Good morning, good afternoon and good night. It’s as simple at that, declares retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez in an OIB commentary enlightening members of the legislative body that they hold the keys to unlock a Charter Revision Commission without sanctioning from the executive branch.
Many City Council members long to establish institutional independence from the mayor that’s already at their disposal. Unfortunately, for too long, they’ve been trained otherwise.
“Let us hope that those with eyes will see, and with ears will hear!” she writes.
There is nothing sadder than “those who have eyes, but do not see, and those who have ears but do not hear.” Most of us are familiar with this sentiment, since most faith and wisdom traditions universally hold these words as principles to keep in mind as we journey through life.
That was all I could think about, as I listened in on the regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council Ordinance Committee held last night, January 25, 2022, via zoom.
By way of background, at the regularly scheduled Bridgeport City Council meeting held on January 18, 2022, Ms. Aidee Nieves, President of the City Council and new City Council member Tyler Mack introduced Resolution #23-21, referred to as the “Empowered City Council Act.” Among many items, it calls for the hiring of independent legal and budget staff for the City Council.
This resolution also, in clear and unambiguous language, intends to incorporate the “People’s Platform,” into the Code of Ordinances of the City of Bridgeport. While the People’s Platform is not set forth in the ordinance, it can be found on the website of the Bridgeport Generation Now organization.
It is no secret that “Bridgeport Generation Now,” and its alter ego, the Unrig Bridgeport Coalition, serve as the distinguished think tanks of the President of the City Council.
Given the urgency of empowering the City Council, the item was referred to the Ordinance Committee, where it was set as the only item on the agenda for their first meeting of the year, last night.
Who says you can’t get anything done in this City?
If it were not so sad, it could be described as entertaining. It is hard to imagine that those demanding to be treated as an equal branch of government, could be so ill-informed and confused.
While they may disagree on many things, all of the members agreed that they need help!
Ernie Newton opened the choir with his solo number, “We do not act as an independent Branch, look at New Haven, and look at Hartford.” Michelle Lyons agreed, and stated “we do need help.” Maria Valle, to make sure we all understood how much help is needed, echoed with “we desperately need help.”
City Council Member Jorge Cruz was most indignant at being a member of a branch of government usually referred to as rubber stamps. “I am not a rubber stamp,” he repeated many times so as to make sure that everyone understood what he was not.
It began to sound as a support group until the oracle of the Council, former City Attorney turned consultant, Mark Anastasi, stated that the City Attorney, Christopher Meyer is working on an opinion, and together with retired Superior Court Judge Bruce Levin will soon advise the Council.
He insisted that he was there to ‘listen’ only, and not to provide the much needed help the Council members were begging for. In between his listening, however, he did manage to remind everyone that the current Charter of the City of Bridgeport designates the City Attorney as the Attorney for all Boards and Commissions, as well as City officers and officials.
He didn’t give the members much hope.
This statement irritated City Council member Jorge “I am not a rubber stamp” Cruz, who defiantly urged the members, saying, “Why don’t we just go for a new charter!”
He hit the nail right on the head, and did so, without any help from the former Chief City Attorney, turned consultant who said he was there to listen.
The City Council can appoint a Charter Revision Commission, by state law and can appoint the members of the Charter Revision Commission without any action whatsoever by the Mayor or his mouthpiece, the Chief City Attorney.
A Charter Revision Commission once appointed, is a creature of the municipal legislative body, in our case, the Bridgeport City Council. The Charter Revision Commission reports to the City Council, not to the municipal chief executive.
The City Council should immediately act on Councilman Cruz’s suggestion and form a Charter Revision Commission charged with examining the powers and prerogatives of the City Council and the City Attorney.
If the City Council needs independent legal representation, it can say so plainly in the City Charter, assuming the voters approve at a referendum, once the question is put on the ballot. A Charter Revision Commission could also investigate other aspects of the City Charter, which are in desperate need of reform, revision and update.
Many of us have been clamoring for a Charter Revision Commission for many years. Sadly, the City Council, has always deferred to the Mayor and to the City Attorney, for direction. Maybe as Councilman Cruz suggested, the time has come to act independently, without permission, and form the Charter Revision Commission, consistent with state law.
A blueprint exists in the records of the City Council when a Charter Revision Commission was formed in 2011. Unfortunately, that commission was the brain child of the then mayor, and the city employee who served as president of the city council. The mayor appointed the commission, staffed the commission and instructed the city council on what is was supposed to do every step of the way.
The best way to demonstrate that this city council is not a ‘rubber stamp’ is to avoid the mistakes that were made in 2011 when it surrendered its powers and prerogatives to the Mayor, the City Attorney and its city employee President of the City Council.
The Council has the ability to form a Charter Revision Commission on its own initiative and to staff that commission with independent Bridgeport residents.
The question is does it have the will?
Let us hope that those with eyes will see, and with ears will hear!