A wild week closed out the municipal budget season. Legislative body padding its own patronage while cutting the mayor’s people, illegal meeting called by rogue City Council leadership, charges of job targeting for political purposes. In her latest commentary retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez declares “the President of the City Council wants to perform CPR on a corpse and resuscitate a dead budget recommendation.”
It is no secret that Bridgeport has often been described as the ‘city where the circus never left town.’
It is also, no secret, that Bridgeport’s Legislative Branch, the City Council, along with the Executive Branch, Mayor Joe Ganim, work very hard to make sure that the City lives down to its well-earned reputation.
During the budget process, we have been treated to an all-star performance of the ‘Gang that couldn’t shoot straight.’
What a circus!
My husband, during times like these, often quotes former Republican State Party Chairman and State Representative, the late Dick Foley, with whom he served in the General Assembly. Foley had a great one-liner, “Don’t ever let the Good Government get in the way of the politics.”
My husband explains that this one-liner was a play on words and was meant to be ironic. It was an example of Foley’s quick wit and Hibernian charm, and was not meant as a serious statement about how government should work.
As I reflect on the budgetary follies here in Bridgeport, I see that our City Council and our Mayor have taken Foley’s wisecrack and turned it into a blueprint for governing Bridgeport.
There is no question, that in Bridgeport, politics gets in the way of good government.
What a perfect line for this scenario!
Let’s look at what has occurred and the manner in which ‘politics’ has gotten in the way of good government.
The City Charter states that the Mayor must submit a proposed budget to the City Council by the first Tuesday in April of each year.
The City Council, acting through its Budget and Appropriations Committee, reviews the budget and using the powers given to it by Charter, reduces or increases any item in the proposed budget.
The Charter requires the City Council to adopt a budget by the second Tuesday in May, which this year was May 10, 2022.
According to published reports, the City Council failed to meet this deadline, therefore, the budget recommended by the Mayor, is the Official City Budget, and the one the City will operate under for the fiscal year, July 1, 2022.
The City Council engaged in a series of meetings starting on April 6, 2022 running through Wednesday May 4, 2022. These meetings were listed on a schedules of meetings distributed by the City Council. The schedule gives each department head an assigned date to present his/her budget to the Budget and Appropriations Committee and respond to the questions of the members of the Committee.
According to the schedule, the City Council anticipated meeting on either “May 9, Vote on General Fund Budget (Possible Full City Council Vote)” or “May 10, Vote on General Fund Budget (Tentative–if necessary)”
Apparently, based on past practices, the City Council relied on the Mayor to call the special meeting for May 10, and never verified with the Mayor that in fact a meeting had been called.
There is a lot of speculation by Council members that the Mayor was upset with the changes that the Committee had made to his budget, particularly cutting the Mayor’s patronage employees. Of course, the City Council also added three patronage positions of its own. In other words, a lot of petty politics.
In any event, by the time they realized what had happened, it was too late.
The Council President, and the Budget Co-Chairs realized that they had been outsmarted.
If the Mayor didn’t call a meeting, as he has done in prior years, shame on him!
If the City Attorney, who advises both the Mayor and the City Council, went along with this end-run around the City Council, shame on him!
However, if the City Council leadership didn’t verify that a special meeting would be called on either May 9 or May 10, before leaving for a political convention for the weekend before the supposed meeting, shame on them.
If they didn’t know that the City Charter requires the Mayor to call a special meeting and that they are powerless to call a special meeting of their own, why didn’t they know?
Are we to understand that on a matter as important as the adoption of the annual budget, the City Council abdicated its responsibility to do its due diligence and failed to insure that a special meeting was held to deal with the annual budget?
And why didn’t the City Attorney, as legal advisor to the City Council, inform the City Council president that the mayor must call any special meeting?
Was it really more important to be in Hartford over the weekend making speeches and hobnobbing with fellow politicians during a state convention, than tending to the people’s business in Bridgeport?
And, did everyone have to attend the Congressional Convention on May 9, pushing the City meeting to the eleventh hour on May 10, 2022?
And did the meeting that did not happen on the 10th, needed to be scheduled via zoom at 5:00 to make sure that everyone could make the senatorial conventions scheduled for that same evening?
Now, we are advised in its agenda for the City Council meeting on May 16, 2022, that the President of the City Council wants to perform CPR on a corpse and resuscitate a dead budget recommendation.
But that’s what happens when the politics gets in the way of the good government!
Ah Bridgeport, the City where the Circus never left town!