Citizen fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee has arguably attended more City Council budget committee meetings than some of its members. He chronicles the attendance records of budget committee members, including the lack of a quorum on Monday. From Lee:
There is only one body in Bridgeport that is charged with looking after taxpayer dollars. It is the City Council Budget & Appropriations Committee (B&A). It has seven members appointed by Council President Thomas McCarthy from the nineteen remaining members of the Council.
Sue Brannelly and Mike Marella co-chairs are joined by Howard Austin, Denese Taylor-Moye, Trish Swain, Lydia Martinez and AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia as the other members. Based on low attendance at monthly B&A meetings it is likely that these are not the most interested people in Bridgeport in the subject of City finances. Based on their occasional discussions and voting record they are good followers of the Finch administration, not a check or balance. Based on comments at public hearings at which they preside or public comments they may hear, when they are present, they carry little if any of public comment to their votes. They have no staff support at all.
Last night, Monday, November 10 was the 12th monthly meeting for the 2013-15 B&A. It was scheduled to start at 6:00 PM in the Wheeler Rooms. Sharon Soltes who records official minutes of these meetings and a police officer were present along with Council member Rick Torres and Anne Kelly-Lenz, City Finance Director. About 6:12 PM they were joined by Co-Chair Sue Brannelly and five minutes later by Denese Taylor-Moye. By 6:30 PM it was clear that the meeting would fail for want of a quorum. There were three items on the Agenda: Approval of minutes for October meetings, a general discussion of the Monthly Financial Report and a new item, Budget update from a City Department: Public Facilities.
The Notice of meeting to City Council members and City administrators states: “If you have submitted an item that appears on the agenda below and are receiving this notice, it is imperative that you or a representative attend the meeting to represent that item.” Where was Public Facilities? For that matter where were the other five members of the B&A Committee? Why are they still meeting to study 85 page reports when they do not use such reports in routine monthly sessions? Why have they not authorized and reviewed “green” 20-page “executive summary” style reports that would more easily highlight important variances for their attention and understanding? Why are they opposed to questions from those attending?
Summarizing the record, the B&A held 19 budget study meetings (April 9 to May 10) as well as several “public hearings.” One such on April 10 opened at 6:11 PM and adjourned at 6:13 PM when no one attended to speak for or against 66-13 and 49-13. Other hearings had public speakers but it is not known how many B&A attendees were listening to the statements. On May 8 a special meeting to discuss the waiver of revaluation shows dialogue that betrays a lack of understanding of valuation, mil rate, and Bass Pro effect.
Regarding the monthly meetings, 12 were scheduled, of which two were canceled in anticipation (March and May) and November failed due to lack of a quorum. Relative to the other nine meetings attendance per B&A minutes indicates: Brannelly (9), Marella (6), Austin (2), Taylor-Moye (7), Swain (9), L. Martinez (6), Vizzo-Paniccia (4). A sprinkling of other CC members is recorded in attendance including Torres (5) and Salter (3).
The majority of the monthly meetings last less than one hour. The City budget indicates expenditures of $520 Million annually and the CAFR show that another $150 Million flows into the City as revenue and out as expenditure. The subject of the Balance Sheet for the City is not for discussion apparently or for disclosure by the City except when Tax Anticipation Notes need to be approved or the City wishes authorization to bond. There is no handout on these subjects coupled with B&A minutes to indicate a more comprehensive or detailed discussion or review. There are no updates during the year for financial activity in the Capital Budget area. And the public, though due an annual hearing on this matter by the Charter, is neglected though it is our ability to be taxed that allows debt to be added.
For readers who are employed in private, not for profit or public businesses, do you see anything in the recitation above that indicates a “best practices” approach to fiscal governance in Bridgeport? Do you see any sign of concern on the part of the majority of City Council members for the taxpayers of the City? Fifteen of the twenty Council members sitting in June 2013 used taxpayer money at the direction of President Tom McCarthy to spread City money in a primary and election year to a variety of non-profit organizations and agencies and no one is disturbed? What good can come of this pattern of budget creation (“ghost expenses” and overtime excesses) and failure to monitor as responsible representatives? Time will tell.