Where’s the legislative branch oversight? It’s a question raised often by government waste scrutineer John Marshall Lee who addressed the City Council Monday night.
This year has been historic and remarkable when you consider the way we Americans self-govern. 2019 may prove even more so. And 12 months from now it is likely that some seats will change hands on this Council.
I use the word “oversight” frequently in my talks with you. It is because “checks and balance” were included in our City Charter. Although simple, oversight of the Executive body, the Mayor’s Office, is part of your necessary work. It goes along with representing the interests and priorities of your constituents who are your neighbors, and also leads you to review and sometimes create legislation.
Six months ago on June 16, 2018 you heard about Linda Lee, a property owner and taxpaying resident of the East End whose registered, plated, insured and tax paid Ford van was stickered one day, June 5, and towed the following day. After 30 days it was presumed to have been “crushed.” But that night Ms. Lee met Acting Chief Perez who promised all of us that he would check into it the next day. Did not happen and a claim turndown by the City Attorney office was received. Four months later the Chief did review all the facts, but no word to Ms. Lee. Then an attorney appeared offering to help Ms. Lee. City Attorney reversed their position and provided a check on December 4, to counsel. Ms. Lee is awaiting delivery of an unspecified amount, net of attorney fees tomorrow.
My lengthy advocacy to your ears and those of Chief Perez was insufficient to produce such reparation without a legal expense paid from taxpayer funds. And I cannot tell you which department is bearing the hit to their budget. The failure of the towing company to provide a 30-day letter to the owner per State law, a necessary part of the process subject to Police oversight, was ignored. Think about it. If it had been you who were harmed, was this a just outcome? What can you do when you hear about City actions that appear unfair or unjust?
The Budget and Appropriations Committee did not meet last week. Perhaps they were reading about the sale of scrap metal by City employees to a Bridgeport firm, said to be in excess of $30,000 according to the firm’s records but amounting to $5,000 or less when reviewed by Public Facility boss John Ricci. Are City employees ever told that tools, equipment and other property they handle are City assets, to be carefully used as necessary and returned in good condition after use? Were they ever authorized to sell salvaged metal and decide where to convey the cash received? That story is still working on the front page. But there is another one I have reported to you that hasn’t made the paper.
Perhaps someday Chief Finance Officer Ken Flatto along with Mayor Ganim can tell taxpayers that all funds received as part of City business are recorded accurately and timely for the purpose of maintaining honest and thorough accountability. Isn’t that what you assumed happens? Well think back to my comments about InPlant print operation. Tracking them from 2012-2016, I was surprised to discover over $800,000 of expenses were charged to Print shop in excess of what “balanced” monthly reports claimed. That averaged $160,000 per year. Ken Flatto did not review the research that I had done, nor did he provide a written explanation.
What he did was to include among assumed revenue items the sum of $10,000 as assumed Print Shop revenue for 2017-18 and for this year 2018-19. And how did that work out? During the first three months of 2017 almost $7,000 was reported in your monthly reports. Each month since, for more than 12 months “$0” is recorded. And that is in error because I have seen checks payable for printing presented and cashed. What is the explanation for not reporting ALL FUNDS received and saying so? How do taxpayers trust? And when B&A members hear such allegations from me why are you not investigating all of the numbers?
Oversight? Will you be discovered doing enough to satisfy your serious constituents? Time will tell.