Will City Council Independence Endure?

Former Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez shares this follow-up commentary examining the process for Bridgeport’s legislative body to coalesce independence from the executive branch of government.

While we wait with bated breath for the release of the City Attorney’s predictable opinion on City Council Item #23-21, also known as the City Council Empowerment Act, a review of the language of the proposed resolutions and ordinance is in order.

This Act proposes to amend the Bridgeport Code of Ordinances by adding three distinct sections to the current Code.

The first proposed new section, Section 2.06.080, authorizes the City Council to “appropriate sufficient funds to appoint five (5) legislative aides.” These legislative aides “will be assigned to serve up to four (4) City Council members each.”

It must be noted that the existing Bridgeport Code of Ordinances already establishes an Office of Legislative Services in section 2.06.070. This office is charged with assisting members of the City Council with the performance of their duties and is authorized to have a budget for that purpose.

This ordinance is expressly authorized by the City Charter, Section 6 of Chapter five (5).

It should be self-evident, that the City Council possesses the absolute right to hire legislative staff. It has the authority, by ordinance to include those positions in the annual budget, and to fund those positions.

For many years the City was well-served by Tom White, who performed these duties conscientiously, capably and impartially. This perhaps got him fired by the city employee, who then served as City Council president for many years. The position remains vacant to this day.

Whether the new hires contemplated by the new ordinance would be members of the classified service, or would be non-civil service employees at will, is a policy decision which the City Council must address.

However, the second proposed section of the new ordinance, Section 2.06.090, authorizes the City Council to “appropriate sufficient funds to hire an attorney, or outside council to advise members.” This provision will inevitably provoke opposition from the City Attorney’s Office. That office has maintained over many years, and over many administrations, that no attorney can be hired without the approval of the City Attorney.

The City Attorney has relied on Chapter 7, Section 4 of the City Charter, which states “no Board, Commission, officer or department of the City, shall retain legal counsel to represent it in any matter without the approval of the City attorney.” Since the City Council is not specifically mentioned in that provision, it may be argued that the Council, as Bridgeport’s legislative body, already has the power without the City Attorney’s permission, to hire legal counsel.

However, litigating that issue would be expensive, time consuming, and might not achieve the desired results. Therefore, only a revision of the City Charter approved by the voters, can guarantee the right of Bridgeport’s legislative assembly to hire its own independent legal counsel.

Independent legal advice is an absolute prerequisite, to the ability of the City Council to act independently of the Mayor and the City Attorney, appointed by that Mayor.

For years, members of the City Council have privately groused that the City Attorney’s office is too controlling and spends most of its time admonishing the Council concerning what it can’t do, and why it must trust and obey the Mayor.

This advice does not depend upon the identity of the Mayor. For decades, our unelected City Attorney has dispensed this counsel to the elected members of the municipal legislature. Almost invariably, the City Attorney will come down on the side of Executive power.

The Charter can be amended to permit legal counsel to be chosen by and accountable to the City Council. As a new member of the Council explained at the recent meeting of the Ordinance Committee, the Connecticut General Assembly hires attorneys. Those attorneys are not subject to the review of the Attorney General or the Governor’s Counsel.

Municipal legislators here in Bridgeport should have the same authority.

In furtherance of legislative independence and freedom of action, a Charter Revision Commission might explore other means of enhancing the stature of the City Council.

For example, City Council meetings should be chaired by the President of the City Council and not by the municipal executive. The mayor should be permitted to offer input during the Council meeting, but should not do so from the Chair. Nor should the City Attorney be the official parliamentarian.

I am encouraged by what seems to be a willingness by our City Council members to fully appreciate what their role as legislators entails. A Charter Revision commission appointed by and reporting to the City Council, as required by state law, would further the goal of legislative independence.

Let us hope that this streak of independence represents a permanent change in the City Council, and is not merely a momentary fad!



  1. Judge Lopez wrote:
    “For years, members of the City Council have privately groused that the City Attorney’s office is too controlling and spends most of its time admonishing the Council concerning what it can’t do, and why it must trust and obey the Mayor.”

    “This advice does not depend upon the identity of the Mayor. For decades, our unelected City Attorney has dispensed this counsel to the elected members of the municipal legislature. Almost invariably, the City Attorney will come down on the side of Executive power.”

    Now here’s where the City Council gave up its power, the “Consent Calendar” took over all business and the council was shut out of all business and it was the City Attorney Mark Anastasi aka Hamilton Burger from the old Perry Mason TV program, it was Anastasi who bully the council and he got away with it. Council meeting were ran my the mayor and Hamilton Burger which cut council business to nothing but voting what was on the “Consent Calendar.”

  2. With all deference to the legal acumen, social conscience, record of service, and undeniable dedication to the plight of Bridgeport and its people of Judge Lopez, I can’t help but comment on the irony of Bridgeport government attempting to use its own bootstraps to escape from the political quagmire which historically describes Bridgeport city government. Certainly, we are again at a political point describable in terms of where we were when the State of Connecticut passed the Ripper Bill, abrogating home rule for Bridgeport for a protracted period of time — only this time it is in a context of the cooperative exploitation of the Bridgeport populace by responsible parties in both state and local government, under the auspices of the federal government… A bit of a “political reform” conundrum, it would seem…

    In any event, inasmuch as Bridgeport has ceased to function as anything that can be described as a viable, autonomous entity/municipality capable of planning/deciding and directing its own socioeconomic future, it is almost mute as to whether or not the City Council functions “independently” at this point in time. Our fate has already been decided by the oligarchic Connecticut government. Our “place” in the order of things in Connecticut is as “housing hub” (to quote Congressman Jim Himes) for the Gold Coast/suburbs of Fairfield County — which means that Stamford and the Fairfield County suburbs get what amounts to a “free ride” on the back of Bridgeport… The official state plan for the future development of Fairfield County “One Coast, One Future,” clearly delineates the “allowed” development options for Bridgeport, which are regional workforce housing, regional infrastructure, and regional services… That means no tax base expansion, and huge, increased expenses for social services and related infrastructure. This scenario has played out strongly since first being developed and foisted upon Bridgeport nearly twenty years ago, when we had Congressman Chris Shays actively “advocating” for Bridgeport under the auspices of a Gold Coast dominated GA and Gubernatorial Administration… The “No casino for them!” “Keep them barefoot and pregnant” mentality has only been reinforced by our own municipal government during those years… No real fight has been offered on behalf of Bridgeport by our mayors or GA delegation in this regard (with the most notable exception being that of the late State Representative Ezekeil Santiago…).

    So; it would seem that the question of the City Council being independent of the Mayor’s Office is not much more than academic, as long our municipal vision is limited to the passive acceptance of a fate that has already been determined for us by socioeconomic forces based in Hartford and Stamford/Greenwich.

    At this point, with a real vision for Bridgeport and accompanying sense of outrage and rebellion towards the pre-determined order of things in Connecticut (in which Bridgeport has been deliberately forced to the bottom of the pecking order) being absent at all levels of Bridgeport politics, our local governmental machinations amount to little more than tail-chasing to the amusement of the Connecticut oligarchy/oligarchic power structure.

    A way to test the truth of the above assessment of Bridgeport’s present (potential) political traction would be to have the City Council use the present City Charter to grant itself a funded administrative arm and then see if any challenge from the Mayor’s Office could hold up in court. That would force the higher levels of government currently serving as little more than passive conservators for an incompetent, impotent municipality to take note of such failed municipality in terms of the ensuing, indicting media attention and implicit, incumbent legal mandates for redress of the improperly sanctioned “redlining” of Connecticut’s largest city…

    But, any real movement, whether a feint for public consumption, or genuine push for independence/reform by the City Council, is very unlikely. And, if the true condition of the city and our government be known, it would be hard to deny that there would be more justice for the people of Bridgeport in a state takeover and a folding of our municipal tents as our city were assimilated by “the region” which has so successfully bled it dry — even as it hobbled its ability to right itself…

    (To end; just a random question to bring the discussion full circle: Why has Bridgeport been allowed to reach a point, where, as the largest city in the state, it can’t support a legitimate hotel?!)

  3. Charter revision of 1988 dissolved the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and moved budget oversight to the City Council. The newly created Budget and Appropriations Committee was chaired by a bank officer with an MBA degree. Other members of the committee had similar credentials. Bridgeport was under State oversight in the form of the Financial Review Board and the committee worked closely with the FRB and the City’s Office of Policy and Management and Finance Department.

    Charter revision of 1993 included updates to Section 6, Chapter 5 as Judge Lopez noted.
    Years later the City Council formally created the Office of Legislative Services and partnered with the Civil Service Director to oversee the search and selection process. This process resulted in the hiring of staff and job description of Director of Legislative Services which was approved by the Civil Service Commission.

    The person chairing the first term Budget and Appropriations Committee and hired as Director of Legislative Services, of course, was me.

    If consideration is given to establishing a Charter Revision Commission, I hope that consideration is given to removing budget oversight responsibility from the City Council and establishing a Finance Board that includes minority representation and guidelines for education and relevant work experience.

    Also, given that my termination as Director of Legislative Services was done as a layoff, I look forward to being recalled and offered a position. Of course, I would insist on doing my job tasks remotely just as the City Council has conducted business.

    1. Tom White, first where have been, I’ve been waiting for you for a long time for you to get into the mix of this topic. I thought you would be one of best people to share information to the public on OIB. I never understood why your position was a limited, I asked and I was told not to worry. I never disagree with being in that position because you were straight up in doing your job. You never spoke up about David Dunn serving in his position as Acting Personnel Director for 12 years or AJ Perez as the Acting Police Chief for two years was it a violation of the charter where it states Acting is for a term of 120 days and why no exam was given or if it was legal for them to stay in those position. I do disagree with your politics but not with you doing your work as Director of Legislative Services,


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