Former City Councilman Tom White provides insight into conflicts that arise with city employees serving on the budget and legislative body. He had served as council staff support but, as he writes, “I stuck my neck out and did what I thought was right by expressing concerns which may be labeled as misappropriation of funds.” White asserts he paid a price for that and his taken his case to federal court, represented by former Mayor Tom Bucci, an employment discrimination and labor specialist. White’s commentary:
From time to time, Lennie and OIB posters mention that the Bridgeport city council once had staff support to conduct independent research and provide non-legal advice. That person was me. My tenure ended when Council President McCarthy orchestrated my termination by eliminating funding for my position in the FY2013 budget.
In response, I filed a lawsuit calling for my reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages, attorney’s fees, etc. I have two cases in the Unites States Circuit Court regarding violation of my first Amendment Rights and denial of due process.
My suit states how I expressed concern to McCarthy and others that their actions on certain matters were questionable. I expressed concern regarding how their stipend expenses were being processed, possibly avoiding charges to their stipend fund by charging City department line items, and avoiding payment of income tax. I was their moral conscience and McCarthy along with a few others including Sue Brannelly resented it.
My suit states that my termination was illegal, that McCarthy arranged a layoff by eliminating funding for my position. Actually, he moved the funding for my position to the City Clerk’s office. My ‘layoff’ was a ruse for my illegal termination
Under oath in a deposition, McCarthy stated that my layoff was for economic reasons. My attorney, former mayor Thomas Bucci quickly established McCarthy’s lack of credibility by pointing out that I was the only person laid off and the funds moved to another department to hire a replacement for me.
In another deposition, the person hired with the funds from the elimination of my position said he was hired by McCarthy to perform certain duties at McCarthy’s direction. Those tasks just happen to be tasks I had performed.
These points are minor compared to others and to case law that will be cited when my case comes to trial.
I stuck my neck out and did what I thought was right by expressing concerns which may be labeled as misappropriation of funds (those contributions McCarthy arranged from the ‘other services’ line item in the Legislative Services budget), or tax evasion resulting from items such as the city council’s city-issued cell phones not being charged to their stipends.
The purpose of my lawsuits is to make me whole. I must be selfish. McCarthy intentionally caused me financial harm. Unfortunately, it will not be McCarthy who makes reparation; it will be the taxpayers of Bridgeport.
Will my lawsuits play a role in reforming the city council? I hope so. When McCarthy’s actions are included in the detail of my trial, it will provide further evidence of the need to prohibit city employees from serving on the city council, the need to retool the city’s ethics ordinance and procedures, the need for better oversight of the use of city council stipends and hopefully continue efforts to elect more competent people to the city council.
When I was hired, Bridgeport City government was still reeling from the fallout of the Ganim misdeeds. Council leadership at that time wished to establish a non-partisan Office of Legislative Services as the City Charter prescribed.
Although the relationship between the city council and the Fabrizi administration was at times chilly, I was able to play the role of the non-partisan staff person assigned to gather information and package it for council leadership and individual council members.
There were subtle changes as the Finch administration took charge. McCarthy became council president and initially I was confident that the outward objectiveness of the city council would continue.
The changes began as McCarthy began interacting more with Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff. The meetings of city council leadership which I arranged soon stopped.
The first incident that reflected McCarthy’s shift to alignment with the Finch administration was when he and Finch (through Adam Wood) exposed and publicly castigated Bob Walsh for a comment he made to a fellow council member regarding a vote.
McCarthy’s alignment with the Finch administration became more apparent with the use of caucuses during city council meetings to review details on voting options just prior to voting on the council floor.
When I reminded McCarthy and others of an official opinion of the city attorney’s office issued in the prior administration regarding the definition and use of caucuses, and I contacted the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission which agreed that these sessions could be deemed illegal executive sessions, my role as an objective adviser was no longer valued.
The cast was set. Adam Wood communicated to McCarthy the necessary actions by the city council. With as many as seven city employees on the city council and the reward system with council stipends, any semblance of checks and balances was gone. Council committees have been stocked with easily malleable council members with McCarthy typically attending meetings to make a quorum and guide the vote.
McCarthy became the Finch administration facilitator. Were support of council members traded for continued employment or shifts to higher paying city jobs or support of CDBG funding of pet projects?
Did McCarthy ever recommend the city council oppose a Finch administration measure? Certainly not publicly. The budget process has become a farcical exercise. Hours of meetings with meals provided at taxpayer expense are meaningless sessions designed to make mostly clueless people feel empowered while frustrating the marginalized few who would be willing to make decisions not prescribed by McCarthy and the Finch administration.
Did I ever suggest to council members that there entire departments that could be eliminated with cost savings to taxpayers? Yes. Was there interest? Not after they realized the staff were all political appointees whose role is to promote the administration.
The focus of concerns with conflict of interest associated with city employees serving on the city council is clearly on McCarthy. With the number of city employees on the council reduced by primary elections and resignations under legal clouds, how will McCarthy continue to deliver for the Finch administration? Will he be promoted to labor relations director if he delivers the budget the Finch administration prescribes? Will he be able to control the clueless, malleable and city employees? Let the games begin.
I look forward to following Tom’s case. I have also seen these conflicts in action and their adverse impact on current and future taxpayers. If legislation does not pass this year to honor the City Charter and good government principles, it will be time to take the conflict issue to the Courts. In the interim, where does Mayor Finch and other Mayoral candidates stand on the conflict issue? It should be a litmus test of their commitment to home rule, integrity and good government.
Tom, you’re a victim of the political machines that run this country. If politicians were personally responsible for their fiscal actions they would be bankrupt, one and all. What this country needs is TERM LIMITS at ALL levels of government. That reduces the possibility of corruption over 80%.
Being in politics was never meant to be a lifelong career. It was civic duty and then you went home to your real job. Look at all the problems lifelong politicians create. It’s a crime what they do to the American people.
I agree. Eight years for CEOs at all levels of government and 12 years in the legislative branch. We also need re-districting, primaries, campaign finance and lobbying reforms.
Dave Walker, I agree with you on every one of these recommendations. I agree 100%.
Thank you Tom White for posting about your first-hand experiences in trying to do what’s right for the public interest. May justice prevail for you in your cases against such grave injustice.
Reading this brings me again to question how anyone could state with a straight face, a clear conscience, and firm footing in reality that “McCarthy’s character and integrity ‘are above reproach’?”–see the CT Post article:
Council president Tom McCarthy takes heat for dual roles
Published 6:03 pm, Saturday, March 28, 2015
Tom ,Hhving seen your work and coupled with your many years in government, it’s too bad you are on the wrong side in the City, you would make a great Mayor.
Tom, you would provide a new, clear, clean view into the City, based on INTEGRITY and void of decades of past and present corrupt government.
Thank you, Tom. I’m just one of many who are grateful for your integrity, persistence and courage. Keep it up! If you do, I may just have to change my moniker!
Tom White, thank you for sharing this information. I’ve always believed the City Council needed its own legal counsel but it was determine it was not needed. Having you as council staff support I thought was a great idea because I thought you would be fair, honest and give the council the direction to deal with issues that came before them. Although I don’t always agree with some of your posts on OIB but that’s okay I believe you are trying to look out for what’s best for Bridgeport through your eyes which is different than the view through my eyes. I wish you the best with your case.
Well said. Clear facts outlining an outrageous story, comfortably disposed of in plain sight by the Finch administration. (An active unconflicted media group would have jumped on this.) As we have learned Finch et al. use no general means of evaluation in almost any City position, employed, elected or appointed, and therefore there are no worthy, agreed-to in advance grounds for dismissal (aside from sexual harassment, financial rewards exchanged for public favors, or use of public money to feed an addiction, etc.).
Your exit has left the Council with no formal support. When our City Council junketeers have no City-paid staff persons doing the bidding of their legislative branch, what cities can they point to with zero assistance for their legislature? Is this a McCarthy “best practice?”
Outrageous to you personally. Not in accord with best practices in municipal government elsewhere? Consuming unnecessary taxpayer funding for Stratford driveways, property revaluations that are understood by those in office but not used, public relations programs using local media outlets to convince City investors “things are getting better every day” along with other budget insults? And how many cases like Tom White’s have gotten settled at taxpayer expense with the loss of the money and the value of their services? Where is that list? Time will tell.
So many “players” could go out in handcuffs, but then again Ganim would win in a bigger landslide then he is going to already, speaking of handcuffs.