Board takeover an attack on democracy itself

Published on July 8, 2011 by

Friday July 1, 2011, found the three of us, along with most Bridgeport residents, looking forward to the Fourth of July weekend.

We were preparing for a weekend excursion out of town, or anticipating remaining at home to celebrate with families and friends the 235th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent affirmation of liberty, freedom and self-determination.

We had no inkling, that Board of Education president, Barbara Bellinger, Mayor Finch and Superintendent of Schools John Ramos, had just lit the fuse on a bomb they hoped would detonate on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

We are elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Yet, we were blissfully unaware that Mrs. Bellinger had, for months, been conspiring with Mayor Finch, Superintendent Ramos, and Malloy administration officials in Hartford, to replace the Board of Education elected by the voters of Bridgeport, with one that would be appointed by Hartford politicians and bureaucrats.

Upon learning of this clandestine plot, we spent our remaining holiday time preparing to repel this sneak attack on democracy, representative government, and the precious right to vote for which so many have died and sacrificed since 1776.

The issue which confronts our city, in light of this conspiratorial coup, is more important than our status as members of the Bridgeport Board of Education. We cannot permit Mrs. Bellinger, Mayor Finch, and Superintendent Ramos to further debase our city, by claiming that the issue is about individual personalities.

The issue, plain and simple, is about what kind of government we have allowed to thrive and flourish in Bridgeport, and what we can do about the calamity which absolute power has produced.

We cannot allow the debate to be sidetracked or trivialized by a “can’t we all get along” spin.

The reasons for our opposition to the takeover resolutions were openly expressed on July 5, 2011 at the now infamous board meeting, and need be elaborated upon here.

However, it is important to examine the reasons expressed by some of the six-member majority who voted for a resolution which confirmed their inability to govern.

It was said that the Bridgeport school system needs help, and no one would disagree with that statement.

However, state officials have clearly and unambiguously stated that no additional dollars will flow to Bridgeport as a result of the takeover. This is in sharp contrast to a previous school system takeover in Hartford, an action which resulted from a transparent legislative process, and was accompanied by an infusion of additional monies.

It cannot be doubted, that a search for additional resources, is not a valid justification for the board majority’s abdication of its responsibilities.

After listening to Mayor Finch, Mrs. Bellinger, and Thomas Mulligan at the July 6 meeting of the state Board of Education, we know that the real reason for this action lies in the fact that the board’s six-member majority cannot abide a minority presence which asks questions, and seeks information, in order to render informed decisions. They claim this is “dysfunctional.”

Is it dysfunctional to ask questions and demand answers before voting on issues which impact public school students, parents and taxpayers of Bridgeport?

Is it dysfunctional to insist that highly paid school administrators be held accountable and not be permitted to justify requests based on sketchy or incomplete information?

Is it dysfunctional to demand that monthly financial statements be furnished to all board members, so that our decisions will be made based upon the best available information?

Is it dysfunctional to insist that the majority adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order in the conduct of its meetings, and that it act in accordance with the rule of law?

Is it dysfunctional to refuse to enter into an illegal executive session, in order to discuss issues which should properly be the subject of public discussion and debate?

If these are examples of “dysfunctional” behavior, we can only suggest that Bridgeport is in desperate need of more dysfunction, not less.

Perhaps Bridgeport, which is a one-party machine city with an irrelevant Republican minority, is not accustomed to public officials who ask questions and refuse to be silenced by threats and name calling emanating from a majority which shuns debate, and has consistently refused to engage in a contest of ideas.

We understand, that as three members of a nine-member board, we will never be able to out vote a six-member majority. We suspect, however, that the political machine believes that its six- member majority might be in jeopardy in the upcoming municipal election.

Since four members of the majority are serving terms which expire this year, perhaps Mrs. Bellinger, Mayor Finch, and Dr. Ramos fear that their rubber-stamp majority will not survive the electoral process.

Therefore, they needed to change the rules, and they did.

Perhaps they are terrified of the possibility that new members elected in November will be independent, thoughtful and not automatic votes for any policy promoted by Dr. Ramos and the political machine.

Because democracy is always messy, perhaps they could not take the chance that a new Board of Education would not look as appealing or be as compliant as the current board.

We as a city face a critical question.

When, in the course of human events, will the voters of Bridgeport dissolve the political chains which have connected them to the machine, and assume the responsibility for self-government to which we are entitled?

The answer to this question will determine our future, the future of our city, and most importantly, the future of our children.