Civic Courage Or Inherent Contempt?

Those words were raised Monday night by civic watchdog John Marshall Lee who addressed the City Council. From Lee:

What is more important to you at this moment? Summoning a member of the Police Department to come and assist your safety? Or is your larger concern the future of a relation attending a public school? More likely, you have no immediate need for either police protection or academic instruction, and are dealing with other issues. Perhaps you are grateful for your blessings; doing OK?

If you are in that position as some of your constituents are, how do they follow the story of what is being done within their City, about taxes and spending? Where do folks learn about ongoing municipal issues? Where do they observe City priorities? Unfortunately, not in the Annual address to the City by the Mayor. No priorities. No conversations with City administrators. No two-way conversations in public that explain why the PD gets millions of funding every time they sign a contract and why there is no sense in the Ganim2 executive suite that education is a neglected part of the City landscape. I am not talking about the buildings. The Mayor shows up at buildings when the ground is broken or the ribbon needs cutting. But who provides enough revenue to operate all the spaces within the schools to assure that an attempt is made to deliver a suburban-like result for gritty City kids?

The City payroll keeps uncut political patronage. You can name names, as I can. It’s not a secret. Many are nice folks, but how do you describe the job they perform in a way that taxpayers see as valuable? The Mayor does not do that. At budget time it is certainly not humorous. When some folks are not operating at a standard and level known to the public and that persists for years, day in and day out, with names on the lists of the 100 best paid, is it any reason that the public has stopped voting?

Across the City we are lucky to summon 30% to the polls these days. The excuses given, if asked, are: “Too busy.” “Don’t know enough.” “They are all corrupt.” “It does not do any good.”

You have heard the same words I have, and a low turnout allows incumbents, friends and families to enjoy the perquisites of office without real challenge. A one-party town has all the funds needed to keep real information difficult for people to obtain and City processes either secret or favorable to incumbents. That describes Bridgeport today. Doesn’t it?

Within the past week I have heard two phrases new to my ears: “Civic courage” and “inherent contempt.” “Inherent contempt” is the attitude and trail of evidence from those in the public square who fail to fully respect and serve their neighbor. And “civic courage” is the extra character value required for public life when you can sense, hear and see greedy, predatory and careless humans seeking to get their own needs met first.

Is it “inherent contempt” when politicians spend more time courting absentee ballots than explaining to a wider group what they are doing with public funds?

Does “civic courage” require cleaning up municipal messes left by a previous administration, rather than point at it as if a new “strong Mayor” were merely a victim?

Doesn’t a “strong Mayor” have tools to investigate, identify, and solve problems, along the way letting the public know in detail how it was done?

Consultants? Competence? Communication?

The City budget grows ever larger in public safety and education stagnates. Police return to the table every year with problems managing overtime yet crime stats are reduced. Did they look for evidence of expertise in staffing, community policing and compensation in their most recent hiring? With the cutting at all levels in the Board of Ed in the past four years, thank the personnel remaining for keeping the ship afloat. How much longer can that endure? Time will tell.


One comment

  1. Let me offer my read on these as they apply to the city council.

    Civic Courage: Eliminating unnecessary patronage positions so the allocation to the BOE could be increased. (not done)

    Inherent Contempt: Approving your generous tax-payer funded ‘stipend’ while reducing allocations for similar expenses in operating departments. (done)


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