Elected School Board Members: Charter Commission A Dog And Pony Show

Maria Pereira, Bobby Simmons and Sauda Baraka, elected members of the Board of Education, have responded to a request to address the mayoral-empaneled Charter Revision Commission that will likely pose a question to voters regarding an elected or appointed school board. Basically, the three elected board members tell the commission to stuff it. Grab a cup of joe. Response is long. See below:

We are in receipt of your letter dated February 21, 2012 inviting us to participate in the charter revision process.

In that letter you state that “Given your interest in the welfare of Bridgeport’s children, we would like to invite you to participate in this process by presenting your perspective on education governance issues before the Commission.”

On February 22, 2012, Attorney (Steven) Mednick sent an email to Maria Pereira following up on your invitation.

In his email he stated that the Commission is engaged in ‘fact finding’ and has scheduled a series of hearings to focus on the ‘governance of urban public education systems in the 21st century … The Commission will be exploring the role of Mayors in education governance as well as models for increasing public accountability, access and understanding of the system.”

We must decline your invitation.

We believe the original premise of your invitation is flawed. You claim that you are interested in exploring the role of urban mayors in the selection of members of municipal boards of education. Implicit in your statement is the belief that the Mayor does not now control the Bridgeport Board of Education, and would exercise greater control over an appointed board than he would over an elected board.

Our experience as elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education as well as the history of the machine politics in Bridgeport demonstrates that this is not true.

During our tenure on the Board, the Mayor was always able to count on six (6) reliable votes for anything that he wished. These members acted in unison, and at the direction of the Mayor and his City Attorney on virtually every issue. They were silent when the Mayor and his City Council (which is composed of many City employees) flat funded the Board of Education for four consecutive years.

Therefore, the question is not whether the Mayor and the political machine will control the Board of Education. The only question is whether the people of Bridgeport will retain the power to wrest control of the process from the machine, should they awaken from their slumber and decide to do so. The history of machine rule in this City demonstrates that whether members of the Board of education are subject to election, or are directly appointed by the Mayor is of very little consequence. In either event, the machine rules.

Given what we have experienced in the last eight months, we are forced to conclude that your receipt of public testimony is not a sincere search for information but rather a ‘dog and pony’ show that is designed to justify a decision that has already been made.

Your commission will recommend either a Board of Education appointed by the Mayor or one that retains some elected officials with the remainder of the Board appointed by the Mayor. This result is inevitable as is the fact that the City Council will rubber stamp your recommendations and place them on the ballot.

We find it difficult to believe that any commission, such as this, which was effectively appointed by the Mayor of Bridgeport, is truly interested in protecting the right of the people to vote in municipal elections. At this very moment, the Mayor and his legal team are seeking to undo the effect of the recent Supreme Court decision and to delay the special election which the Supreme Court has ordered.

The Mayor testified before the State Board of Education last July that ‘democracy does not always work’ and claimed that it could not work in this City.

We believe that he is wrong.

The Mayor’s participation in a coordinated conspiracy involving the Governor’s office, the State Board of Education, the Greater Regional Business Council and hedge fund billionaires designed to secretly disband the elected Board of Education, has been well documented.

There was no pretense of openness.

When appointing this Commission, the Mayor once again made certain that he could control the result. It is totally inappropriate to have a Chairman of this commission who is the wife of the Mayor’s attorney, John Bohannon. Since attorney Bohannon is not a salaried member of the City Attorney’s Office, it would be interesting to know how much he has billed the City of Bridgeport in this attempt to deny the electors of the City, the opportunity to vote for members of the Board of Education.

Clearly, what the Mayor could not achieve in court, you will attempt to achieve through this Commission. Furthermore, the role of this commission takes on increased importance for the Mayor in light of the fact, that the General Assembly refused to be stampeded into overturning the Supreme Court decision as requested by the Mayor and the Governor.

The conflict of interest affecting another member of this Commission is equally glaring. Ruben Felipe, Jr. is a member of the Mayor’s personal staff in that he serves as the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff. The actions of Mr. Felipe are compromised and subject to control by the Mayor.

First, as a member of the Mayor’s staff, he serves at his pleasure, and can be dismissed whenever the Mayor determines, without cause. Secondly, he is able to support his family and himself through the salary that is paid to him by the Mayor. Is it reasonable to believe that he will risk losing his ‘bread and butter’ for the sake of independent thought and action?

Such abuse of power by the Mayor and his minions significantly contribute to the continued deterioration of ‘public trust and confidence’ in our municipal and state government.

According to published reports in the Connecticut Post, the Mayor retained the services of the Commission Attorney, Steve Mednick, before there was any discussion of a Charter Revision Commission. The evidence is clear and convincing that Attorney Mednick is the ‘hired gun’ who will make sure that any changes placed before you and your commission gives the Mayor the power that he seeks.

Indeed, Attorney Mednick is in such control of this process that on February 9, 2012, you sent an email to the Commission stating that “I just spoke with Attorney Mednick and he cannot attend tonight’s special meeting at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall due to a family medical reason. As Attorney Mednick is a key advisor to our red-lining and editing process, I made the decision to cancel the meeting as it will not be very productive without him.”

It is inconceivable that the Chairman of the Charter Revision Commission would cancel a meeting on the same date of the meeting because the attorney could not be present to direct and orchestrate the process.

The review of a city charter should be a thoughtful and deliberative act. To have any credibility at all, it should provide for maximum participation by the residents and taxpayers of the City. Scheduling meetings at 5:30 in the afternoon, twice a week, with little more than 24 hour notice for meetings presents an obstacle to most of the working people of the City of Bridgeport.

Furthermore, a timetable designed to place questions on the ballot in November 2012 is not conducive to thoughtful and deliberative action, and prevents a comprehensive review of all sections of the City Charter, not just those singled out by the Mayor.

Last July, we concluded our opposition to the takeover conspiracy by saying that it was absolutely certain that Mayor Finch would prevail by a vote of 6-3.

We are no less certain that he will prevail when the final vote of this commission is tallied.

Very truly yours,

Sauda Baraka

Maria Pereira

Bobby Simmons


One comment

  1. At the early Charter Revision meetings Maria Pereira was present as I have been to listen to the redlining process where the Commissioners and three attorneys (Mednick, Maley and Anastasi) provided frequent sidebars as to background, as well as CT ‘do’s and don’ts’. No recall. No prohibition per Statute on City employees running for election and serving on Boards and Commissions (except Land Use and Finance). Etc.

    Since redlining has ended, the Commissioners have commenced listening to presenters like the Mayor, Chief Administration Officer, City Council President, and then a series of education ‘experts’ including Paul Vallas, the acting Superintendent. Last evening three veterans of the City educational process joined Dr. Wong from Brown University.

    What I found notable was early on, Marge Hiller of Bridgeport Public Education Fund and Mary Pat Healy of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition raised issues as to current levels of accountability within the City, the many conflicts of interest represented with BOE members and family as City employees, etc. and the seeming rush by this Commission to come to an answer directed at education governance in time for fall elections while ignoring other issues that have been or will be raised relating to other critical City issues. Dr. Wong nodded his head from side to side when Bridgeport realities were revealed. The conflicts of interest existing in Bridgeport would not currently be permitted in Providence RI.

    As a matter of fact Hiller raised the idea of a provision in the Charter to formally review the document at least every 5-10 years. OIB may interested in posting the comments of Hiller and Healy as representing some pushback to Mayoral initiative momentum, since it is still fact finding time. Time will tell.


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