Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis who has issued several key decisions impacting city government and politics in recent years has set a hearing for Monday afternoon to consider school board member Maria Pereira’s complaint challenging Mayor Joe Ganim’s authority to fill two recent Board of Education vacancies.
Bellis has already told the parties she has researched the issue and expects to move quickly on a decision. The genesis of Pereira’s complaint is Ganim’s assertion state statute provides him authority to fill school board vacancies if Board of Education members don’t act within 30 days of the resignation. Pereira contends Ganim’s position is faulty arguing only the school board per the Bridgeport City Charter is authorized to fill vacancies with no specific time frame.
Ganim appointed Annette Segarra-Negron and Raphael Fonseca to fill the vacancies of Dave Hennessey and Andre Baker respectively. In addition to the mayor and state of Connecticut, Segarra-Negron and Fonseca are named defendants.
Another issue of the complaint centers on the rightful political party to serve as a replacement. The City Charter declares the vacancy must be filled from the same political party. But it begs the question, the party on whose line the candidate was elected or the one from which the school board member resigned? Hennessey was elected as a Democrat in 2013, but resigned as a registered Republican.
Retired Superior Court Judge Bruce Levin, an employee of the City’s Attorney’s Office, is representing city government. Mayor Ganim’s brother Paul Ganim, who also is judge of probate in Bridgeport, has entered an appearance on behalf of Segarra-Negron.
Bellis’ decision could resolve the balance of power among a deeply divided school board in which Chair Dennis Bradley has boycotted meetings demanding the resignation of Pereira who’s not budging an inch.
As Bellis nears her decision, another vacancy on the school board exists with the recent resignation of Republican Kevin McSpirit.
In the past year Bellis has ruled against the city’s authority to throw out the pay raises of the Bridgeport City Supervisors Association implemented in the final days of Bill Finch’s mayoralty. She also ordered State Senator Ed Gomes’ name placed on the August primary ballot against Democratic-endorsed Bradley following a paperwork snafu in which the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office disqualified Gomes’ candidacy.
Bellis issued harsh words in her decision asserting Gomes was railroaded by party operatives. Gomes won the primary.