When Fiscal Watchdogs Bark Do Humans Listen?


When it comes to city finances OIB posters John Marshall Lee (BEACON2) and Andy Fardy (town committee) are relentless hounds in pursuit. They scour budget books, review city expenditures, make community presentations, meet with Connecticut Post reporters and share reports on OIB. Lee owns an insurance company, Fardy is a retired city arson investigator. Talk about trying to put out fires. They’re in search of fiscal flames. Lee, in a commentary below, provides an update about their latest presentation and what it all means.

Light the darkness, key real accountability, open governance for the people!!!

Last Thursday night Andy Fardy and I were present at North End Library for our first full PowerPoint presentation of Bridgeport Finances 101. About 20 people gathered shortly after 6:00 PM and they were joined by an equal number of Republican Town Committee members who completed their business in the next room and stayed to listen, question and respond. I was pleased that Angel DePara, co-chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the City Council came and stayed. He was helpful in providing his viewpoint on process and structure issues from where he sits. He is the one Council person who regularly acknowledges the “check and balance” responsibility of the Council.

I did a one-to-one presentation on Friday morning to another elected official who was impressed by the information as presented and with the graphics used. We are open and willing to schedule as many as possible to other groups in the City through March. Let tc or BEACON2 know with whom, when and where, and we will put you on our schedule. City processes need oversight, review, intelligent and practical discussion, and in many cases genuine watchdogs. That is not where we are in the City today.

Some impressions from the “Question and Answer” sessions may indicate areas for change in current governance process:

• Budget and Appropriation (B&A) committee members with two other committee assignments to manage do not have the time to perform the necessary fiscal review and check and balance function.

• Council has a budget to research, consult, study best practices but do not touch funds of $90-100,000 annually.

• Over the past two years reports to Council from Finance Department have not been monthly until this year. How can B&A review unless reports are regular and informative? Why don’t they contain data on employment levels in departments? Why don’t they cover status of projects and goals? If the B&A does review reports at monthly meetings, shouldn’t this show up in the B&A minutes? Do reports online for B&A support any watchdog fiscal work? Why are monthly reports not sent in pdf form to City Clerk (as well as hard copy) to be posted and available on line to the public? Cost savings?

• Where is any public “watchdog” if B&A is underqualified in vision, time and resources? If there is no internal control function in the City and no internal audit staff? If Management Letters from the external auditor annually are not shared with Council and thus become public record? If Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is never reviewed in meetings or hearings where public is present and can share their comments and opinions?

CAFR-2011 is on the City website now, 136 pages of valuable information in narrative and numeric form. Of interest to me is the fact that last August when March, April and May 2011 monthly budget numbers were released, with only 30 days in the fiscal year left, the Finance Department projected over a $2.3 Million deficit. Mayor Finch claimed that the result in August was $150,000 surplus and the actual sum is larger yet. What good is the info provided to B&A “watchdogs” that could swing totals nearly $3 Million? Is it magic, fiscal wizardry, dumb luck or something else? If Mayor Finch and advisers had been creative, it would have been something to crow about and we would have heard, right?

Looking further, and you should, you can see that the City received $1,222,700 of Library funds that were not provided to the Library Board per the referendum (where they can be used to fund construction of two Library facilities in the eastern part of the City). Board of Education ECS funds of $2,163,000 were received by the City but not turned to the BOE for some reason. And that would not have shown up in anything the B&A gets to review. Who can explain? The City also received revenues exceeding $750,000 more than budgeted and listed expenses $198,000 less than budgeted. Finally, the City claims that it “refunded” its debt service. Actually, the technical term is “restructured” for the City got a lower interest rate but added $400,000 in future years to City payments. Refunding is the appropriate term when there is nothing but economic gain and that was not what happened here.

Lots more in the documents as OPEB, pension plans, internal service fund account and other indicators show increased public obligations. Curiously there is an approved resolution, by some past City Council, to borrow an additional $90 Million for Pension Obligation Bonds. If there is no plan or intent to fund that initiative from 2000, why wouldn’t the Council vote to rescind that authorization? Has the Pension Obligation Bond been a good deal for the City? Maybe the B&A would like to comment? Take a look, at everything. Ask some questions? See if your Council representative is up to speed or cares about your questions and concerns. Attend a Bridgeport Finances 101 session. Time will tell.

John Marshall Lee



  1. BEACON2,
    First let me say thank you for the countless hours you have spent looking into the city of Bridgeport, particularly the budget and city finances. I don’t know anyone else who is so dedicated to such a task; including our current council people.

    I was at the presentation you and Andy gave last week at the North End Library. Again, thank you for taking your time to share your knowledge with the public.

    With that said, I think today’s post is more valuable than the presentation. Your presentation was good. The graphics were great. Your quest for accountability and transparency is admirable.

    But I left the presentation asking myself “what do I know now that I did not know before the presentation?” and “What is my next move?”
    Personally, I would have liked to have heard more about the 66 funded ghost positions. I would have liked more evidence on the vehicle the fire department purchased for the police department. I would have liked to have heard more about the deficit that overnight turned into a surplus.

    With that knowledge I could try to engage my council people in a meaningful dialog. Much of your presentation was on personal net assets and the assets and debt of the city. Not much there to talk about with the elected officials. But your post today gave me info that I can use. Thank you!

    1. Barney,
      1.) There are a number of people in the City who claim they cannot follow the money because they are not accountants.
      2.) Neither Andy Fardy nor I are accountants.
      3.) However, we realized the City Council has no accountants either, and the presence of Bob Walsh, who had skills in that area, still allowed fiscally silly votes to occur (and no real oversight).
      4.) Thank you for attending, but when you say “debt of the city … [is] not much there to talk about with the elected officials.” Why not? They are the ones who created the debt while in office. Why does it increase? What are their plans for meeting the obligations? Maybe they have answers to those two questions? If they don’t maybe that is worth talking about on OIB?

      With all that in mind ,Andy and I (and a few other souls) decided to read materials available to all of us. We decided to talk and think about the financial narratives provided, the half-truths put out by City Hall, and the explanations or lack of them from City officials (and lack of questioning by B&A) we witnessed sitting at the Budget hearings last year.
      We were initially told:
      –Your posts are too long.
      –You provide too much information. Make it simple.
      –You have to dumb it down for the public, and other comments along these lines.

      Sorry we didn’t and really can’t please everyone, but when we find info the investigative reporters declare is newsworthy by working in our own way, I think we are on to something.

      Antitestoo is impatient or frustrated and town committee responds appropriately to him. Take what we have presented above today and talk with your Council persons about it. The bottom line is the City had a bunch of financial “windfalls” last year that made it almost impossible for them to not show a surplus. However, we need to look at these items and see whether the administration is being straight with the sense of the library referendum. I sense there are many in the administration who are not happy with the way voters allowed the Library to establish a separate manner of funding. Sue Brannelly is Library Liaison, has attended some Library meetings, and is on the B&A Committee. Perhaps she can explain what the CAFR says about Library funding in 2011?

      The same issue arises with the BOE ECS funding of more than $2 Million. What “velcro” does the City use to keep State Educational Cost Sharing funds in its budget that were not a part of their annual revenue projection? I do not understand this, do you? Can anyone explain this simply?

      In summary, we are able and willing to put everyone through the Bridgeport Finances 101 experience so they can relate their own “non-accounting” cash based approach to personal finance with the more complicated modified accrual based reporting of the City. Once you understand these basics maybe you can begin to read a one-month budget review; a department recommendation in the upcoming 2012-13 budget to see what are the goals, the expenses, the staffing levels of a department and compare it to the 2012, 2011 and previous budgets in the City Clerk office; the CAFR-2011 narratives. Maybe you will go to a Pension Meeting. Maybe you will look at some Committee minutes. Maybe you will awaken one day and say to the world, “My Council people really do not understand what they are doing fiscally!!! Your realization does not bother the administration that is guiding Council votes through fellow Council members who are employed by the City, and through City management staffers who present to the Committees, often with incomplete information, and recommendations to push decisions as last-minute and critical. But hey, we’re all among friends, right???

      The way things are reviewed is so inadequate, we have no real idea of the dollars being wasted through incompetence and inefficiency, much less selfish, corrupt and perhaps illegal activity that is sometimes raised by the CT Post for all to see. Why can’t intelligence, integrity and a solid review process (before and after budget approval) be a hallmark of Bridgeport governance? Do we know how? An independent, talented, and energetic Charter Review group could find the way back, maybe? Time will tell.
      Our thoughts and prayers are with the Grimaldi family today as the patriarch is laid to rest. The life story in the CT Post today was a true work of love and respect. Thank you for celebrating your loved one’s journey, Lennie and family.

  2. Let’s stop beating around the bush with this Dog & Pony show. If you have true discrepancies then bring your report to the State Attorney General’s office in New Haven and demand a full investigation. Demand a Comprehensive Audit of the budget for the past five years. Call in the FBI, IRS and State Department. Bring in the Feds, and stop running around telling people the sky is falling. Do it!

  3. Anti; Cool it, no one is running around yelling the sky is falling. First off we did not state anywhere what is being done is illegal.
    We are saying there could be better methods used concerning the budget and how it’s prepared and how it’s presented. We are saying the B & A is not equipped to monitor the budget and what goes on there.
    Everyone including you yells get the FBI involved, that’s fine if you have something illegal going on. We don’t at this point!!!
    We are trying to educate the public as to what is going on and what they can do about it.
    You call this a dog and pony show. wow, for a person who has done nothing but post bullshit you have a lot of nerve. Get involved, we welcome the help.

    1. Good for you. It is not difficult. Thank you for looking. It takes a little time (just like learning to ride a bike), but once you get the knack, you won’t go back. And though you may arrive at some incomplete understandings, let those in the know take you from where you are to where you need to be. The sharing of info, the discussion of issues, and the dialogues themselves will put the City in a better position in the future, though some elected representatives may disagree. Time will tell.

  4. *** Thank you for trying to bring the city’s budget woes into the taxpayers’ light. The numbers in attendance may be small to start but with continued effort and overall district advertising, etc. the masses will hopefully increase in size and interest. *** Ripple Effect, No? ***

  5. Mojo,
    We are patient because we are committed to financial honesty for the benefit of the common good in the City of Bridgeport. Would that City financial people had the same focus!
    Have you seen the Bridgeport Finances 101 show? If not, call me at 203-259-9642 and I will offer a special opportunity. Your words take in the ‘big picture’ usually and I would like your comments. Time will tell whether we are on the right track.


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