The City Council Monday night, after months of dickering, negotiation and ordinance editing, approved support for the legislative body that includes up to five staff liaisons as well as legal counsel guidance to bolster independence from the executive branch.
What’s the price tag on the new positions with benefits? $300K, $400K, $500? Maybe more.
Most council members argue growing demands require staff to provide ordinance research, budget assistance, constituent service help via a dedicated office of legislative services, the hiring via Civil Service.
Others such as Councilwoman Maria Pereira who voted against the measure assert do your own research, read the packets in front of you, put in the work and there’d be no need for superfluous positions.
One historic sticking point is legal counsel. The City Attorney’s Office essentially reports to the executive branch of government while providing legal advice to the council. Supporters of the council action assert lawyers can’t serve two masters: we want our own person who reports to us.
There might be a few trapdoors in this new council move. For instance, the council’s legal guidance says one thing and the City Attorney’s Office another. How does that get sorted out? Is the council’s lawyer simply advisory to provide some context? How will the lawyer be utilized?
Example: last year council incumbent Evette Brantley passed away between the time of her election in November and official oath of office in December. It created a new wrinkle about filling of the vacancy with some council members calling for a special election because of the timing of the death. Ultimately the City Attorney’s Office ruled it shall be filled by the council as is customary by the City Charter. Suppose the council’s legal advice declares something else? What then?
What process will be set to hire the boutique lawyer? Must the City Attorney’s Office sign off on the hire? The municipal law office takes the position that it is the sole proprietor of legal counsel hiring.
Will a legal firewall be in place between the executive and legislative branch counsel?
The council’s Budget & Appropriations Committee is smack in the middle of budget deliberations for the fiscal year starting July 1. Within the next 10 days or so it will plug in a price tag for the new positions.
Amended ordinance approved by City Council below
2.06.070 Office of legislative services.
1. There is hereby established an Office of Legislative Services, which shall be non-partisan and shall assist the members of the City Council in the performance of their official duties.
2. The Office of Legislative Services shall have its own budget for resources which may be deemed necessary to the proper and effective functioning of the City Council and the Office of Legislative Services.
3. This section shall in no way amend or usurp the duties of the Office of the City Clerk established by the Charter of the City of Bridgeport or the Code of Ordinances to serve the City Council and its committees.
4. The City of Bridgeport’s Civil Service Personnel Director, Labor Relations Director, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), City Attorney and all other appropriate city staff shall advise and assist the City Council in identifying existing positions in the City’s Civil Service table of organization and/or creating new Civil Service positions and associated job descriptions pursuant to the City Charter authority of the Civil Service Commission and the City Council in order to staff the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to assist the members of the Council in the performance of their official duties.
5. The staff of the Office of Legislative Services shall be supervised and directed by a Special Project Coordinator.
6. Pursuant to the Charter of the City of Bridgeport, Chapter 17, Sections 205 and 205.1, the positions in the Office of Legislative Services shall be allocated to the City’s classified civil service; and due to the confidential nature of such positions shall be allocated as appropriate to the City’s unaffiliated workforce (see Code of Ordinances Sec. 2.36.010)
(Ord. dated 4/20/20)
2.06.080 – Legislative Liaison for the City Council.
(A) The Council shall have the power to appropriate sufficient funds to appoint up to 5 legislative liaisons to the City Council.
(B) Subject to appropriation and availability of funds, the Legislative Liaisons in the Office of Legislative Services shall be filled in accordance with selection procedures in accordance with the Civil Service provisions of the City Charter (Chapter 17), as well as the Bridgeport Code of Ordinances, Civil Service Rules and Regulations, applicable collective bargaining units, and all governing federal and state laws.
2.06.090 – Legislative and Legal Counsel to the City Council.
(A) The City Council shall appropriate a sufficient budget to fund outside counsel to advise members of the City Council on City matters when requested.
(B) When the interests of the City Council require and provided that funds are available for such purpose, the City Council by resolution shall request necessary outside legal counsel, in accordance with the provisions of the City Charter.
(C) A request by resolution can be made for such outside counsel at any time for any reason on any issue or issues related to city matters when in the opinion of a present majority of the council, it is necessary for the City Council to obtain legal advice outside the city attorney’s office.