General Lee Seeks Money Conversation With City Council

Fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee addressed the City Council Monday night urging an “open, accountable and transparent process in City governance by finding ways to increase conversations throughout the year, not just before elections or at budget time.” His remarks follow:

President McCarthy, Council members, fellow taxpayers and neighbors, and TV viewers, we are long overdue here in Bridgeport for a real conversation about money, of all kinds. Money for the operating budget delivered to you by the Mayor on April 2, but previously discussed with the CT Post in a special conversation on April 1, 2013. Money for the capital budget that you reviewed this past Saturday morning in a location that has doors that lock the public out on Saturday mornings (and lock them in if they manage to get in).

Not much likelihood of conversations under those circumstances. But it was about the Capital budgets and borrowing for lots of school development, City infrastructure and equipment, and I listened to your comments requesting some record of what you have approved, authorized and is out there under development during the past five years. Those numbers are not on the City web site. Why not? When you have to ask OPM for this info, do you not understand that the public is in the dark too? How do you intelligently converse, if you do not have all the facts in front of you and know that they have been updated regularly and accurately?

For the first time in years you held a meeting on the CAFR on April 3 with OPM, Finance and CAO. It lasted about 90 minutes. One of facts that you learned in the overview was that the City sustained a “budget deficit” of $3.5 Million for the year, 2012, rather than a slight surplus as thought at year end. Did the monthly financial report prepare you for that? Not the one from last June, because it was only a draft before year end adjustments. Has anyone asked for a final 12th month report so you can see where the 2012 budget did not work out as proposed and voted upon? Have you mentioned the things you have learned in conversation with the community?

You were provided time to ask questions. One of the questions had to do with contradictions on page 3 and page 16 regarding whether City long term liabilities had increased or decreased during the 2012 fiscal year by $37-38 Million. Did you get an answer showing an increase? I heard no questions from you on Internal Service Fund, on Pension Plan A or the Pension Obligation Bond, or on Pension B Fire and Police that is making news currently? Why don’t you review these matters in a scheduled and orderly manner systematically each year? How many Budget & Appropriation meetings (or other Council committee meetings) are canceled each year and not rescheduled? Finally the external audit firm Blum Shapiro provides a Management Letter annually to accompany the audit and State and Federal single documents. Do you see the letters as part of your business in a public meeting? There is no sign in minutes that you do. Why not? There is work to be done and it goes undone.

One week ago I asked whether the Mayor’s proposed budget of $520 Million was complete. I made specific reference to page 7 that showed $11 Million of new expenses in addition to the current appropriations of $509 Million. As part of this City operating budget, the BOE is currently listed with almost $220 Million and the Mayor proposed the same funding for the coming year. Will that meet the minimum budget requirement of the State of CT? Has the State formally informed OPM that an additional $3.3 Million is necessary? What is the BOE budget? Hasn’t the Mayor declared himself to be the “education Mayor?” How is flat funding an example of his “accountability?” Conversations require at least two parties to alternate speaking and listening roles. Neither our City Council public speaking format nor the Council public hearing format create conversations. Why not? Will you explain that to your public?

So the 2.5 Mil increase on the current 41.1 Mil rate calculates to be a 6% increase. 3.9% attributable to increased expenses of the Mayor’s proposal, and 2.1% from anticipated loss of State revenues. You have the job of bringing City expenses into line with City taxpayer pocketbooks. You have heard the taxes are too much. But much blame has to fall on the fact that you are provided too little to see the big picture accurately, month by month throughout the year. As legislators you have two major responsibilities:

• Enacting ordinances to ensure the welfare and good order of the city

• Adopting the city’s annual budget–but to do that competently it means learning and knowing the entirety of City finances whether bonded, taxed, granted, or provided by other levels of government.

It means asking the administration to avoid the regular Charter violations caused by tardy or incomplete monthly financial reports. And it means open, accountable and transparent process in City governance by finding ways to increase conversations throughout the year, not just before elections or at budget time. We are far from that today. Time will tell.



  1. *** JML, your humble conversation attempt would be noted and well received under “normal” circumstances however it will probably fall on deaf ears with city pols who mostly drink from the same “tainted” kool-aid stand! *** BETTER ODDS PLAYING LOTTO ***

  2. There is a conversation scheduled by Council persons Brannelly and Stafstrom at Harborview Market on Sunday, April 21 at 3 PM. As I said in my address to the entire Council, a conversation is a two-way exchange of facts and feelings calling on eyes, ears, brains and experience to process and then communication tools. The City of Bridgeport set up a teleconference last evening. A robo call to my home had the Mayor talking about the technology and timing. Based on the couple comments I see on OIB it does not appear many are satisfied.
    Let me ask another question that came up at the time of the SNOWSTORM. How much does the City spend to produce a widespread call and then link everyone together for a time period? A lot, a little, or maybe nothing? I seem to remember a cost of several thousand dollars was mentioned relative to not sending out warnings regarding parking. That may be way off, but if we assume everything costs something, a safe bet usually, what does it cost to reach the entire City, a section of it, and are only hard lines targeted or is there technology available to reach out to cell phones?
    I’m willing to bet the expense to put monthly financial reports and certain other City material on the web site for electronic communication is dirt cheap, relative to the amount of City funds used to make sure our elected and highly paid administrators are fed by taxpayer funds on a pretty regular basis when they go to meetings! Anyone want to make a bet on that one? Time will tell.


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