White Paper: Debating The Need For A Financial Review Board

Former City Councilman Tom White, who also provided staff support for the budget and legislative body, shares in a commentary the city’s failure to provide financial oversight. “The missing ingredient, in my opinion, is members that have the education and work experience to handle this challenging role. Also missing is support staff to assist with this oversight.”

White commentary:

Mike Daly recently shared with Connecticut Post readers some advice attributed to “hard-boiled editors of the day.” They told young reporters “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Mike went on to imply that this advice could have been helpful  in the mayoral election last Fall which saw the return of Joe Ganim. After all, Ganim campaigned with the slogan “Stop Raising Taxes.”

The hundreds of angry taxpayers that filled the city council chambers on July 5th seemed betrayed by Ganim given the scale of the tax increases and how they were distributed to properties across the city. We know that property tax is regressive. The value of your property does not necessarily reflect your ability to pay.

Some learned taxpayers have suggested the problem is a lack of financial oversight of the city budget.

During the tenure of the Financial Review Board created by a special act of the State Legislature, some viewed their oversight of revenues and expenses as draconian, but few doubted the need for such control.

Does the City of Bridgeport need this level of financial oversight again?

The Financial Review Board had a significant role in charter revision of 1993. Knowing that State oversight would eventually end, they saw to it that the city council had the tools to assume this oversight role. Going forward the council was to receive monthly financial reports for review, they could establish their own office to compile and analyze budget information and they could budget for necessary expertise to assist them.

In essence, the Bridgeport City Council was to assume the role of the Financial Review Board and would have the tools to do it.

The question for some time has been whether the city council has the ability to execute this role. The missing ingredient, in my opinion, is members that have the education and work experience to handle this challenging role. Also missing is support staff to assist with this oversight.

We see city council members spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on junkets and other expenses with no benefit to taxpayers. We see council members engaging in social issues with one member, for example, apparently involved in an effort to make Bridgeport a sanctuary city to shelter ‘undocumented residents’ from federal immigration law. Others appear to be taken with their self-perceived celebrity status with appearances at media events. There appears to be more interest in spending city funds on a ‘progressive’ social agenda than executing budget oversight.

What is the solution to address this lack of knowledge and experience with oversight of the city budget?

We have seen John Lee’s efforts to bring important information to the attention of this government body with changing membership every two years. Are they educable? Will time tell?

Perhaps even more harmful than the absence of education and work experience, is the lack of independence of council members and of the city council as a body. As I say, city council members are appointed by the Democratic Town Committee. Enough said.

So, what is the solution? Oversight of the City’s finances by an independent entity? Not easy to make happen without the mayoral administration calling for it.

Perhaps someone can slip a resolution calling for it onto the consent calendar? Do any of the council members read it? All in favor? Aye!



  1. Tom,
    Let me support what you are saying at the outset.

    We need competence and energy among any group charged with balancing taxpayer fairness and affordability with City needs at any moment.

    We need reporting procedures about the state of the books, the employment table of organization, the City balance sheet, various structural longer-term issues as well as other risks lying in the legal area, etc. We do not have that today even for Council members. We do not have structural “checks and balance” units.

    But why was the outcry so late this year? I think it is because the City Council has only been on “listening duty” though turned off to my microphone. And the Mayor’s office has been on broadcast without listening. So the large budget increase sought was unreasonable to start (and still is way off if the Police Department budget would be fully revealed), especially with the folks who could see the $1 Billion loss of Taxable Grand List. But the numbers went up almost 6%. And the City Council did not cut their stipends even symbolically. And they left 80% of their Other Services budget intact for last year and again this year with no firm plan to change. Why? They cannot see the big picture, and ignore the status quo. No questions allowed by them from me at the B&A meeting. No recent questions from them to me. Disconnect. Time will tell.

    1. JML, question for you, have you spoken about this topic to the NAACP and if you have what did they say and more important what are they going to do?

    2. Excellent point about council stipends. How can they ask for sacrifices from taxpayers and rank and file employees if they have no skin in the game?

  2. The Financial Review Board was ineffective. Bring on the Financial Control Board. What’s needed is retroactive oversight. However, Ganim and Malloy are roadblocks to its use.

  3. The missing ingredient is common sense, sometimes called “right or wrong.” You don’t need special people or a roomful of assistants. You don’t have to be special to vote, right?
    But you really know things are deteriorating when RM asks JML a question about the NAACP.

    1. LE, stay in your lane because you don’t know what you are talking about. JML is a very active member of the NAACP and in trying to get more people to understand the need for change it’s important to get as many people as you can on your team but LE if you don’t want that it’s okay with me.

    2. LE,
      Self-styled, self-admitted, or self-absorbed; it is possible you do not know in Spring 2015, I was invited to join the NAACP of Greater Bridgeport chapter and serve as Communications Chairperson for said committee. It has been an interesting volunteer responsibility for me. Lots to learn. Lots to share. Press releases, information requests and Volume 1, Issue 1 of a four-page Newsletter in color that came out 10 days ago.
      Whatever is deteriorating may be the lens you use when writing. Open up your LOCAL EYES and see the larger picture. Financial issues are fully involved in housing, education, public safety and economic development concerns I have been viewing for years. Looking at justice issues as the NAACP pledges finds more than enough topics and work for many volunteers of all backgrounds. Time will tell.

      1. Selfies are part of the spirit of our times.
        I was aware you are a NAACP member. My lens is cleaned habitually and my vision is updated using the best sources available. You don’t get a handle like mine without putting possibilities ahead of predictions.

  4. Tom,
    I don’t think it’s accurate to say the charter revision commission intended or expected the City Council to take over the role of the Financial Review Board. That would have been inappropriate for a number reasons.

    What it did try to do is to institutionalize the reforms recommended by Dr. Ukeles and the Management Advisory Committee, as well as the lessons learned during the review board period. Central to that was improving both the quantity and quality of information available to the administration, the Council and the public.

    I absolutely agree the council, and frankly the administration, have failed to make the best possible use of both the information and the powers provided in the Charter.

    1. Phil, thanks for that summary. I think it would be wise for those who what change to get the MAC Report that was done to assist instead of reinventing the wheel. That report was a roadmap for change.

      1. I totally agree. I also think they should staff OPM to a level that allows it to meet all of its responsibilities, including providing information to the Council. Yes it will cost money. But in the words of the late Steve Sasala, you can’t put out fires without firemen. Same thing is true here.

  5. Phil,
    I agree, the charter revision of 1993 did not declare the city council would take over the role of the FRB. The role of the FRB was established by the special legislation. Charter revision of 1988 established the city council responsibility for budget oversight. The FRB recognized the city council did not have the tools for this role, such as seeing monthly financial reports. I was pushing for a larger stipend amount so we could spend it on needed expertise. The charter revision commission was wiser (perhaps with your urging) and included language allowing the city council to create an office to support them.
    It was the work of the Management Advisory Committee that inspired me to get involved in City matters. I still have Jacob Ukeles’ book ‘Doing More With Less….’ It is somewhat dated but still relevant.
    There were lessons learned back then that have been forgotten or ignored by mayors and city councils.

    1. How is that possible?
      $2 mil for the Steel Point property. $4 mil for the golf course. Ganim squeezed $1 mil out of the unions. $13.4 mil from the tax increase. A little addition: $20.4 mil. Looks like the BOE can get a $400K budget increase or BPT can make a pension payment and the city is okay. That is if you believe the $20 mil deficit claim.

  6. I agree with Tom, the current City Council needs more support from qualified financial experts who are independent of the Administration. However we also need more qualified people to serve on the City Council and to eliminate all City employees and City contractors on the Council. Ultimately, we need a Board of Finance with qualification requirements and minority representation provisions. In the interim, we need an independent Financial Control Board comprised of qualified professionals who can help to accelerate the tough choices that either cannot or will not be made in the normal course by professional full- or part-time politicians. The PROMESA Financial Control Board model is a good place to start.

  7. There were plenty of solid changes made to the Charter and Ordinances as a result of that financial crisis. But after that passed, Tom Sherwood simply started redefining terms and definitions and a very weak City Council led by a very weak City Council President allow Mr. Sherwood to do as he pleased.
    Thus budget transfers became a joke because by the new definitions, none were needed. And there is no enforcement mechanism in the city to deal with employees who do not comply with the charter.

      1. Revamp the Council with dedicated, intelligent, understanding members and you change the actions of any Mayor. This City has a strong-council structure and if left to do what the citizens want and not a Mayor, you will change Bridgeport. We were on the cusp of that before the Council was polluted and it’s been downhill since. Watch the voting record of every sitting council member, and take appropriation action next year.

        1. Correct me if I am wrong, with line item veto power on council changes for the mayor on the budget he proposes, perhaps real charter revision is also necessary.

        2. Lisa,
          I agree. I also think the effort has to begin now, not a year from now. It’s also important to put pressure on sitting council members to put people ahead of politics, both now and when they consider next year’s budget.

          1. Lisa and Phil, I agree with you about the council and the timing but the main thing that scares anybody in office is to have someone challenge them in a primary. If they don’t follow the mayor and Mario’s direction they will be told someone else will challenge them in a primary. NOBODY wants a primary because that means work and NOBODY wants to go door to door getting signatures for a petition to keep their council seat.

          2. Ron,
            There are a couple things I think can change the equation. The first is hearing directly from constituents who are angry about taxes or other issues. Most council members haven’t had much experience dealing with that kind of criticism and are often uncertain about how to respond to it.

            The second is the possibility that blindly following the mayor or party leaders could itself lead to a primary challenge. Then they have someone other than party leaders to worry about.


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