The battle royal for the high ground on the city budget appeared to soften on Friday when legislative leadership toned down the temperature trying to save face after a strategically befuddling decision to target discretionary employees of Mayor Joe Ganim while padding their own payroll with hires.
This thing can be parsed any way you want, but that’s the crux of this government and political scrum. In its zeal to exact power City Council leadership failed to leverage it correctly, effectively negotiating against themselves.
As one anti-Ganim reader told OIB: “the mayor outsmarted them.”
The council had planned to vote on a resolution–by the way that was insufficiently noticed on the agenda, according to retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez because it did not correctly notify the public what they intended to vote on–based on a state statute allowing them to alter the timeline of the budget calendar. Problem is, according to legal experts, this cannot be done retroactively.
After the clock ran out on the budget process, Ganim publicly offered to bolster the school district budget by $500,000 on top of the $2 million extra he proposed in his budget plan. This move placed the emphasis on education and not patronage.
The City Council’s Budget & Appropriations Committee had added $500K in budget alterations but the full council did not ratify the education dollars because council leadership failed to request the mayor call a special meeting for a full vote. Rather than initiate a special meeting on his own, Ganim allowed the clock to run out on the budget schedule so his proposed plan is the one to take effect for the July 1 fiscal year.
It leaves the council without the three legislative liaisons the budget committee added to the spending plan.
How Ganim and council find common ground for the budget year starting July 1? They execute budget transfers. Ganim has already announced he wants $500K more for schools. That leaves, as a priority matter for the council, negotiation on its three positions. How accommodating will Ganim be on those new hires? They are not funded under his plan.
But isn’t it also in his best interests to make some peace?
The council has engineered pains to frame itself an equal branch of government. But it does so out of convenience. When they failed to solicit Ganim to call a special meeting they blamed the mayor citing past practice. So, what?
City Council President Aidee Nieves says she’d like to empanel a Charter Revision Commission to address a host of issues. She wants the mayor to take the lead on that except state law declares it’s the responsibility of the legislation body to initiate charter revision.
Let the mayor empanel it so his office does all the work, right?
If council leadership had prioritized the three positions it wants instead of targeting Ganim’s patronage appointees they’d have staff in place to research and implement charter revision without the mayor’s office doing the heavy lifting.
Council leadership must figure out its priorities to build credibility in the budget structure. Think about it this way: Governor Ned Lamont submits his budget plan to the state legislature that systematically targets his discretionary hires. Oh, by the way, we’re cutting you but padding our payroll with hires. How’s that gonna play?
That is what occurred in the Bridgeport budget process.
Budget co-chair Ernie Newton publicly declared people were targeted then tried to walk it back because the position of Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Herron Gaston was one of Ganim hires clipped. Gaston, to boot, is a candidate for state senate, an elected position Newton had coveted. Gaston says Newton told him his job would be whacked if he ran for state office, a violation of state law.
Frothing to cut Ganim’s people was Black Rock Councilman Matthew McCarthy who Gaston asserts was a conspirator in the job targeting. From Gaston’s complaint to City Attorney’s Office.
Moreover … the Budget and Appropriations Committee met (virtually) with the CAO’s office to go over the department’s budget. During the call, Councilman Matthew McCarthy mentioned that one of the Assistant CAO’s (referring to me except not by name, but by title) was running for State Senate. He asked CAO Hawkins had she thought about cutting my position, or making it part-time. Mrs. Hawkins responded by saying that she did not recommend eliminating any positions from the CAO’s Office. Mr. McCarthy responded by saying, “Thank you.” However, it was later reported to me by someone intimately close to the process–-but who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of their own position being threatened, that certain members of the Council met some time after the meeting with the CAO’s Office, and my name specifically came up.
Wherefore, given these series of events, leads me to reasonably suspect that such deliberate actions are targeted specifically at certain persons in the administration, and is a sophisticatedly calculated and backdoor attempt by Mr. Newton and his “politically recruited” allies to aid and abet members of the Budget & Appropriations Committee, where he serves as Co-Chair, to intentionally violate state statute by unlawfully punishing me for exercising my constitutional right to seek public office while maintaining employment as a City of Bridgeport employee.
The dubious council targeting of jobs now places at risk taxpayer dollars. Investigations and potential lawsuits are now on the horizon. Council members opine defensively we just wanted to cut the fat.
Not exactly a phat way of going about it, however.