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When The Dog Barks, Does The City Council Listen?

November 18th, 2014 · 6 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council

barking dog

One thing about fiscal hound John Marshall Lee, he’s as dogged as they come trying to reach the 20-member City Council that approves the city budget and ordinances, among other matters. In his latest address to the councilors Monday night, Lee reminds them they are halfway through this term with an election on the horizon in 2015.

Today is November 17, 2014 and tonight is the halfway mark of a two-year representation marathon. Let’s look at where you are, from where I sit:

• I see no sign of action within the Council to secure regular professional expertise and assistance to help you in your legislative duties. You do not lack resources. Page 11 of your Monthly Financial Analysis September, 2014 shows that you budgeted $93,500 for Other Services and have spent only $500 through three months. This is an account from which you have spent at most $5,000 in recent years. However in June 2013 15 Council members allocated almost $30,000 of taxpayer money without holding a meeting, keeping minutes or expecting any record to show the public what was done. It was done in the face of knowledge that your own Stipend accounts could not be used for Charitable or Political purposes. Fifteen members still had the audacity to misappropriate public money. You have listened to me speak of this at least four times this year. Has anyone bothered to discuss a Council response?

• The City Clerk provides assistance to you by keeping track of “Items Pending before City Council Committees Pursuant to City Council Rules Ch.XIII (11). The most recent notice was presented to you by City Clerk Fleeta Hudson on November 3, 2014. There are about 10 items pending in the seven committees but they will carry over into the next year. What concerns me is the subject of last year’s report from the City Clerk offered to the Council on October 7, 2013. There were 18 items listed there. They died there if they were not re-introduced in your session. Most of them were not. One of these items is #22-11 introduced on 12/5/2011 Off the Floor regarding a proposed Resolution to Review for Council Member Expense Reimbursement (Stipends). Former Council member Robert Curwen introduced the subject. It was tabled by B&A on 12/28/11, tabled again on 2/28 12, but approved by Committee on 5/22/12. The Council tabled the resolution and returned it to B&A on 6/4/12 and the Committee tabled it again on 9/25/2012. With the close of last year’s Council the matter died. What does that mean practically?

John Marshall Lee

Maybe someday General Lee will bring his shovel to help dig out council members.

• I believe if you read the current Stipend Ordinance approved many years ago, you will find that it calls for a reimbursement of funds not to exceed $9,000 to Council representatives for expenses incurred and accounted for in performance of their duties. I suspect you already understand that a different administrative format has replaced the reimbursement with a debit card “quarterly advance” system. The new system has not made public oversight any easier. Nor have the records revealed to date made many taxpayers trust that the Ordinance intent is being followed. Open, accountable and transparent records should be the order of the day unless the Council wants to explain why the system should be private. What person in the City has the responsibility for oversight to assure that rules, such as they may be, are met?

• A halfway point in a journey is a good time to discern whether time is not too late to act on matters, indeed to invite members of the public to your Committee meetings to listen to your discussions, and even, perhaps, be invited to briefly address them. Within sixty days the external audit of City and Education budgets including Grants should be public. The June 2014 FINAL monthly financial report will also become available for only the second time in more than 20 year. Will you hold a meeting to discuss any findings in that document? Keep in mind that I have raised a question from 2013 Revenues on where the Comptroller discovered over $500,000 of Miscellaneous Cash as well as how the Council appropriated $30,000 of taxpayer funds from the Other Services account for checks to local charities in a primary and election year.

And then the CAFR itself will be in print. Will you hold a review with the public of this report? Will the public begin to learn as you also must about the debt, pension plan and other post employment benefits obligations of the City? What might the reports show this year? What is the trend? Time will tell.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew C Fardy

    John, the city council is a cesspool of selfish people who could care less about Bridgeport or its people. You may ask what are they interested in? Well that’s easy, they are interested in their own financial futures. They are interested in which relatives they can get on the city payroll. They are interested in what city contract they can secure for a relative or a close friend. They have had fraud committed via their stipend account and NOT ONE MEMBER has stood up and said this is wrong. Of the 15 council people who made illegal charitable donations with our tax dollars NONE OF THE FIVE COUNCIL MEMBERS NOT INVOLVED SAID ANYTHING.
    TIME AFTER TIME YOU AND OTHERS HAVE SPOKEN BEFORE THE COUNCIL AT THEIR PUBLIC-SPEAKING 1/2 HR AND MOST OF THESE IGNORANT BASTARDS DID NOT EVEN SIT AND LISTEN.
    John, it’s a shame this city is represented by people who only care for themselves. I am hoping this next election will defeat many of them. Down the road I will publish my hit list of do-nothing council people.

  • Jimfox

    I’ll be waiting with bated breath!

  • John Marshall Lee

    So few people respond to my comments to the Council, I wonder what is on your mind. So let me offer three questions on which to focus. Let me know your pleasure in terms of what the new minority of the Council might propose and support. Now they do not have a majority of the Council, but if the proposals seemed sensible there might be a positive response from some who normally will be counted as “sheep.”

    Could it hurt? Here are three questions, for your review. Do you like them, or wish to modify or replace? I can use your thinking as voters and taxpayers.

    OPEN … Resolved, the Council will open all meetings to public comments and questions for a one- or two-minute period before taking a vote that may place matters on the consent calendar. Additionally they will provide copies of all materials they have received from all parties on which their decision will be based in advance of said meeting.

    ACCOUNTABLE … Resolved, the Council will request the Finance Director to reform the monthly report of appropriations, revenues and variances called for by the Charter into a reduced size (75% reduction), highlighting the 5 or 6 general categories used in the Annual Budget Document as line items and essentially summarizing the Educational Budget information into six or fewer line items. The purpose of such “reform” is to provide the Council and the public with a useful Executive Summary of the Operating Budget of the City in a timely manner.

    TRANSPARENT … Resolved, any matters brought to the City Council for a vote having any financial impact will provide an example, projection, illustration or picture of what occurs currently (and presumably will continue in a similar direction) and what is likely to or intended to occur in a different manner into the future. The purpose is to provide a better picture of what a vote means today and to provide a record that can be monitored into the future, neither of which is possible today on many fronts.

    If you have a favorite issue on one or more fronts, put your RESOLUTION up. I will be happy to advance this as a “back bencher” or observer without power. However, in this election year with so many wounds unhealed, there may be a growing faction to make the City Council more positive for voters and taxpayers. Time will tell.

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