What a crazy day and night on Wednesday and none of it had to do with the pope. You want to know how things work in Hartford? Get a load of this: Republican State Sen. Rob Russo, working to secure the funds for a forensic overhaul of the Bridgeport Board of Education’s books, is in a reform-minded mood.
Russo added an amendment to a bill to change the Connecticut General Statutes to allow municipalities the power to ban employees from serving on municipal boards and commissions, including city or town councils. Bridgeport through the years, still does, has had a number of city employees serving in the city council, raising questions about conflicts of interest in areas such as budget votes, pay raises and deal making with the mayor in exchange for votes.
Russo offered the amendment to remove state law blocking enforcement of the provision in the Bridgeport City Charter that bans city employees from serving on the city council. In an effort to avoid chaos, Russo added an effective date of November 2009, the next general election for the city council.
Sounds lucid, reasonable and fair, right? Hold on just one minute said Democratic State Sen. Ed Gomes, a former Bridgeport City Council member, when Russo courteously informed his colleague of the amendment. Gomes charged at State Senate leader Martin Looney of New Haven urging him to diss a vote on the matter. Looney changed the marking on the bill from “Go” to “Pass Retain.” Translation: “we’re not voting on this!” And maybe never.
Ed Gomes is one of those throwback politicians – a decent, loyal union man, sporting a crocodile smile, who’s not afraid of a good fight. I can just imagine Eddie spreading that crocodile smile at Russo like “Welcome to the state senate!”
As for Russo, nothing wrong with trying to pass a little reform.
Speaking of reform, members the State Senate voted unanimously to revoke the pensions of state and municipal officials as part of a landmark ethics bill. The bill gives state judges the power to revoke or reduce an official’s pension. State Rep. Chris Caruso, co-chairman of the committee that serves as a government watchdog, says the bill lacks teeth. Caruso, who has demanded that pension revocation include retroactive power to impact the likes of former Gov. John Rowland and former State Sen. Ernie Newton, says he will submit his own pension revocation bill to the State House. Caruso has one little problem in his quest. Something called the U.S. Constitution. It prohibits retroactive laws that punish. You cannot create a law that punishes after the fact.
The impasse between the Senate and House member Caruso means we might end up with nothing. So it goes.
So, I understand his honor Mayor Bill Finch may be rethinking the proposed cuts in his city budget that does away with what he had called “non-essential” positions, following a rally on the steps of city hall. (See prior post.) There certainly is an appetite on the city council to move around funds to save the 100 or so library and health clinic jobs. Saturday morning should be intriguing. Many of the folks that protested on Wednesday plan to show up at Finch’s open house at the City Hall Annex.
Wednesday morning I spent a half hour with Phil Kuchma, developer of the Bijou Square project on Fairfield Avenue downtown. Work continues on the housing phase of the redevelopment. Actually, work never stopped and it’s about one-third complete. Kuchma recently received a tax break from the city council to help bolster financing to finish the job. If you haven’t seen Bijou Square, check it out and its excellent restaurants such as Café Roma and Two Boots.