Who Would Be Your City Council President? Examining The Council Conflict Issue

Tom McCarthy

The City Council will have nine new members, among 20, sworn into office in December. They will choose a council president and presumably Tom McCarthy will have a leg up as he seeks another term as chief of the city’s budget and legislative body. McCarthy became council president following Bill Finch’s election as mayor in 2007. It’s a significant position because the council president, per City Charter, is next in line if the mayor cannot serve or resigns office. The council president also assigns peers to committee positions and selects the respective committee chairs.

McCarthy has come under fire from the political action group Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport because he’s a city employee who serves at the pleasure of the mayor as deputy director of Labor Relations. How can he, head of the legislative branch, serve as a check on the executive branch that controls his job? Had CW4BB and other campaign operatives that challenged the party establishment in the September 10 Democratic primary realized the extent of voter angst for endorsed candidates they would have fielded a complete slate of opponents. All endorsed Dems flamed out in the primary. McCarthy did not have a primary. He won reelection handily in the general election against unknown Republican opposition.

McCarthy, a Finch supporter, argues he’s not conflicted in his role claiming city employees who serve on the council are best equipped to represent the people, talking points that Black Rock councilwoman Sue Brannelly, whom McCarthy appointed to lead the budget committee, also parroted on the campaign trail. Brannelly was defeated on the machine count in the general election but survived as a result of absentee ballots.

Bridgeport State Representatives Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins are expected to resubmit legislation when the General Assembly meets in February enforcing the will of the City Charter that prohibits city employees from serving on the council. It’s illegal for state employees to serve in the legislature. It’s illegal for federal employees to serve in Congress. A dubious loophole in state law, cited by City Attorney Mark Anastasi, allows city employee councilors. State Senators Anthony Musto and Andres Ayala, folding to political supporters on the council, killed the reform bill proposed by a bi-partisan legislative coalition. State law prohibits municipal employees from serving on boards of finance, but the Bridgeport City Council serves as the municipal budget authority. The bill proposed by Hennessy and Grogins seeks simply to extend the law to all municipal budget-making bodies.

The council is now down to four, the number of city employees on the council who’d be impacted by reform legislation: McCarthy, council veterans James Holloway and Richard Paoletto and newcomer to the council Milta Feliciano. Two other city employee councilors were defeated in the primary. But McCarthy, as council president, has become the flashpoint of opposition.

Mary-Jane Foster, 2011 Democratic mayoral candidate, supports the reform bill. She reenforced her position Tuesday in an email circulated among membership of Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport.

“… The perception and reality of Bridgeport as a place where dishonesty and dysfunction rules the day will not change if we don’t change the opportunity and behavior. I fully expect Reps Hennessy, Grogins and others to re-introduce this bill under this session’s guidelines. I am already lobbying the BRBC (Bridgeport Regional Business Council) to place it on their legislative agenda. Hard to keep pressure on Musto, the Mayor or Council members if we back off. The momentum is now.”

David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General who serves as treasurer of CW4BB, says enforcing the will of the City Charter is a priority for the group. That and making sure opponents to reform efforts such as Musto are not reelected.

Meanwhile, the council will soon vote on a leader. From the City Charter:

At the beginning of each term of office the city council shall elect from among its members one council member to be president of the city council who shall serve for a term until November 30 of the next odd-numbered year or until the president of the council’s successor has been elected. The president of the city council shall preside in the absence of the mayor, and when so presiding shall have a casting vote in case of a tie in addition to his/her vote as council member. In the absence of the mayor and the president of the city council at any meeting, the city council may choose one of its members to act as president for the occasion who, when so presiding, shall have a casting vote in case of a tie in addition to his/her vote as council member. In the event of the death, resignation or inability to act of the president of the city council, the council shall elect another president in his place …

All elections or appointments to any office or position by the city council or of any board established by this charter or by ordinance, shall be by roll call vote; and the person receiving a majority of the whole, with the limitations herein provided, shall be elected.

The new City Council:

130 District, Rick Torres, Sue Brannelly

131 District,  Denese Taylor-Moye and Jack Banta

132 District, Bob Halstead, Trish Swain

133 District, Tom McCarthy, Howard Austin

134 District, Michelle Lyons, AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia

135 District, Mary McBride-Lee, Richard Salter

136 District Richard DeJesus, Alfredo Castillo

137 District, Lydia Martinez, Milta Feliciano

138 District Mike Marella, Richard Paoletto

139 District, James Holloway, Eneida Martinez-Walker



  1. McCarthy apparently wouldn’t know a conflict if it bit him. President of the City Council, Deputy Director of Labor Relations and an Airport Commissioner. If he doesn’t have the answers to the $400,000 driveway, who (besides Finch) does? Maybe Council President McCarthy should ask Deputy Director McCarthy to ask Commissioner McCarthy for some information.

    1. Don’t forget Town Committee Member and District Leader. On election day he had someone from his staff and the Civil Service Director out in front of the schools working for him.

  2. WAY TOO LATE is a good term to describe a General Assembly that keeps the Hennessy/Grogins bill languishing until February to be re-introduced. Momentum will have to wait until next year. Until then, backing off is a requirement. If you want to change behavior, change the law. Last time I looked, Bridgeport was still a place ruled by laws–this one’s unusual but the ink has dried.
    What Connecticut needs is a legislative branch that makes much faster decisions and keeps us in sync with a modern era, scitech-based economy and not the wonderful but outdated holiday schedule of our state reps.

    1. What the heck … Michelle Lyons is not the brightest bulb on the council? Of course that is your opinion. She is very respected here in the North End and although a supporter of Bill Finch she is not a rubber stamp. Not the brightest bulb? Can you name one individual who shines brighter or works harder? She is well-respected by almost everyone who knows her in the overtaxed North End. Must be a reason she runs unopposed in her party and crushes the opposition. She does not need to outshine the other members of the council. Technically she is a hard-working underpaid city employee. Her constituents do not even consider that a problem nor a conflict of interest.

  3. Michelle works for the BOE. That is not considered a legal Conflict. I know there are those who think the money comes out of the same pool and the money decides where folks are technically employed. It is not about money or technicalities, it’s about the law.

    Michelle works hard with her CONSTITUENTS in mind always.

    The brightest bulb comment was in very poor taste and completely unfair.

    1. Hey Mustang, did you hear that horrible story of the woman in Wilton who had her hand and arm bitten off by her adorable two-year-old pit bull? Don’t tell me how cute they are!

  4. Regarding Michelle Lyons:
    Steve, Michelle is well-liked and appreciated for her dedication and concern for residents. Respect is something you earn.

    Mustang Sally (whoever you are), the state statute that disallows municipal employees from serving on boards of finance (and city councils that have budget authority it is argued) excludes teachers from this ban, not all BOE employees. Michelle Lyons is not a teacher, so using the current standard, there is a conflict. Amendment of the state statute would need to address that point.

    1. Tom,
      I believe the statute you refer to relates to serving on the BOE and not the Council. The Charter does not preclude Michelle Lyons from serving on the City Council but it does preclude McCarthy from doing so. It’s time for McCarthy to chose between being an employee or on the Council. He has multiple conflicts and if he can’t see that then he has major integrity problems.

  5. If you were to go back in time (but not that far back), you would recall the City Clerk was the position that assumed the role of mayor in his absence.
    Maybe Lennie can fill us in on this change because I think it changed during Ganim’s first charter change.
    Maybe the city should consider a council president who is chosen by the public and not the politicians. Have the position elected to a four-year term but selected on the odd-numbered years in which the mayor does not run to add some balance.
    It would be a full-time position so we don’t need to worry about conflicts of interest. Pay ’em half of what the mayor’s salary is.

    1. The City Council President has been first in the line of succession to the Mayor for as long as I can remember. For example, almost 40 years ago the Republican City Council President became Mayor when Mayor Nicholas Panuzio resigned.

      The current charter provision was modified in the early ’90s, but only to clarify when the Council President served as acting mayor.

      Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of an independently elected City Council President. The idea was floated during several charter revision efforts, but faced widespread opposition from sitting council members, who would have to approve any change.

      1. Rich Paoletto is a city employee. He should not even be on the council.

        OFF TOPIC: If you look up the dog breed that has the most BITE statistics you will find the Golden Retriever at number 1, and Pit Bulls at number 8 or 10. They get a lot of media play because they are really strong, and are used in fighting rings.

        1. *** Mustang, it depends which book and dog statistics info. guide or magazine you’re looking at on bite issues overall. Unfortunately, however you slice it, pit bulls are in the 1 through 10 list for most bites, aggression and fatalities among dogs. Sometimes just being large and strong can also be a negative due to reported human injuries or smaller animal cases as well. Examples: St. Bernards, Great Danes, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Doberman Pincers, Huskies, Malamutes, Chow Chows, just to name a few off a web site news issue I was reading one time. ***

        1. Maybe I am mistaken … I know you partner Barney called Richie Paoletto “one of the biggest wastes on the Council,” you Andy have been very critical of 138th Council members. If you are a fan of Richie P. that’s great, it is Marella you have a problem with. So Andy Fardy is a fan of Richie Paoletto. Noted.

          1. Steve, you amaze me, you really do. When Ann made that statement we were in a primary against Paoletto & Curwen.
            Yes I have been critical of my council people as it concerns things taking place in our district. Do you think I had a right to be critical about the proposed jail to be built up here when I found out Paoletto & Curwen knew about this proposal a full year before it was announced?
            Steve, the problem with Marella is he does not live here.
            Steve, just so you know I spoke to both Mike & Richie and have asked them about certain situations and they handled the problem.
            Unlike you I don’t walk around singing everything is wonderful even when it’s not. Other than you, who gives a shit about me, Mike or Richie?

          2. So apparently you agree Andy, Mike Marella and Richie Paoletto are the right men for the job. I agree. We agree on something. That’s nice, it’s been awhile. 🙂

          3. Steve, we still don’t agree. Mike & Rich are our council people and you have to work with what you’ve got.

  6. Charter has specified council president as first in line of succession in any version I have seen. The current city clerk has a habit of saying (in error) she is the second-highest elected official.

  7. *** As a BOE employee she cannot only run for Council President but can do the job as well ’cause it don’t take no rocket scientist to assign members to boards accordingly, meet with the Mayor and staff from time to time and represent the city council as a whole, while keeping an eye out for the best interest of the city’s taxpayers! ***

    1. *** Don’t like Michelle Lyons for a run at council president, then how about her council partner Amy Vizzo-Paniccia? Either one has the experience, savvy and smarts to be their “own person” without having to resort to rubber-stamping for personal gain. *** PICK ONE, YO! ***

  8. Re fatal dog attacks in the U.S., some data:

    1. Source: CDC

    2. Source: Dogbites.org
    www .dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2012.php

    From the latter source:
    “38 U.S. fatal dog attacks [were reported] in 2012. Despite being regulated in Military Housing areas and over 600 U.S. cities, pit bulls contributed to 61% (23) of these deaths. Pit bulls make up less than 5% of the total U.S. dog population.”

    The CDC points outs:
    “to definitively determine whether certain breeds are disproportionately represented, breed-specific fatality rates should be calculated. The numerator for such rates requires complete ascertainment of deaths and an accurate determination of the breed involved, and the denominator requires reliable breed-specific population data (i.e., number of deaths involving a given breed divided by number of dogs of that breed). However, such denominator data are not available, and official registration or licensing data cannot be used because owners of certain breeds may be less likely than those owning other breeds to register or license their animals.”
    www .cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00047723.htm

    1. I guess you are entitled to your opinion, as we all are, Mr. Spain. I have tons of experience with this breed, and I have yet to encounter one mean Pit Bull, not one. There are many news sources out there available to support any spin we would like to deploy. Pick your poison.

  9. You who goes by a Mack Rice song title made famous by Wilson Pickett,
    I wasn’t opining, I was pointing to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  10. Tom McCarthy and any other employee who runs for City Council does so in defiance of the City Charter and basic good governance and conflict of interest principles. Statements to the contrary are an insult to the people of Bridgeport who voted to exclude City employees from serving on the Council when they adopted the current Charter. CW4BB is committed to enactment of state legislation to right this wrong. In the interim, the City Council should not elect Tom McCarthy or any other City employee as Council President. Doing so would be a further insult. In addition, the City has serious challenges and Tom McCarthy has been unable to assure the Council properly discharges its responsibilities under the Charter and City ordinances. He has also been directly involved in a a number of embarrassments to the City (e.g., Drivewaygate). It’s time for a new City Council President. This will be a key test vote for Council members.

  11. What is the best Watchdog breed? Anyone? What intelligence, temperament and social skills are required to produce Watchdogs willing to confront and bark, but only put fear, rather than stitches and scars into an aggressor, provocateur, or oppressor? Why has no one posted on this important subject? Time will tell.


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