UPDATE, related story here. Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez is providing guidance to the City Council’s Ordinance Committee that wants to reform collection practices of the Water Pollution Control Authority following constituent complaints. In this OIB commentary she writes “It is true that state law considers a sewer bill that goes unpaid for thirty days delinquent. Furthermore, the law allows recording a lien on the property to secure payment of the bill. But the law does not require that a foreclosure be commenced, nor does it require the incurring of prohibitive legal fees and court costs.” Her commentary follows that includes a remedy, “stop farming out collection and foreclosure cases.”
A funny thing happened to me on Friday, January 26, 2018.
Perhaps funny is not the right word, perhaps unusual and out of the ordinary better describes the event.
And, perhaps, it did not just happen to me, but to all of the residents of our City.
For the first time in recent memory, a committee of the Bridgeport City Council decided to stand up to the City Attorney’s Office and stop asking for permission.
By now, thanks to OIB and Brian Lockhart, a CT POST reporter, most of us have been made aware of some kind of ‘sewage’ issue bubbling up in our City. It appears that residents have begun to grumble louder than usual around the collection practices of the city agency known as the WPCA.
For many years, as documented in its minutes, the Ordinance Committee of the City Council has been attempting to obtain information from the City Attorney’s Office to clarify the methods and process used by WPCA to collect payments.
Through the years, meetings were scheduled and re-scheduled due to the City Attorney’s failure to produce the necessary witnesses to provide needed information.
On January 23, 2018, the Ordinance Committee members had had enough, and said “Ya Basta!”
If the Executive Branch would not cooperate with their efforts to fulfill their legislative duties, they would have to take serious steps to get the information they needed to respond to their constituents.
They would use the subpoena power given to the City Council in the Charter.
They were exhausted, insulted and frustrated by the obstacles and barriers put in their way, by none other than their own attorneys.
But not even veterans of the “City Attorney Dance of Obfuscation” were prepared to hear that the City Council could not invoke the Charter language granting it subpoena powers. When committee members read the Charter’s language to Attorney Anastasi, the City Attorney shifted gears.
After the Committee scheduled a Special Meeting for January 29, 2018 to hear from the necessary witnesses, it was threatened, by its own lawyer, with the specter of a lawsuit, should a subpoena be issued.
This was the proverbial straw that broke and shattered the City Council’s confidence in the advice and counsel given to it by the City Attorney’s Office.
And that is when the funny thing happened to me; I received a request, in writing, from the committee leadership asking me to provide guidance to it as it prepared for this meeting.
A review of the minutes of the Ordinance Committee going back to June 2015, confirm the fact that the Ordinance Committee has been repeatedly asking the City Attorney’s Office for assistance in creating a mediation program to move many homeowners and business owners away from the WPCA foreclosure pipeline.
As I read the minutes of the June 25, 2015 meeting, I was struck with a statement made by City Attorney Anastasi. According to the minutes, he warned that “the Council has to be careful not to intrude on various departments such as the Police, the WPCA, the Tax Collector and other parties involved.”
Did an employee of the Executive Branch really tell a Committee of the Legislative Branch, that they have to be careful to “not intrude?”
What happened to the oversight and budgetary powers granted to the Legislative Branch by the Charter?
Clearly, those powers are considered a minor inconvenience that can be spun in whatever way the master weavers in the City Attorney’s Office desire.
And weave they did!
While reading minutes of Ordinance Committee meetings may not be preferred reading for many, I would recommend that folks set aside some time to read the minutes to get the flavor of the disrespect shown by the City Attorney’s Office to the City Council.
We all know how much Attorney Mark Anastasi and now Chief City Attorney Christopher Meyer enjoy reminding all of us that they represent every agency, board and commission in the City. They are in charge, they select outside counsel, and they rule the roost of municipal government.
Well, we know who to blame for this WPCA mess, Mayor Ganim and his Chief City Attorney Chris Meyer and his go-to guy, Attorney Mark Anastasi.
As most of the Boards and Commissions in our City, the WPCA board is currently operating with vacancies and expired terms. In fact, according to the City web-site, one member on the commission has been serving since 2005.
Clearly, this is one of the preferred methods of operation of Mayor Ganim, the appointing authority. This provides him with the flexibility that many experienced politicians crave. Do what I say, and if not, I will appoint your successor, immediately.
This fiasco can be remedied by making some changes, starting in the City Attorney’s Office.
The first is to stop farming out collection and foreclosure cases.
With an office the size of the Bridgeport Legal Department, there is no need to refer these types of cases to outside counsel.
It is true that state law considers a sewer bill that goes unpaid for thirty days delinquent. Furthermore, the law allows recording a lien on the property to secure payment of the bill. But the law does not require that a foreclosure be commenced, nor does it require the incurring of prohibitive legal fees and court costs.
This is a choice that Mayor Ganim and his Chief City Attorney have made.
We, the people, need to demand that serious changes be made in the City Attorney’s Office.
We fail to do this at our own peril.