Charter reform must stop conflicts of interest

Published on April 17, 2012 by

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has taken a good first step toward creating a commission to review the City Charter. It’s a paramount step that, if executed with genuine intent, can yield benefits and prosperity to the city and its residents.

In all honesty, we would have preferred to see at least one person representing the hard core community from the East Side or East End — for example, a business owner who generally, when it comes to taxes, is more affected than the other sectors of the population. Since it’s a process that most likely will not end within a few months, the mayor still has that option.

If the mayor truly wants to see real changes in the City Charter, a very important step must be part of that process: to forbid City Council members from working for the city. There is no negotiation about that step. We are aware that state statutes grant any resident the right to work for the city, and council members are certainly city residents. But we also understand that for years, the fact that some Council members are employed by the city has hindered a fair process in the decision making of that legislative body.

Every year the mayor has to submit a budget proposal to the Council. Every year the members working for the city face a dilemma: Do I vote to approve the budget as it is? Or do I oppose my boss and risk losing my job?

Of course, the honorable decision for those Council members who work for the city would be to step aside and abstain from voting. But by doing so, are they honestly representing their constituency? No, they aren’t, because they were elected to make decisions that correspond to the best interests of the electorate.

We must even go further and call to ban spouses and other close relatives of Council members from working for the city. It’s imperative we take serious and drastic measures to improve how municipal government functions. We are convinced the decisions taken by Council members affect taxes, potential investment, education, crime, residents’ morale and other areas related to the city’s welfare.

That should be only the beginning of ending the ongoing relationship between elected and appointed officials and city jobs. That interaction has kept our city from reaching its full potential.

If Mayor Finch demands full accountability and effectiveness from the Charter Reviewing Commission, perhaps that can impact in a positive manner his legacy as mayor of a city that has constantly been abused by its elected officials.