Will City Council Genuflect To Transparent Government?

In his first address to the City Council after he came up short as a candidate in a Democratic primary, citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee wonders if members of the budget and legislative body will take an OATH for open, accountable, transparent and honest government. From Lee:

One or more of you may have attended the Diocese of Bridgeport Synod services last Saturday at Webster Arena to hear about the journey of renewal of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Bridgeport. Bishop Frank Caggiano spoke eloquently to the 8,000 people gathered there about the journey they were on. A scripture reading for the service, from St. Paul to the Philippians related: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.” It was a reminder to me of my journey with Tyisha Toms to become members of this body, our City Council, providing non-conflicted service to the public as part of Open, Accountable, Transparent and Honest governance. Last week’s results were the culmination of months of speculation and door knocking and fewer than 400 votes separated Democrats Citywide. In the 130th we received 46% of the vote. Somebody is paying attention to our questions.

A Sunday reading at my community of faith also caught my attention from Letter of St. James: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” Nearly 2,000 years after these lines of scripture were first set down, the affairs of men and women unfortunately continue to feature selfishness, disorder and “every foul practice.” Is it just human nature, or is it continuing failure of our institutions to put into practice and maintain Open, Accountable, Transparent and Honest process?

A voter gets one chance in our system to vote every two or four years. But how have they become informed? When a registered voter fails to vote we criticize them, but what is done to encourage them to come out to learn what you do and how important this work is to providing adequate services, public safety, reasonable spending and fair taxation in this City? Do you invite people to come to your Committee meetings and speak up? Can they receive all documents and records as you do electronically? How are they solicited per the Charter as annual participants in the Capital Budget process? Can you show them that you are more careful with their taxpayer funds than with your personal financial interests? Why are there so many questions that go unanswered? Is that someone else’s duty, not yours?

When you face the voters in your district this year, assuming you are running, how will you answer their questions? Our operating budget may be around $525 Million but by Fiscal year end close to $700 Million including all grants and capital funding will be spent. Can you show them where your careful and informed participation made a difference? And if you are leaving the Council, as five members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee indicate, what legacy have you left to be followed? On primary day, a former CT mayor standing at our polls for a few hours to support a friend asked about the “conflicted City employees as Council people” situation; about what the elimination of an Internal Auditor seven years ago as part of City internal controls process meant and the subsequent failure by the City to follow a Council ordinance on annual purchasing reports and triennial audits. He was startled to understand that not only does this Council have no research support or service assistance but that the City has no Finance Board or body outside your B&A Committee to monitor fiscal matters. His instant response to me, Where are your checks and balances? Exactly. And profound.

Will voters be concerned this year in similar fashion? Time will tell.

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  1. It is Wednesday September 23 as I post this “news item.” The original posting that occurred only yesterday, September 22 garnered no response. Was the content of no interest? Time will tell.

    However, what I failed to report about the Monday evening meeting where Mayor Finch presided with “flawless” or nearly so commentary, as facile as a tobacco auctioneer with the Robert’s Rules instructions and commands, was there were no certificates, awards, or other presentations as part of the formal Council meeting for the first time in a long time. No time for a photo op? How curious.

    And yet, one Council member spoke very briefly in a moment of “personal privilege” about a person, one of their own, who was absent and should be honored. Councilwoman Melanie Jackson returns to Bridgeport next week from an International tour to the Pacific and the sub-continent of India. She was one of only four US citizens chosen to represent the US at the New Leaders Generation Seminar, a program begun by Congress in 1960 and celebrating its 55th anniversary. Four young leaders competitively chosen from the US, and one from Bridgeport, no less, and the City leaders did not know? Or chose not to celebrate? Or what? Will they come to their senses and let the entire community know how a bright and talented young woman from Bridgeport, serving the public with vigor and integrity, stands as an example of what the youth of the City can aspire to? Time will tell.

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