In a rare move Monday night, the City Council rejected a resolution–customarily referred to committee–proposing the Education and Social Services Committee create a task force to recommend specific strategies to “acquire the charter and assets of the University of Bridgeport.”
What gives? The two councilors who authored the resolution, Jorge Cruz and Alfredo Castillo, sit on the board of Bridgeport Labs, the organization that would benefit from such a move, bringing into question their motives for government insertion into the private sector.
On Monday, at the request of City Council President Aidee Nieves, the City Attorney’s Office issued a decision urging the resolution’s withdrawal citing several factors including “potential conflicts of interest or ethical violations.”
Sometimes council members can swallow the nuances of conflicts. This one was just too obvious to ignore in a city corralled by way too many federal investigations.
Behind the scenes, a majority of council members said this resolution is nuts.
Councilman Matthew McCarthy summed it up quite nicely during public discussion: “The city of Bridgeport has no business running a university.”
South End council member Denese Taylor-Moye was the most vocal Monday night wondering what in the world her council partner Cruz was thinking attaching his name to this resolution.
Castillo was all over the place trying to rationalize the resolution, pulling so far back from the language he signed onto, you’d think he was on the far side of the earth.
It left Cruz to defend the turf with no basis in fact other than his peers wondering why he placed himself in a position of conflict.
The obvious? Castillo and Cruz, way in over their heads, didn’t write the resolution. Begs the question, who did?
From Bridgeport Labs website:
One of the purposes of Bridgeport Labs is, through its board membership and community support, seeks to acquire a private educational charter for conversion as a public university certified to be certified as a US DOI Minority Service Institution (MSI) thus joining the MSI ranks of prestigious minority universities.
Bridgeport Labs Board of Directors includes a whole bunch of city pols including East End District Leader Ralph Ford, City Clerk Lydia Martinez, Cruz and Castillo, with the behind-the-scenes backing of State Senator Dennis Bradley who’s on the radar of the federal government for a variety of things such as campaign finance violations.
Cruz and Castillo also fronted the principals of Bridgeport Labs’ efforts to install a cricket league in Seaside Park rejected by the Parks Board.
0 for 2.
City Attorney recommendation:
Dear Council Members:
At the request of City Council President Aidee Nieves the Office of the City Attorney has reviewed Resolution No. 53-20 which appears on the April 19, 2021 City Council agenda for referral to the Committee on Education and Social Services.
This matter has been assigned to me by City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer; and upon review I respectfully recommend that this matter be withdrawn (pursuant to City Council Rule of Order XXXI Withdrawal of Matters) from the City Council or denied for the following reasons:
• Resolution No. 53-20 proposes “the creation of a task force to review and recommend specific strategies to acquire the charter and assets of the University of Bridgeport” which we do not find to be a subject matter or purpose within the legal authority of the City of Bridgeport;
• Connecticut municipalities have limited statutory authority to utilize powers of eminent domain to acquire property for legitimate public purposes, which do not appear to include operation of colleges or universities;
• The City Council must refrain from engaging in activities or discussions that (however well intentioned) may inadvertently give rise to third-party legal claims (e.g. inverse condemnation, tortious interference with contract rights or pending negotiations, etc.).
In the event the co-sponsors of this resolution determine to withdraw the item from City Council consideration we suggest usage of the following motion:
MOTION to Approve Withdrawal of Resolution 53-20 in accordance with the written withdrawal submitted by the sponsors of the resolution.
City Attorney staff and I are available to consult with the sponsors of this resolution and the City Council President concerning whether, and under what circumstances, an appropriate committee informational session might be scheduled pursuant to City Council Rule of Order Rule XIII References to Committees, section 14 to examine legal and proper methods, means and opportunities for the City Council to cooperate with, and assist, the ownership and management of the University of Bridgeport in achieving maximum success in providing world class educational opportunities to the benefit of the citizens of the City of Bridgeport.
In exploring this option of conducting an informational session, it will be critical to ensure that the purposes of such meeting are public in nature and legally proper; the City Council’s role is coordinated with any other ongoing City outreach initiatives; and the Council’s involvement is not for the purposes of advancing the personal agenda and goals of any private or non-profit entity, including those with which individual Council Members may be affiliated. We will make ourselves available to assist the City Council in avoiding any potential conflicts of interest or ethical violations (including those set forth in BPT Code of Ordinances, Ch. 2.38 Code of Ethics).
Very truly yours,
/s/ Mark T. Anastasi