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Truckin’! Bad Vibes For Hippie Fest, City Sues For $500K Security Costs

August 18th, 2016 · 33 Comments · City Budget, News and Events

The Gathering of the Vibes festival at Seaside Park saluting the music of the Grateful Dead originated under Joe Ganim’s first mayoralty and may very well end up, well, Truckin’. Hey, everyone must experience a Touch Of Gray, right? The city is suing organizers for truckin’ from Bridgeport owing serious Sugar Magnolia in police security costs under the Finch administration. Ganim says this is just one example of the deficit he inherited from Finch. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

From Brian Lockhart, CT Post.

This is the time of year when hundreds of thousands of live music fans would visit Seaside Park for the Gathering of the Vibes festival.

With that annual event canceled, the city is mounting its own production. Call it the Suing of the Vibes.

“They didn’t pay us for police overtime for a couple of years,” said Russell Liskov, the city attorney, who for months has been trying to get the Vibes to reimburse an estimated $500,000 allegedly owed the cash-strapped city.

Demand letters failed to get the attention of Vibes’ organizer Ken Hays, Liskov said. So now the city is heading to court.

Full story here.

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Now go after others like the owner of Two Boots. Yeah, I know it’s one of his LLCs.

  • BptPorter

    Okay, so here is the deal. Everybody is probably thinking yay Ganim! Here is the deal. This is not uncommon for large events like this for cities to bear the cost. If he holds them to this then this means the city might have a hard time attracting events which then hurts business. On the flip side he is right for going for this money. All I am saying is it is a catch-22. Also by the time you factor in legal costs etc. the city is probably not getting its full $500,000. The other point is this opens up a can of worms. Do the Bridgeport parades pay for police? The Puerto Rican parade? I think the city covers the cost for police for this event etc. so this opens up a can of worms. Let’s see where this goes.

  • John Marshall Lee

    I have heard nothing regarding City pursuit of the $950,000 of Capital funds missing from Office of Planning and Economic Development and reported by David Kooris while serving as Director in December, 2015.

    Was it connected to a payoff of a Port Authority debt of $900,000 plus interest? Who has kept track of Port Authority finances for the past eight years? Office of Policy Management and Chief Administrative Officer? Where are eight years of records regarding revenues, salaries, fringe benefits and other expenses? What does the Port Authority balance sheet look like? Missing funds? Yes. How did they move without notice to the Council? What are the rules? Was this fiscal adventure illegal?
    It seems the City is willing to go to court to recover funds for the taxpaying public. Wouldn’t it be easier to pursue more money that seemingly was illegally moved? When capital funds are misused, is it a larger problem because of representations to bondholders in the legal documents? Perhaps our bond counsel can provide instruction. Time will tell.

    • Donald Day

      One needs to ask what were the benefits to Bridgeport by hosting the Vibes other than the CC members who were given free tickets. I’ve talked to several friends who own businesses on both Iranistan Ave and Park Ave and both said they experienced No uptick in profits in their businesses during the time the Vibes was here. What were the benefits to Bridgeport?

      Bridgeport has taken the vehicles of its residents for as little as $100, but there are those nameless individuals who think there is a problem in making for-profit endeavors to honor their contracts and pay for what they owe. What were the benefits to Bridgeport?

      The City of Bridgeport has city attorneys who are paid a yearly salary so get them off their collective ass and let them go after this deadbeat and while I’m at it quit paying outside attorneys to handle the business of Bridgeport when you have a City Attorney’s office.

      • flubadub

        Donald, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I too had heard nearby businesses had not received much additional business from Vibes attendees.

      • Ron Mackey

        Don, I can tell you one business always has an uptick when the Vibes is here and that is the drug dealers. As a resident of Seaside Village we get to see it as the drug dealers move around and are never in one place all the time. Some of those visitors trying not to pay for Vibes parking try to park on our side streets or even camp out in their vans down here but the police are called as soon as it’s noticed. And now we are finding out the Vibes owes money for that police service.

    • Bob Walsh

      John,
      I have answered your questions before but since it doesn’t have a mysterious tone to it, I guess you just ignored it.
      The City Charter states the council has the authority to deal with unspent bond funds.
      Every Bond Authorization the council passes includes the language the mayor will be responsible for reauthorizing unspent bond funds.
      So the mayor, by virtue of the council’s action, has the authority to reallocate this money to any project in the capital fund whether that project has been bonded for or not.

  • flicka

    Trump prepaid Fairfield for the police required for his rally at SHU. Thousands of people in sweltering heat and not one problem other than heat stroke. I wasn’t there but know many who were. There was a big buzz on FB regarding the campaign’s ability to pay. Well it was PREPAID. It should have been at the arena.

  • Jimfox

    Maybe Trump used GE’s heliport?

  • Tom White

    Speaking of payment of security expenses, did the Trump and Clinton campaigns pay the bills for Bridgeport police coverage (on overtime, no doubt) for their visits to Bridgeport?

    Fairfield probably advised SHU and Trump’s people there would be no Fairfield police coverage (and therefore, no visit to Fairfield) unless they prepaid.

    Did Bridgeport PD assist Fairfield PD as mentioned in report of the visit? Did Bpt PD get part of that prepaid fee?

    I miss the days of a fully staffed fact-gathering business (newspaper).

    • Ron Mackey

      Tom, good question. I’m sure the Secret Service touched base with BPD for backup assistance and did Bridgeport get paid or prepaid as you asked.

  • Bob Walsh

    Does anyone know, can I sue the Ethics Commission for failing to find an ethics violation for council members and city employees taking free passes to the Vibes? Especially now that we have $500K in unpaid bills.
    Any Ethics Commission member who voted against the complaint concerning the Vibes should be forced to resign immediately.

  • Bob Walsh

    Let’s start with Joe Ianniello. Black Rock resident who served as Chairperson when the Ethics Commission failed to find a conflict in this practice.

    • Lisa Parziale

      I didn’t know that, Bubba; thanks for the memory! I always thought Joe was a decent person, I don’t know what happens when they’re charged with difficult, unpopular decisions. As for the Vibes, it was nothing but a mini Woodstock. Most of the people came to get beaned out, do you think it ever dawned on them to support Bridgeport in any way?

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob, no sarcasm intended, but anyone can sue anyone for just about anything. Certainly you can sue the Ethics Commission for failure to act in good faith on its statutory charges, but proving negligence or deliberate failure in this regard would only be possible in the most extreme of cases/circumstances. And what could it possibly yield in the best case scenario in this regard?!

    By way of reference to your concerns about the specific situation of the Vibes’ relationship to the city council: I was on the Ethics Commission when it investigated that situation per the complaint against specific members of the council. A very sharp Greenwich lawyer was brought in by the City to counsel the Commission on the charges. This very sharp lawyer clearly showed the Commission the municipal ethics code did not allow the identification of any malfeasance/ethical breach by those about whom the complaint had been filed. Any “considerations” provided to council members were defined as being within the realm of provisions by the Vibes per the facilitation of the duties of the council in observing/promoting events intended to benefit the city. In other words, their free passes, etc. were necessary in facilitating their observation/promotion of city interests concerning the Vibes event.

    In the case of the use of a stricter, more tightly written ethics code, it is slightly possible a hand-slap may have been warranted.

    The larger question of how such a problematic event could have been incorporated into the use of our Seaside Park jewel to the detriment of city residents needing summer use of the park during the two prime weeks of the summer during which the event precluded resident use of the park, was the larger question that was raised but never answered.

    So Bob, sue the Ethics Commission? Not at all practical, and years too late in any event.

  • Jeff Kohut

    But to continue my response: The lesson to be learned here is Bridgeport has to be a lot more discerning in all of its business transactions, especially where it’s ceding use of its facilities/infrastructure, even for limited amounts of time. To inflict restricted use of Seaside Park on our residents in order to accommodate a drug festival was the biggest ethical breach here, but it was embraced by a lot of well-regarded private Bridgeport citizens of unquestionable ethical rectitude. (I’m not being sarcastic here. Lots of my friends, good, honest Bridgeporters, thought it was the greatest thing. But quite a few didn’t.)

    But truly: We have been mindlessly giving away infrastructure use, tax abatements, and city services for decades. Look at our situation with Trumbull and the sewer system, Sacred Heart and our city services, parkland, and schools, etc., etc. The Vibes is just one more stupid (if not sleazy) deal in a long, decades-old list of Bridgeport rip-offs.

    We think so little of ourselves, we take any deal. It’s the municipal version of the way low self-esteem individuals prostitute themselves or otherwise allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

  • Tom White

    I don’t recall the year, but McCarthy directed me to make arrangements for free full three-day passes for city council members. I advised McCarthy accepting something with a face value (around $350) would be inappropriate. I suggested I could make arrangements (after speaking with Vibes staff) for council members to receive a tour of the festival operations, which (supposedly) was why they wanted passes. McCarthy made arrangements himself from that point on.
    There was an ethics complaint filed. Per the advice of legal counsel, the commission did not take action. Their counsel was, and continues to be the City Attorney.
    When the ethics ordinance was established in the second term of Mayor Bucci, the commission had outside counsel, not the city attorney who reported to the mayor.
    The first counsel to the Ethics Commission was a female retired superior court judge who lived in Black Rock. Perhaps?

  • Bob Walsh

    Jeff,
    The council members were given free passes for themselves and guest. So having someone to hold your hand while at the Vibes is necessary to perform your duties?
    Access to the grounds might be necessary to perform your duties but access to the VIP tent was not.
    Valuable passes exceeding hundreds of dollars each were given to council members and city employees to look favorably on the Vibes. To approve a contract that was totally one-sided considering the revenue realized by the Vibes. And allowing the organization to walk away owing 3/4 of a million dollars was allowed in return.
    So Jeff, DO NOT tell me those passes were not in violation of the Ethics Ordinance.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob: I understand the implications of the free passes. That is why the Ethics Commission took up the matter. But “implications” and violations of the letter of the Ethics ordinance are two different things in most of the cases of ethics complaints in Bridgeport, and, indeed in most municipalities. (Look at some of the clearly unethical things that have happened in towns such as Trumbull in recent years, e.g., the sewer construction deal among other matters.)

    Let’s say the council members were actually given passes for guests; it can be assumed their valuable weekend family time needed to be accommodated by the ability to include spouses/significant others in researching the Vibes event per its appropriateness as a Bridgeport event/potential economic-social enhancement for the city. To examine this situation in terms of a legal comparison; to convict someone of an ethics violation, there has to be evidence of such beyond a reasonable doubt. “Implications” aren’t enough to hang an ethics violation on an official. And considering how convoluted life-logic becomes in political contexts, perhaps its better mere “implications” aren’t enough to label someone as “unethical” or dishonest. Let’s say a mayor is brought to a California manufacturing operation of a company that would like to build a factory in Bridgeport in order that the mayor get a better idea of how the company would fit the Bridgeport social and physical environment. The company offers to pay for the trip. The mayor accepts the free trip. The mayor isn’t wealthy, has a family to support, and a city that is on economic life support that can ill-afford to pay for the mayors trip. Is the mayor being unethical by accepting the paid-for trip, since it will no doubt be enjoyable and vacation-like?

    Deciding to hang an ethics violation on someone isn’t as simple as we might like it to be, and it’s probably better that way. It’s like having the death penalty. In our anger it might seem to be a great idea; but if it turns out we’re wrong and an innocent person has been put to death, then we have the most horrible of situations we can’t reverse.

    • Lisa Parziale

      Well Jeff, I think it’s time to revise the Code of Ethics! There’s a difference between morality and ethics. Ethically correct behavior requires research and challenges before it becomes enforceable. It’s not the responsibility of a boiler-plate attorney to determine an ethical decision. I don’t doubt this commission, at one time, had individuals willing to go the extra mile with research and challenges, but that went by the way of Bridgeport politics at least two decades ago.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Lisa: You are absolutely correct! Bridgeport’s ethics ordinance is an ineptly written and poorly conceived piece of garbage. When I was on the Commission we attempted to pull together proper legal and political input, including proposed public hearings, to reconstruct the ordinance so it would be appropriate, useful and capable of accomplishing the needed ethical oversight of Bridgeport’s pragmatic governance needs. Needless to say, the Commission’s efforts were met with roadblocks, delays and nonsensical rationalizations for such, from the City Council, City Attorney and Mayor’s Office.

    And I researched many ethics codes/ordinances from other cities/states and found they were all comparably useless, weak and poorly worded so only an attorney could respond intelligibly to applicable ethical considerations.

    One thing of which I am certain in regard to the manner in which the rewriting of ethics codes should be undertaken: we need to start by applying the philosophy used in constructing the legislation that guides business and civic life in China. That is to say, in China, if the law does not explicitly allow something, it is to be regarded as forbidden. (Kind of like in writing computer language code when you simply avoid referring to algorithm specifics in order to allow more efficient processing of the instructions by avoiding the subprogram portion of instructions that don’t specifically apply to the execution of the program.)

    Thus, if we are to have an enforceable ethics code, we have to define what is allowed such that those involved in government/business decision making have certainty about what they can do, and implicitly, what they cannot do. Thus, if the ordinance doesn’t say it is okay for City Council members to accept gratis passes from event producers to research entertainment events, then Council members won’t have to wonder about what the implications of accepting passes might be, and the Ethics Commission won’t have a problem with legal interference about how they should respond to such a situation. Everybody will know you simply never accept freebees of any sort or of any amount from entities doing business with the city, unless otherwise stated/specified as being okay in the code.

    An ethics code shouldn’t be abstract, unclear or otherwise mysterious. It should be specific to the extent it states, “Here are situations where you can interact with specific entities in specific ways per accepting gratuities, favors and recognition. But if it isn’t covered by this list, YOU MAY NOT DO IT/ACCEPT IT OR YOU WILL BE IN VIOLATION OF THE CODE OF ETHICS AND QUITE POSSIBLY THE LAW.” (Perhaps there should be a provision in the code where a forbidden zone could be entered by way of approval of the Ethics Commission such that exigent circumstances excluded by the code could be navigated by government officials/employees.)

    So Lisa, you are correct. The ethics code needs to be rewritten, and it should be rewritten as an original Bridgeport creation, because there doesn’t appear to be anything much better out there to work from. We’re better off starting from scratch, using our own history to guide us.

  • Bob Walsh

    City Council members received a gift from a vendor who was doing business with the city. The gift, free passes and free passes for a guest were not returned for them to do their job. PERIOD. The value of the passes and guest passes exceeded hundreds of dollars therefore they were not of de minimus value.

  • Bob Walsh

    The council voted on several occasions to approve a contract that provided the vendor with a revenue stream of six or seven figures. That my friend is definitely a conflict of interest. Maybe Jeff is feeling a twinge of guilt but there were definitely grounds for an ethics violation. Jeff is now taking his Kool-Aid intravenously. Case closed.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob. You need to read blog entries more carefully. And you need to read the ethics ordinance and cite (for OIB readership) the portion that unequivocally mandates the finding of an ethics violation for acceptance of the Vibes tickets by the Council members. (I have absolutely no guilt in regard to my service on the ethics commission. But it was frustrating working with a really defective ordinance.)

  • Bob Walsh

    And Jeff, you never once gave me ANY proposed changes to the Ethics Ordinance all the time I was on the Council. Not once.

  • Frank Gyure

    Great discussion of ethics. It goes to the spirit AND letter of the law, and how all that is interpreted.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob: Your memory is serving this issue inadequately. You and the rest of the Council received several proposed changes to the ordinance while I was on the Commission (and Joe Ianiello was the Chair). I was hoping you’d bring that up. You’re admitting the ordinance is deficient and it remained so on your watch on the Council. Now, I’m still waiting for you to cite the passage from the ordinance that mandates a finding of an ethics violation for the receipt of those Vibes tickets by the Council members. Can’t you identify such an unequivocal passage in the ordinance?! Come on now, Bob! Take another swig from your flask of self-righteous indignation and see if it can clear your head and help you to make some sort of accurate case here.

  • Bob Walsh

    Jeff,
    Did you have any direct communications with me about changes to the Ethics Commission?
    The answer is NO!!!

  • Bob Walsh

    The only changes I recall came after the commission refused to deal with the Vibes complaint. Those changes were basically authored by Mark Anastasi and Joe Ianello.
    Those changes in my opinion weakened the Ethics Commission. The biggest change was to remove the term limit on members so they could serve as long as the mayor allowed.

  • Bob Walsh

    And Jeff, how did the Ethics Commission go about selecting this high-powered attorney from Stamford? They didn’t, Mark Anastasi did.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob. Admit you are confused and over your head and can’t answer the main questions posed above. I am beginning to feel sorry for you. You are looking foolish here and must be embarrassed.

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