General Lee To City Council: No Checks And Balances

Citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee shares comments he made to the City Council Monday night:

I believe most of you at some time or other in your career in school studied the structures, the processes and the way we govern ourselves municipally. Along the way I am willing to bet you heard the term: “checks and balance,” indeed it may have appeared on a quiz or test, it is that basic.

As you proceeded from school to an occupation and established your own life and residence, perhaps you may have thought about checks and balance in reference to our system of municipal governance. Where do you see it existing today? Is it healthy and robust? Or has it been steadily dismantled, compromised, and limited to the advantage of one or more parties in power? And, since you represent citizen-taxpayers, how is it working out for them, to have their voices heard, their causes addressed and practical solutions enacted? Where does the City Council stand in the creative tension of checks and balance?

Here in Bridgeport I see very little checking and no balancing whatsoever, in my opinion. You have seen some good City workers terminated and several years later after hearings and legal expenses you have had to vote for taxpayer dollars paid from somewhere unbudgeted, to provide a settlement to them. In fact you have such a situation on your agenda tonight. Other workers have been terminated and their positions abolished making the City less able to deal with risk management or the Council less able to perform its tasks. Two positions that come to immediate mind are Internal Auditor and Legislative Assistant(s).

If you have read the City Charter you will realize you have two responsibilities: you make the regulations that cover many City activities that are called Ordinances. You also are a vital part of the budget process. But what if you pass an Ordinance and one or more parts of it are not carried out? What then? Do you have a duty to review Ordinances on a regular basis and monitor your legislation? Has that been happening? I can assure you the Purchasing Ordinances that are more than ten years old identified duties including annual reporting and triennial audits to the City Internal Auditor. Those duties have not been performed since you made the law. How can that happen? And budgets once passed, do you have any responsibility for oversight, monitoring, being aware of what is happening or not??? The public assumes so, but Budget and Appropriations Committee is not performing at that level, if measured solely by the two most familiar documents: the monthly financial reports and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). How many of you have seen any purchasing reports in the past three years? What might they tell you that might inform you to ask good questions and expect comprehensive responses from the administration? Would you believe three areas: WPCA, Construction Management Services and Grants (excluding the BOE) total nearly $200 Million over the past three years? Do you know you are provided no reports on those expenditures after approving them initially? Why not?

First you may be surprised to find the City spends closer to $700 Million each year than the $500 Million of the operating budget. That happens because there is a good deal of borrowed and grant money in excess of routine operational items paid for by taxpayers. At some point they cross your desk in a rushed fashion, with less data than many wish, but very little opposition as would happen if you believed in your “check and balance” responsibilities.

You represent those who voted for you in a much larger way than you imagine today. You are community stewards. You are part of divided governing powers, the executive and the legislative, and if you fail then the community fails along with you, when you fail to check in order to assure that balance is the outcome. You have a duty to protect our citizens: the ones who work as city employees, different classes of citizens like the young with their future ahead of them needing good preparation as well as those who are older and need some assistance as life gets complicated with changes they face. Finally, you need to face the reality of City taxpayers whose incomes if increasing are not doing so net of inflation on their real purchases including rising property taxes. We are counting on you to exert your power. Time will tell.



  1. Wingnut,
    I don’t disagree with you, some higher level of our governance system needs to “officially” review what passes for municipal governance in Bridgeport.
    But how do you jump from a commentary on “checks and balance” to FBI TIME!!??? There have been Charter violations and there continues to be ignorance of Ordinances and ignorance of the law would normally not be an adequate defense but we are talking about Bridgeport and what passes for democratic governance.
    Are you concerned with the observation nearly $200 Million of purchases have been made through the City in three specific areas that are not part of the City monthly expense report? And the three areas are WPCA, City Grants funds (non BOE) and Construction Management Services (an outside firm hired to handle City-owned buildings under development). Federal, State and/or local tax funds are spent, according to initiatives of the Finch administration, with little specific detail available at City Council approval time to either the Council or to the public that watches the Consent Calendar pass with little or no discussion, but the Council seems content with that minimal input … UNTIL … the Sikorsky Airport scandal shows up … and the manager becomes a martyr … for what? … and the Mayor and the City Council President were part of the Airport Board and fully informed? Or not? HUH???

    But has the Council changed any procedures? Have they reported the full cost to this point of this episode of sheer incompetence (or worse)? Does the Council care? If they do not, why should the FBI care? Time will tell.


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