David Walker, the United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, has been urging sanity back in the national budget-making process through the organization he founded, the Comeback America Initiative. The Black Rock resident and national budget-reform voice has elevated his profile locally on Bridgeport-specific issues including involvement in the formation of a coalition of citizens calling itself “Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport.” One front-burner issue is rallying support of a state legislative bill proposed by State Rep. Jack Hennessy that seeks to ban city employees from serving on the City Council.
State and federal law prohibit public employees from serving on legislative bodies. The Bridgeport City Charter bans city employees from serving on the legislative branch, but a loophole in state law allows it. Walker, for one, says it’s impossible for the legislative branch to serve as a check on the executive branch when legislative employees work at the pleasure of the mayor. He says it’s not about the personalities involved but an inherent institutional conflict of interest that derails the budget-making process. It’s human nature not to buck the person controlling the paycheck. Six of the 20-member City Council are on the public payroll.
Hennessy’s bill is a long shot for passage with strong opposition from municipal and state labor leaders maintaining mighty contacts among Democratic legislators who count on them for election support. The City Council approves labor contracts. State Rep. Auden Grogins has co-signed Hennessy’s bill, but so far the majority of the city’s eight-member legislative delegation is either silent or not supporting the bill out of fear of alienating unions and political friends on the council. Walker says the group will hold elected officials accountable, with repercussions at the ballot box for officials not embracing government reforms.
Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport is also focusing on “Bridgeport’s governance practices, financial condition, education system, economic development and public services.”
In addition to Hennessy’s bill the group’s initial areas of interest include “input on the City of Bridgeport’s proposed budget and OPPOSE any increase in total property taxes … Encourage and support the development and adoption of a comprehensive City Charter revision that includes governance, education, financial, and other reforms that will help to create a better future in the City.”
Walker is also urging city and state officials to address the restructuring of unfunded pension liability and retiree healthcare costs that Walker says brings a nearly $1 billion price tag for Bridgeport. Walker says historically elected officials “give away the ranch in deferred benefits that come due when the person is not in office.”
Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport conducts regular group meetings. For information about getting involved contact Walker at 202-679-0257 or Phil Blagys 203-218-1989, e-mail: Citizens4betterbridgeport@gmail.com.