From retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez:
In response to the OIB request to comment on the legal aspect of the drama playing out in Bridgeport’s Municipal Government, I offer the following observations:
The budget recommended by the Mayor became the Bridgeport Budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022, pursuant to City Charter Chapter 9, Section 5 (h). The full City Council did not act on the proposed budget prior to May 10, 2022, the second Tuesday in May, and therefore the budget proposed by the Mayor was approved by operation of the Charter.
The City Council’s frantic attempt to put the genie back in the proverbial bottle is flawed, and ineffective, for several reasons:
- The City Council agenda for the Monday, May 16, 2022 meeting does not comply with the Freedom of Information Act, because it does not sufficiently describe the proposed action. Resolution Number 82-21 states “Proposed Resolution regarding the budget and Appropriations Amended 2022-2023 Municipal Budget, For Immediate Consideration” This does not provide proper notice to the public of what action will be taken.
- The Council is attempting to apply General Statutes Section 7-191b, retroactively, after the budget has already been adopted as a matter of law. The statute does not give to the City Council the power to void an adopted budget.
- Resolution Number 82-21 does not comply with Section 7-191b. The statute allows for a charter amendment “for the sole purpose of modifying its budget adoption dates.” The proposed resolution does not contain a specific date for budget adoption, and talks about a budget adopted by “a committee” taking effect. Pursuant to the City Charter, only the full Council can adopt a budget, not a sub-committee.
- The Mayor was not required, pursuant to the City Charter, to call a Special Meeting of the City Council. The City Council has the power and authority to compel the Mayor to call a Special Meeting, pursuant to Chapter 5 Section 5 (a) of the City Charter. This can be done if three City Council members submit a written request to the Mayor. This was not done. Furthermore, notice and service of a Special Meeting must be made pursuant to Section 2.06.030 of the Code of Ordinances. This section requires notice to the City Council members “by a City Sheriff or some indifferent person.” This was not done.
- These events demonstrate that the City Council needs committed legal advice to assist them during the budget process. The agenda for Monday’s meeting includes Resolution Number 83-21 for obtaining an Independent Legal Opinion for the City Council. There is clearly a conflict between the City Council and the Mayor in this instance. Chapter 7, Section 4 of the City Charter reads, “If a conflict arises between different boards, commissions, departments, officers, or between any of them and the City Council, the City Attorney shall assign different attorneys within the Law Department to represent each said governmental body in conflict and said attorneys shall represent them in the manner required by all Rules of Professional Conduct of Attorneys, unless the City Attorney determines that the only manner in which a conflict can be avoided is by retention by Private Legal Counsel for one or more of such governmental bodies, in which case the City Attorney shall select said Counsel.” Why didn’t the City Council make an official request pursuant to this Section of the City Charter? One does not need to be a lawyer to understand the plain language of this section; it just has to be read.
Hopefully this analysis will be helpful to OIB and its readers.