During the 2015 comeback campaign Joe Ganim rolled on a deodorant to mask a past that had forced him from office in 2003: public support from the retired FBI agent Ed Adams who investigated him and vigorous backing from members of the police union. Testimonials from the former fed and active city police officers presented a tonic for voters who had pondered Ganim’s future fitness. Ganim also announced he’d have the most transparent administration in history.
Adams was among his first hires to lead an office of public integrity although the office has not been institutionalized with specific responsibilities. One year after receiving the oath of office, December 1, 2015, cynics exist but Ganim makes the case he has turned words into action.
It started with his campaign pledge to remove conflicts of interests on the City Council. During JG1 a number of city councilors had city jobs in violation of the City Charter. Then City Attorney Mark Anastasi ruled, however, that state law allowed it. The practice continued through the administrations of John Fabrizi and Bill Finch. But the flashpoint was City Council President Tom McCarthy, a Finch loyalist. How could the head of the legislative branch as deputy director of Labor Relations provide a check on the executive branch that controls his paycheck? Critics argued the arrangement cost taxpayers money void of institutional checks to protect wallets while councilors voted to approve their own wages and benefits. The conflict issue also cut both ways. A few council members on the payroll during JG1 tried to leverage pay raises in exchange for votes.
It was a reform message carried by Marilyn Moore when she knocked off incumbent State Senator Anthony Musto in a 2014 primary and utilized once again when McCarthy challenged her in a 2016 August primary. Moore thumped McCarthy, even in his council voter base. During her first term Moore successfully lobbied her senate peers for passage of a law to end the conflict. The bill died in the State House.
In the initial weeks of his mayoralty, Ganim set in motion a strategy to remove McCarthy from the public payroll. Rather than simply terminating McCarthy as a discretionary appointee, Ganim avoided a potentially costly court case through a severance package. The city started with a low offer, McCarthy countered with a high one. They agreed to roughly $35,000 financial settlement plus 18 months of health benefits. The City Council discussed the deal behind closed doors with no public discussion about the vote.
Among 20 council members two remain on the public payroll, the most senior member of the body James Holloway, an employee in Public Works, and Milta Feliciano, head of Veterans Affairs. Holloway, as he has threatened for several years, is making noise about not seeking reelection in 2017. Trying to remove them from the payroll could lead to lawsuits so the administration is content with allowing time to take its course for the final two.
Ganim points to another area of government reform. Last month, piggybacking a state online financial portal, Ganim introduced Open Budget that provides insight into city financial information including revenues and expenditures and payments to outside vendors. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo joined Ganim declaring Bridgeport the first community in the state to adopt the state model Open Connecticut.
Lembo said it was “gratifying” to see the city adopt his state model. “That was my child and I see this as my grandchild.”
Mayoral staffers Ed Adams and Tom Gaudett worked with city financial officials Ken Flatto, Nestor Nkwo and Lynn Simko to build the portal. Simko is tasked with populating the website with future financial information. Budget information starts with 2014. City officials say it will cost roughly $2,000 per month to maintain the site but added the city saved thousands of dollars modeling its site after the state, which publishes financial information to inform taxpayers how their money is being spent and where. It will also lessen the load of government staff to respond to freedom of information requests.
“When I ran for mayor last year I said we needed to open up Bridgeport’s government so the taxpayers can see how their money is being spent, and I meant it,” said Ganim. “It took months of painstaking work to migrate over all city financial data but as of today we have thrown open the doors to city government and anyone with internet access can now have real-time city financial data. It’s your money, and now you are going to be able to see exactly how the city is spending it.”