of said board, to enable it to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this chapter and it is hereby made the duty of all the city officers to furnish and exhibit the same when so required.”

      Charter, Ch. 5 CITY COUNCIL, Sec. 5 (e) states:

      “The presiding officers of the city council and of the several committees of the city council, shall have the power to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses before the respective bodies over which they preside, by the issue of subpoenas and the administration of oaths in the manner and according to the rules governing the same in courts of justice, and when it shall be necessary to secure the attendance of witnesses before said boards or committees, the respective chairman shall have the right to apply to the proper authority for the issue of a capias ad testificandum for that purpose, as provided in number 461 of the special acts of 1907.”

      Charter, Ch. 6 DEPARTMENT OF POLlCY AND MANAGEMENT, Sec. 1 “Department of Policy and Management; Director; Powers and Duties”, subsection (a) states:

      There shall be an department of policy and management which shall be responsible for budget analysis, development and administration; operations planning and improvements; program performance evaluation and monitoring; management improvements for all boards, commissions and departments of the city; intergovernmental relations and such other functions as the mayor or the city council may, from time to time, assign to it.

      Charter, Ch. 3 MAYOR, Sec. 1 “Selection; Powers; Duties”, subsections (a), (b) and (f) state:

      (a) The chief executive officer of the city shall be a mayor, elected pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 2 of this charter.

      (b) The mayor shall take care that the laws are executed and enforced within the city; shall be the conservator of the peace with the city; shall have and may exercise, within the limits of the city, all the powers given the sheriffs or other officers as provided by law; and shall exercise ultimate operational control of all departments and agencies of the city …

      (f) The Mayor shall have authority at any time to examine all data and property of the city in the possession of any officer, agency, department, commission, board, authority, employee or any other member of the municipal government, and may exercise this authority in person or through any other official appointed by the mayor for that purpose by written designation and authority.

      Code of Ordinances, Sec. 2.06.060 – City council procurement of financial information as a prerequisite to budget transfers states:

      A. All requests for transfers often thousand dollars ($10,000.00) or more in the aggregate in anyone fiscal year between sublime item accounts of the adopted annual operating budget submitted to the city council (pursuant to Bridgeport Charter Chapter 9, Section 5(i) shall be accompanied by supporting documentation necessary and sufficient to disclose and explain the reason or basis for the requested transfer, the particular purpose for which the transferred dollars will be expended and any and all contracts, agreements, purchases or other purposes for which the transferred funds will be utilized; and

      B. Any transfers between the line item accounts (salary, overtime, fringe benefits and operating and special services) shall be submitted to the city council for approval with all supporting documentation for the requested transfer regardless of the dollar amount.

      STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION I LEGAL ANALYSIS

      The plain language of Ch. 9, Sec. 4 of the City Charter states that it is the “city council” (not an individual member thereof) that “shall have full power to require the different city officer and employees to furnish” information and documents “requisite, in the opinion of said board [city council], to enable it to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this chapter … ”

      “In construing a statute where the wording is plain [clear], ‘we are not at liberty to speculate upon any supposed intention not expressed in an appropriate manner or to restrict the ordinary import of words used in order to effectuate such supposed intent but which the statute in its native form does not express. ” McManus v. Jarvis, 128 Conn. 707, 711, 22 A. 2d 857; State ex reI. Board of Education v. D ‘Aulisa, 133 Conn. 414, 422, 52 A. 2d 636. JJ Jack v. Torrant.136 Conn. 414, at 418 (1950) (construing zoning statutes).

      By the plain language of the Charter, authority to compel information from City departments is vested by Charter solely in the legislative body as a whole, and in order to exercise its Charter authority, the City Council must act by majority vote at a properly noticed public meeting. The plain language of Charter, Ch. 9, Sec. 4 does NOT empower any individual member of the City Council to “require” the production of information or documents by City officers and employees. Nor can the City Council unilaterally create such power in the hands of individual Council members by attempting to delegate its collective authority to each individual Council member.

      “It is well-settled rule [of statutory construction] that when municipal councils or boards of any kind are called upon to perform legislative acts or acts involving discretion and judgment in administering the public affairs, they can only act at authorized meetings duly held. The council or board must meet and act as a board or council.” citations omitted Jack v. Torrant, supra at 420. See also, 56 Am. Jur. 2d,”Municipal Corporations, Etc. “, § 136 at 206 wherein it is stated: “A municipal or county council can act only as a body and when in session as such. Furthermore, the powers of a municipal councilor body must be exercised at a meeting which is properly noticed and agreements entered into outside a regular meeting are not binding.” “The members cannot make a valid determination binding upon the corporation by their assent separately and individually expressed [even if a majority so concurs] … Wherever, a matter calls for the exercise of deliberation and judgment, it is right that all parties and interests to be affected by the result should have the benefit of the counsel and judgment of all the persons to whom has been entrusted the decision.” Jack v. Torrant, Ibid.

      See also, Martin v. Lemon, 26 Conn. 192 at 194 (1857) wherein the Connecticut Supreme Court in discussing the authority of a public committee to act states: ” … if the act is merely ministerial in its character, a majority at least must concur and unite in the performance of it; but they may act separately, and need not be convened in a body or notified so to convene for that purpose; but if the act is one which requires the exercise of discretion and judgment, in which case it is usually termed a judicial act, unless special provision is otherwise made, the person to whom the authority is given, must meet and confer together, and be present when the act is performed, in which case a majority of them may perform the act; … Damn v. Granby, 2 Pick., 345,354 … There is nothing in the act now in question which takes it out of the operation of these principles, or provides that the authority conferred by it may be exercised by one only of the members of the committee mentioned in it. Its terms contain no express delegation to the individual members of the committee of the power given to the committee, nor do those terms imply that they import that one of them may separately exercise that power … This term [committee or city council], when it is applicable, as it is in the present case, to more persons than on, is a collective word, or, as grammarians would say, a noun of multitude, and indicates a plurality of persons. The expression which is thus used in the act is therefore not appropriate to express the idea that the poser conferred on a committee may be exercised by each individual member of it separately. And accordingly, as a reference to our statutes will abundantly show, wherever an authority is conferred by statute on several persons, by whatever term they are designated [i.e. committee or city council], and it is intended that a particular portion of them may exercise that power, it is usual to insert some phrase which expresses such intention.” No such phrase exists in BPT Charter, Ch. 9, Sec. 4.

      CITY EXECUTIVE BRANCH COOPERATION

      While BPT Charter, Ch. 9, Sec. 4 vests only the City Council with authority to “require” the production of information and documents to facilitating the Council in its ability to conduct its business, the City’s executive branch, acting though the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), is committed to assisting the Council in moving its legislative business. To that end, individuals seeking information from City departments or officials have been invited to submit their requests directly through the CAO, who facilitates appropriate and timely responses and makes every effort to accommodate individual Council member reasonable requested response times without unduly disruption ongoing City operations and workload.

      In addition, individual City Council members may submit their requests for data, documentation and information through the full City Council, the various committee co-chairs. City officers and employees routinely produce information and documents to the Council and its committee co-chairs as rapidly as reasonably permitted in view of the press, of the executive branch’s day-to-day business operations.

      Finally, individual City Council members have the same legal rights as any person to file FOIA requests for public records with the City. Receipt of an FOIA request generally is acknowledged within four (4) business days and non-exempt documents are produced for review and purchase within a reasonable time period.

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    Counselor Meyer is a skilled litigator whose practice is personal injury. Working for the city is easier than chasing ambulances…

  • Lisa Parziale

    Kid, not much surprises me any more, but Chris Myers should hang his head in shame.

  • Bob Walsh

    Nonsense. What Meyers is saying basically is that when Joe has a difference of opinion they (he and Joe) come to an understanding before it even gets to the council.
    Then its a foregone conclusion.
    Just answer me this. Name three time \s that something has gone to the council and the City Attorney sided with the council.
    Go ahead. I’m waiting.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    I doubt the City Council will be able to hire their own attorney. Council President Nieves agrees with me:
    “In concept, I would like us to have our own attorney,” Nieves said. “But how that works, I’m not sure.”

    Here’s one area where the Council President can make a difference. She can join the full body of the council in requesting information from Department heads whenever necessary. Member of the council need to stop fighting losing battles and fight those they have a chance of winning

    “authority to compel information from City departments is vested by Charter solely in the legislative body as a whole, and in order to exercise its Charter authority, the City Council must act by majority vote at a properly noticed public meeting.”

  • Tom White

    As many of us have commented, city councils in recent years have made budget decisions without understanding the numbers and make decisions with no independent research and analysis.

    Yet, they feel that they should have their own legal council. Can any of them provide a clear example of how they would make use of dedicated legal counsel?

    I suggest that those calling for dedicated legal counsel for the city council review the city charter. Meyers and Anastasia have been correct in their interpretation of the charter.

    Take another look at the city charter. The shortcomings of the city council is their overall lack of individual critical thinking skills and an inability to independently analyze information, not a lack of legal knowledge. The charter addresses this concern.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Perhaps the City Council members might be better served by professional with finance and accounting skills:
    1. To study City trends in revenues and expenses and understand where priorities and funding patterns diverge
    2. To look at best practices in other municipalities that contain expenses that are not controlled well in Bridgeport
    3. To relate economic development efforts in the City on all fronts and the results as indicated in a Taxable Grand List to sustain adequate revenues.
    4. To better understand how runaway post retirement obligations in terms of current and future costs hamper the City and what that means for labor agreements going forward. Where are Defined Contribution plans and no lifetime healthcare in our overall mix today? When is the last time any Mayor addressed the subject directly and simply?
    Perhaps there are other questions that are not addressed? Time will tell.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Woof, woof. Translation: Ken Flatto

      • John Marshall Lee

        Hiding out in the cold, barking, Joel? Not much fun is it? Is that where you came out with the $500 for standing around story? Did someone feed it to you, knowing that is was in error?
        As a “watch dog” Joel, when Mayor Ganim asks you what time is it? Do you respond with, “Mayor, what time do you want it to be?” And you call that an exercise of critical thinking by an independent mind? What will you think of next? Time will tell.

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