Democratic State Senator Anthony Musto is hearing it from constituents, in emails, phone calls, letters, letters to the editor, from readers of OIB and Connecticut Post. They want him to support a state legislative bill co-sponsored by Bridgeport State House members Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins that would ban city employees from serving on the City Council that also approves the city budget. Bridgeport’s City Charter, in language approved by voters, prohibits city employees from serving on the city’s legislative body. Supporters say the bill’s passage eliminates conflicts of interest such as council members approving their own wages and salaries. So far Musto has stubbornly backed away from support. He has not responded to several requests for comment.
AN ACT PROHIBITING MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES FROM SERVING ON CERTAIN MUNICIPAL LEGISLATIVE BODIES.
To prohibit municipal employees from serving on any governmental body charged with preparing the municipal budget except when authorized by charter or home rule ordinance.
Municipal employees are barred from serving on boards of finance. The bill proposed and supported by Hennessy, Grogins and many others in the legislature simply–as noted in the language above–extends state law to include “any governmental body charged with preparing the municipal budget.”
The bill had some momentum when it was voted out of the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee several weeks ago, but Hennessy says it faces oblivion without additional backing from the city’s eight-member legislative delegation because it’s too easy for some legislators on the fence to oppose it in light of heavy lobbying against the bill by city and state unions. The City Council approves collective bargaining agreements. Many Democrats in the legislature don’t want to buck union members whose support they rely on at election time. A majority of legislative Republicans support the bill including State Senator John McKinney, a potential 2014 gubernatorial candidate. The bill, if passed, would not prohibit Board of Education employees from serving on the council, only those city employees on the city-side payroll.
Several members of the city’s legislative delegation won’t admit it publicly but they fear alienating the five city employees on the City Council the bill would bar from the city’s legislative body. State Senator Andres Ayala and State Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, a city employee, are publicly against the bill. Other members of the city’s legislative delegation such as State Senator Anthony Musto, and members of the State House Christina Ayala, Don Clemons and Charlie Stallworth have largely sidestepped the bill.
City Council members Tom McCarthy, Rich Paoletto, Richard Bonney, James Holloway and Warren Blunt are on the public payroll. Opponents of the bill say let the people decide who should serve. The argument is flaccid. The people of Bridgeport have decided, they don’t want city employees serving on the council. That’s why it’s in the charter.
Musto, in particular, has placed himself at odds with his Bridgeport constituency from Black Rock, Brooklawn and the North End that has lobbied the bill’s passage. Musto represents all of Trumbull and portions of Bridgeport and Monroe. But the Bridgeport portion of his district represents the highest-turnout areas of the city with the 2014 election shaping up as a challenging year for some Democratic incumbents. Musto apparently fears alienating the Democratic Party establishment, in particular City Council President Tom McCarthy who insists city employees serving on the council poses no inherent conflict. If Musto loses some of his base city support over this issue he’ll have a battle in 2014 from a Republican challenger.
Do Democrats, be it Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa or anyone else who wants Musto to remain in the Senate, really want to lose Musto’s seat over this issue? It could happen.
It’s illegal for state employees to serve in the state legislature. It’s illegal for municipal employees to serve on boards of finance. What’s wrong with Musto supporting a provision that extends it to cover any “governmental body charged with preparing the municipal budget?”
Why is Anthony Musto afraid to support the bill?