The City Council passed a watered down version of the Finch administration’s request for the authority to raise nonunion employees’ salaries by as much 15 percent at its Jan. 3 meeting, a partial victory for both the administration and the general public.
The victory is partial because Mayor Bill Finch cannot now unilaterally grant pay increases, but city taxpayers have no guarantee that salaries will not increase or that the original proposal will somehow resurface.
The mayor and his staff have argued that the pay increases are necessary to attract the best talent available and to remain competitive with other communities in the tri-state area.
After a caucus following the public hearing, Ordinance Committee Chairman Rich Paoletto explained that the council members had decided to remove the language calling for the up to 15 percent increase and that three positions had been eliminated from the overall list of those eligible for raises. Those positions were director of accounting, labor attorney and dentist.
“We listened to what you had to say and we thought it was very important,” explained Paoletto, referring to the public speaking portion of the hearing.
The public commentary may very well have turned the tide in what was widely anticipated to have been a victory for the mayor. However, no one from the 100-plus crowd spoke in favor of the pay hikes while better than 30 audience members virulently decried the proposal.
Among those speaking against the action were former state Sen. Ernie Newton, Black Rock residents John Marshall Lee and Don Greenberg, Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Mary Pat Healy, former City Councilman Bob Walsh, former mayoral candidates John Gomes, Jeff Kohut, Mary-Jane Foster and Charlie Coviello, and Republican Town Chairman Mark Delmonico.
The council members in attendance – Susan Brannelly, James Holloway and Amy Marie Villa-Paniccia were not present – were repeatedly told by audience members that they were responsible to the voters and not the Finch administration.
City resident Clyde Nicholson said, “I don’t remember the mayor saying anything about this during the campaign. You all need to remember the mayor didn’t elect you; we elected you.”
Newton said, “This sends the wrong message. When the General Assembly up in Hartford reads about these pay increases, they’ll say Bridgeport doesn’t need any money. And if it is so important why not let the voters decide? Bring it to a referendum.”
Greenberg, a professor of Politics at Fairfield University, was one of the more animated speakers of the evening saying, “This is a sham. This is a disgrace to democracy. You don’t have the right to those seats. We put you there.”
Lee asked, “If open, accountable and transparent are not the process at one or more levels of city governance, do you begin to see why trust and respect are not accorded by the public?”
Carlos Silva (D136), the lone City Council member to speak during the public hearing session of the meeting called the process an “atrocity.”
Silva was joined by Andre Baker (D139), Angel dePara (D136) and Michelle Lyons (D134) in voting against the measure. City Council president Tom McCarthy (D133) abstained from the vote explaining that as a city employee voting on the measure would be a conflict of interest
Voting in favor of the measure were Marty McCarthy (D130), Letitia Colon (D131), Denese Taylor-Moye (D131), John Olson (D132), M. Evette Brantley (D132), Howard Austin (D133), Richard Bonney (D135), Warren Blunt (D135), Manny Ayala (D137), Lydia Martinez (D137), Bob Curwen (D138) and Paoletto (D138).