White: Council Members Active In Budget Process, Or Going For Ride?

Former City Councilman Tom White, who also served as liaison to the legislative body, challenges City Council members to be watchdogs in the upcoming budget process. From White:

It’s that time of year again. Lennie has provided the City Charter passage detailing the process for submittal of the proposed budget by the mayor to the City Council. Many OIB posters have expressed concern about the ability of City Council members to be involved in this process.

I was a member of the first full council that had budget responsibility as a result of charter revision in 1988. The council’s budget committee was led by a practicing attorney with an accounting degree and a bank officer with an MBA. We brought experience and academic credentials to the table. My, how things have changed. Another of those changes is the cost associated with the city council that is charged to taxpayers. When I was on the city council, the only direct cost budgeted was a stipend of $500 per member, a total budget of $10,000. Based on the current budget of the ‘Legislative Department’ and (Council President) Tom McCarthy’s legislative liaison in the City Clerk’s office, that cost has risen to over $345,000.

In 1992 the City Council, sensitive to the measures being taken to reduce costs, including layoffs, made a statement. We cut our stipend by 50%. The entire direct cost of the City Council became $5,000.

What has the City Council been doing with taxpayers’ money? Can we look forward to seeing reports filed detailing costs and justification for their recent junket to Washington DC? See here.

Will this council make a statement to assure city employees and taxpayers they are participating in the effort to reduce costs or will they continue to be spectators going along for the ride? How much will they reduce their stipend and ‘legislative department’ budget to help mitigate layoffs and a tax increase? As JML says, time will tell.

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15 comments

  1. Jeanette Herron, CC member, has let Facebook tell a story of a good meal with many other members present. If this is the only evidence available to City taxpayers that CC members know how to have fun and feast, that would be one thing most taxpayers would be unconcerned with. However, to the extent it was in a City where travel, hotel, meal and extras might APPROXIMATE $1,500, what did the City government and the taxpayer get for their absence from the City? Who has filed or will file a report on the City website about better practices that are applicable to our City? Are these junkets strictly for their pleasure? Are they serious, asking the public to sit still for this while they never exhibit any of their newly found wisdom in front of the public? In other cities only a handful are allowed to attend with money as precious as it is. How many attended this recent party? Was it at the Buca de Beppo location on Connecticut Av NW in Washington DC or similar? The family style menu and eclectic interior furnishings make this guess likely. Can’t wait to see the reports personally. How about you? Time will tell.

  2. *** The present city budget committee has no clue, they will take whatever the admin. gives them, story, financial paper work that does not give the needed info. nor does the committee know what to look for as well! It’s nothing more than going through the political motions of looking and asking meaningless questions at long meetings where the public can only watch and not submit questions in writing for about 15 mins. of the budget meetings. The property assessments in Bpt. were lower than usual, therefore the mil rate will be raised to meet the financial needs at least 3 to 4 points and that’s not going to cover the $20 million in the red the city claims to have! Cuts, layoffs, no raises, etc. coming for city workers with more bad news to come. But it’s not going to make the city try to raise its bonding limits, no doubt! A new experienced Mayor with some new and old rubber stampers who know nothing else, led by a city council president who has a bone to pick! I’d say it’s going to make for quite an interesting city budget season, no? *** WHOOP ***

  3. Tom, why doesn’t someone request the Finance Director go back and produce the system that was in place when we were on the Council? We were obligated to submit receipts for any amount of stipend money used, as well as the reason it was used. If it was not determined to be constituent related, the refund was denied. At that time we paid ourselves for expenses incurred and were refunded if the use was appropriate.

    1. Lisa,
      I am happy to know Ron Mackey and you are in support of that arrangement. Perhaps you will sign up for the CC meeting on April 4 to provide comment to them. I believe you will discover, if you research the question, the Ordinance on Stipends has not been effectively reviewed by a City Council committee and then voted upon to revise. Anything left standing at the end of a session, unapproved and not reviewed, essentially dies.

      The Ordinance spoke to reimbursement of expenses, not a draw down on a debit card that has no substantive evidence of the relation of the expense to Council business. Perhaps people with experience looking at this and speaking up can move things off the dime. Time will tell.

  4. It’s great that John and Andy have their eyes on the City Council stipends and most definitely there should be an accounting system in place for all of the taxpayers’ money.
    But while John and Andy are nailing the City Council members at Stop & Shop and Taco Bell, when was the last time the city took a hard look at O&G Industries, which controls billions of Federal, State and local tax dollars for the BBOE school projects?
    So who are the co-chairs of the Budget and Appropriations Committee and when will they act to protect the taxpayers from being ripped off?
    Let’s see a little open, accountable and transparent government here, B&A Co-Chairs!
    It’s time to call for a full comprehensive audit of both the BBOE and O&G Industries by the Feds, State and City governments.
    Time will tell. *** WHOOP ***

  5. “The present city budget committee has no clue, they will take whatever the admin. gives them, story, financial paperwork that does not give the needed info. nor does the committee know what to look for as well.” We know what Tom did, Mojo, but what did your CC do when faced with the Anne situation? Were you better or the same?

    1. *** On my last year on the B&A committee, Bob Curwen and myself decided to try something different in hopes of continued change towards a better system. We submitted for approval from the other B&A members as well as the rest of the city council members a resolution for a vote to bring in an independent financial firm who was referred to us by the law firm Pullman & Comley if I remember correctly. They would oversee and review the entire budget review process, the department head meetings, the meetings with Tom Sherwood and the Mayor and of course all the same budget paperwork, etc. the B&A committee and city council members interested could also review! They made recommendations during the budget process, talked to council members on the B&A and after the entire budget process, gave their overall report at a city council meeting after the budget was reviewed and given back to the Mayor in which it was passed a short time later. The city council B&A committee later that summer, received a full report from the financial firm and its overall review of our budget process, good and bad points, recommendations, etc. All with the hope that maybe, just maybe, that budget review would hopefully lead towards a more continued interest towards a more independent professional process when it came to the city’s budget! That was my last city budget and last year on the city council. ***

  6. Folks, especially Bridgeport taxpayers, let’s face the fact there are no fiscal Supermen or Wonder Women on the team of ex-Council expertise. But many of you know people including the current Council.
    We are in FINCH RED on the operating budget, at the same time Ganim is looking at adding authorization for $40 Million more to the bonding program yet he has made no comment, nor has his communications director to the color of the balance sheet as revealed by the CAFR on February 15. By a ruling affecting all municipalities, our City has to list the net pension obligations (assets and liabilities) on our City balance sheet. A swing of $380 Million is represented in the CAFR 2015 and shows City liabilities exceed City assets by over $50 Million at June 30, 2015. I think it is safe to assume City land and building values at that moment were shown at 2008 values and not at the reduced values (15%, 19% or 20%, you pick) subsequent to the 2015 revaluation. So the depth of the Net Worth hole is likely greater than shown in the CAFR.
    Does that news make you see RED, do you feel BLUE about it, do you see any way to summon GREEN and sustainable to the Finance area? Time will tell.

  7. Lisa, the ordinance for city council stipends has changed little since we were on the council. The ordinance still specifies a reimbursement system. There are documented guidelines. McCarthy introduced a debit card system without amending the ordinance. The ordinance is ignored.
    What has changed is the amount of the stipend. We received $500 per year (reduced to $250) although few people collected it. Beginning in 1998 (I believe) council members have approved and voted to give themselves $9,000 per year. Only one other municipality provides a stipend to their legislative body members. New Haven provides a stipend of $2,300 per year per alderman and it cannot be used for travel such as the junkets the Bridgeport council members do.

    1. Tom, in our day the Finance Director or his representative had oversight, and any expense deemed inappropriate was denied. Don’t they have to submit receipts when using their debit cards? Who is responsible for this oversight?

  8. First and foremost the B & A Committee must hire outside consultants who are not affiliated with the city’s CPA firm.
    Their job is to reasonably assess the $20M budget shortfall as well as to advise on the proposed budget.
    So if they agree there is a $20M problem they will be looking at a $40M increase in taxes. If not they will need to detail why.
    Without this type of assistance the council will be lost and just going along with whatever JG2 says.

  9. Bob, you were recently on the CC and were replaced by your predecessors. Trish served on B&A and you served on other committees raising issues of importance.

    If you, or others, think O&G or other issues are more important, do the obvious. Dig into the subject, read the agreements, assemble the financial data, read the minutes of the School Building Committee meetings for more than 15 years, review the Capital Budgets for the past 15 years, compare and contrast what school projects were meant to cost and what happened later.

    Of course that might look like work, but it is necessary. Do you know what it was to uncover the STIPEND flaws and the several issues that were revealed? Several years of reading what became available, contrasting and comparing, and finally embarrassing the City so they provided accurate FINAL JUNE 30 reports in 2013 and 2014.

    Don’t have the time? Then don’t be stumped by the trump!!! It is one of several major issues where a governance SHERIFF might have determined the actors were in the wrong and we should return to Charter or Ordinance language. Would that SHERIFF have a field day with reviewing in detail the activities of the Council President (by the other hats he wears) and wondering why stipends, Stratford driveways, false statements made regarding budgeted position eliminations and charitable contributions in an election year using taxpayer funds are part of his City “service” and leadership resume? Time will tell.

  10. Just my opinion, but $9000 seems excessive to me. That should be substantially reduced. Are there any restrictions on what they can spend it on? Don’t the taxpayers have any input on this?

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