Former City Councilman Tom White provides insight into conflicts that arise with city employees serving on the budget and legislative body. He had served as council staff support but, as he writes, “I stuck my neck out and did what I thought was right by expressing concerns which may be labeled as misappropriation of funds.” White asserts he paid a price for that and his taken his case to federal court, represented by former Mayor Tom Bucci, an employment discrimination and labor specialist. White’s commentary:
From time to time, Lennie and OIB posters mention that the Bridgeport city council once had staff support to conduct independent research and provide non-legal advice. That person was me. My tenure ended when Council President McCarthy orchestrated my termination by eliminating funding for my position in the FY2013 budget.
In response, I filed a lawsuit calling for my reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages, attorney’s fees, etc. I have two cases in the Unites States Circuit Court regarding violation of my first Amendment Rights and denial of due process.
My suit states how I expressed concern to McCarthy and others that their actions on certain matters were questionable. I expressed concern regarding how their stipend expenses were being processed, possibly avoiding charges to their stipend fund by charging City department line items, and avoiding payment of income tax. I was their moral conscience and McCarthy along with a few others including Sue Brannelly resented it.
My suit states that my termination was illegal, that McCarthy arranged a layoff by eliminating funding for my position. Actually, he moved the funding for my position to the City Clerk’s office. My ‘layoff’ was a ruse for my illegal termination
Under oath in a deposition, McCarthy stated that my layoff was for economic reasons. My attorney, former mayor Thomas Bucci quickly established McCarthy’s lack of credibility by pointing out that I was the only person laid off and the funds moved to another department to hire a replacement for me.
In another deposition, the person hired with the funds from the elimination of my position said he was hired by McCarthy to perform certain duties at McCarthy’s direction. Those tasks just happen to be tasks I had performed.
These points are minor compared to others and to case law that will be cited when my case comes to trial.
I stuck my neck out and did what I thought was right by expressing concerns which may be labeled as misappropriation of funds (those contributions McCarthy arranged from the ‘other services’ line item in the Legislative Services budget), or tax evasion resulting from items such as the city council’s city-issued cell phones not being charged to their stipends.
The purpose of my lawsuits is to make me whole. I must be selfish. McCarthy intentionally caused me financial harm. Unfortunately, it will not be McCarthy who makes reparation; it will be the taxpayers of Bridgeport.
Will my lawsuits play a role in reforming the city council? I hope so. When McCarthy’s actions are included in the detail of my trial, it will provide further evidence of the need to prohibit city employees from serving on the city council, the need to retool the city’s ethics ordinance and procedures, the need for better oversight of the use of city council stipends and hopefully continue efforts to elect more competent people to the city council.
When I was hired, Bridgeport City government was still reeling from the fallout of the Ganim misdeeds. Council leadership at that time wished to establish a non-partisan Office of Legislative Services as the City Charter prescribed.
Although the relationship between the city council and the Fabrizi administration was at times chilly, I was able to play the role of the non-partisan staff person assigned to gather information and package it for council leadership and individual council members.
There were subtle changes as the Finch administration took charge. McCarthy became council president and initially I was confident that the outward objectiveness of the city council would continue.
The changes began as McCarthy began interacting more with Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff. The meetings of city council leadership which I arranged soon stopped.
The first incident that reflected McCarthy’s shift to alignment with the Finch administration was when he and Finch (through Adam Wood) exposed and publicly castigated Bob Walsh for a comment he made to a fellow council member regarding a vote.
McCarthy’s alignment with the Finch administration became more apparent with the use of caucuses during city council meetings to review details on voting options just prior to voting on the council floor.
When I reminded McCarthy and others of an official opinion of the city attorney’s office issued in the prior administration regarding the definition and use of caucuses, and I contacted the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission which agreed that these sessions could be deemed illegal executive sessions, my role as an objective adviser was no longer valued.
The cast was set. Adam Wood communicated to McCarthy the necessary actions by the city council. With as many as seven city employees on the city council and the reward system with council stipends, any semblance of checks and balances was gone. Council committees have been stocked with easily malleable council members with McCarthy typically attending meetings to make a quorum and guide the vote.
McCarthy became the Finch administration facilitator. Were support of council members traded for continued employment or shifts to higher paying city jobs or support of CDBG funding of pet projects?
Did McCarthy ever recommend the city council oppose a Finch administration measure? Certainly not publicly. The budget process has become a farcical exercise. Hours of meetings with meals provided at taxpayer expense are meaningless sessions designed to make mostly clueless people feel empowered while frustrating the marginalized few who would be willing to make decisions not prescribed by McCarthy and the Finch administration.
Did I ever suggest to council members that there entire departments that could be eliminated with cost savings to taxpayers? Yes. Was there interest? Not after they realized the staff were all political appointees whose role is to promote the administration.
The focus of concerns with conflict of interest associated with city employees serving on the city council is clearly on McCarthy. With the number of city employees on the council reduced by primary elections and resignations under legal clouds, how will McCarthy continue to deliver for the Finch administration? Will he be promoted to labor relations director if he delivers the budget the Finch administration prescribes? Will he be able to control the clueless, malleable and city employees? Let the games begin.