Lee: City Council Conflicts Violate City Charter And Public Trust

It’s impossible for taxpayers to get the best deal for their buck with no checks and balances in government. In Bridgeport, there’s no separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government, as required by the City Charter, a point hammered home by fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee in a letter to city councilors. From Lee:

Council members, all of you must sometimes ask: What are we doing here? What is our role? And more importantly what does the voting taxpaying public expect of us?

First you are legislators with responsibilities and limitations set out in our Charter. The Charter says that City employees cannot serve on this body. And the theory of “home rule” would support that status, but the State Legislature has made room for another interpretation that has been advanced in this City for some time because it serves to continue the status quo with a strong executive branch, no fiscal watchdog body and an ever-weaker Council.

Employment brings salary and benefits and status to an individual. If that position can be threatened then it can be used as a bargaining chip to control one or more legislative votes by an executive branch. If one or three or five or six employees in a 20-member body can be so controlled, then the representative body cannot be independent. If questions fail to be answered, and questioners on the Council are met with silence, poor info and removal from critical committees, the Council becomes weaker as a body.

Your Council has not been an independent voice of voter/taxpayers for many years. What is the evidence for my statement?
• For the past seven years you have maintained a City employee who works in labor relations as your President. During that time his compensation for his work has increased significantly. Indeed he will have earned over one million dollars in salary and benefits in the Finch years due to rapid compensation advances a few years ago. If he has been such a star in labor relations tasks, for instance, why has he been so slow as an elected representative to assist public understanding of the Airport driveway controversy and City expense while serving as a key member of the Airport Commission?

• Under your President’s direction a City budget was passed (2013) that cut the two legislative assistant positions, one of which was filled at the time. So your Council has no legislative aides. I listened three years ago to Councilman Holloway describe the 30-plus aldermen in New Haven who are served by a six-person legislative staff. Why do you have none? Would real staffing help you in your important work?

• Your body creates Ordinances and updates them. What happened with your Stipend Ordinance? It was debated and tabled, then replaced by a practical arrangement from Finance Department of a quarterly debit card advance that flies in the face of the still-existing expense reimbursement ordinance. Why? Slipshod Council administration? Certainly. But when one or more Council members including the Council President have been paid more than $9,000 in a year, who cares? And if the new system, though not backed by Ordinance, keeps those funds tax-free, who cares? Perhaps the IRS will.

• And since the newly adopted stipend system disallows political and charitable use of taxpayer money through Council stipend use, President McCarthy in June, 2013 offered Council members facing primary and election races a chance to use another line item called OTHER SERVICES for which the Council nor the City received any service. So why were taxpayer funds used to pay about $30,000 to local charities at the purchase request of 15 Council persons? No meeting call. No agenda. No minutes to record but recollections have stated that President McCarthy suggested the plan and 75% of then sitting Council members took advantage. No one has yet challenged my previous comments that this was illegal. Not one of them has explained why this was a fair and reasonable use of taxpayer funds rather than an illegal action. Reimburse the taxpayers with your own checks!

• The purchasing ordinance is lengthy and been debated, but the elimination by the Mayor of an Internal Auditor seven years ago, removed the person who was to perform an audit of purchases every three years and a report annually. Where are those authorized reports? Do you know? Do you know what the City purchased in 2014?

• Who represents the taxpayer month in and month out? Don’t look to Budget and Appropriations minutes for guidance. They do not care about taxpayer issues or they might have weighed in on abatements!

Can you see how the web of City job, increased personal compensation, unwillingness to deal with or respond to reasonable questions personally or through your committee structure are personal conflicts that have weakened your Council into insignificance? Perhaps Tom McCarthy should step aside in favor of a person less compromised and conflicted. That is not my unique view. Time will tell.



  1. Excellent JML! Unfortunately, this letter will fall on deaf ears, Finch/McCarthy will continue these practices ’til Nov. They continue to thumb their noses at the taxpayers, as if we don’t even matter. Time for a change, Bpt!

  2. Mr Lee,
    May I ask you a question? In your letter you state: “The Charter says City employees cannot serve on this body.” Is this true? Does the City charter state no City employee may serve on the City Council? If so, how are city employees even allowed on the ballot? Is the City Attorney’s reading of the State law enough cover to allow the Registrars of Voters to allow these people on the ballot? Has anyone ever challenged this in court to request the removal of the city employees from the council?

    Thank you in advance for your response.

  3. Michael Smith,
    Turned to the City Charter, Chapter 5–City Council, Section 5(g)(1) “No member of the city council shall, during the time in which he/she serves as a member of the city council, be appointed to or hold any office, the emoluments of which are to be paid from the city treasury.”

    I am not a lawyer, but this is the language that serves to prevent holding a paid position in the City and serving on the Council. I guess you can ask for a definition of ‘office.’ Question emoluments, an infrequent word in Council minutes, I assure you. And wonder where stipends fit in as an exception.

    5(g)(2) goes on to say, “No person while holding office as a member of the city council shall be a member of any of the boards of the city, and no member of the city council shall be appointed to an office by any of such boards for which compensation is to be paid.”

    There is no profit in opposing the Mayor and his team when they tell you to hop. With opinions generally favorable to the Mayor’s wishes, though those opinions are not necessarily either active or tested, challenges in court are not common. If a court challenge to any activity were contemplated, I think there are one or two matters I would prioritize ahead of the ROV allowing people on the ballot. Like those 15 Council persons using taxpayer funds for their personal use, both political and charitable. Or the failure to share Vision Appraisal data with taxpayers in the City regardless of whether the revaluation was put off. What do you think? Time will tell.

  4. JML, I agree with Harvey Weintraub, I think this was one of your better posts, although a little long it’s very clear and easy to understand and to follow.

    1. Ron,
      Thank you for your positive response to this post. I had hoped to present it to the City Council this past Monday evening. I was ready but so were at least six others ahead of me. I have signed up for March 16 and look forward to addressing the new Council persons as well.

      Yesterday afternoon at 3:30 PM Tom McCarthy was scheduled to present his Orientation to the City Council experience. It will be interesting to ask the new CC members how he contrasted the activities and behavior as representatives with the role played by the Executive branch.

      If Tom were serving Council duties at 3:30 PM (a time usually identified as department office time), I am sure he must make up his hours and keep straight the hats he wears, the duties he bears, and the compensation shared with him by taxpayers. When he fails to? Time will tell.

      1. John Marshall Lee, I have always had the highest respect for you and what you do for all of us with your research and with Andy Fardy’s assistance.

  5. Imagine if the DTC only endorsed city council candidates who were not city employees, their immediate family members (spouse, siblings, in-laws, parents, children) were not city employees AND did not have city contracts. That in my humble opinion is the only and best way to take care of this issue without the passage of the state statute.


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