OP-ED | It is Time to Place the Public Good Ahead of the Privileged Few
Connecticut residents have weathered their fair share of corruption in government, and as a result hold a certain amount of healthy skepticism for those who hold public office. This is why I am deeply troubled by efforts being undertaken by some elected officials in Bridgeport and Hartford to obfuscate legislation that would prevent a privileged few from financially benefiting from their elected office.
State Rep. Jack Hennessey and Sen. Marilyn Moore have co-sponsored legislation that would prevent some in government from taking advantage of their elected office, and for that I applaud them. House Bill 5886, would prevent municipal employees from serving on their local Town or City Council at the same time they are employed by that municipality.
Currently, the law prevents municipal employees from serving on Boards of Finance, where budget decisions and employment intersect. However, 24 Connecticut communities have a City or Town Council that functions like a Board of Finance, therefore creating a loophole that allows these elected officials to serve as both employees and elected officials simultaneously.
This current loophole allows four Bridgeport employees to serve on the Bridgeport City Council.
With the full support of Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, one of those employees is Tom McCarthy. McCarthy is the president of the Bridgeport City Council and also serves the city as a paid employee in his role as Deputy Director of Labor Relations. As the President of the City Council, McCarthy formulates the City’s legislative agenda. He is involved in approving labor contracts as a City Council member but also negotiates those same municipal employee labor agreements as the City’s Deputy Director of Labor Relations. McCarthy’s office also hears labor grievances.
This kind of conflict of interest is exactly why so many distrust those who hold public office. When a privileged few are given an unfair advantage, residents, businesses, and the media rightly lose their faith in government. When the integrity, ethics, and judgment of political leaders and decision makers is called into question, it obstructs the kind of progress that so many of us are trying to make in our communities.
It is no coincidence that the AFL-CIO has lined up with state Sen. Cathy Osten, herself a former union leader, to try and kill this reform legislation. Of course organized labor wants to see this legislation defeated.
McCarthy is the beneficiary of political support from organized labor. The longer he stays in office wearing two hats, the better it serves special interests in getting what they want — the very type of behavior that turns people off to the political process.
Even more alarming and in fact disappointing is the fact that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) has lined up with Mayor Finch and Senator Osten to oppose this legislation. While Trumbull no longer holds a membership with CCM, I have encouraged their leadership and other members to reconsider their position on this legislation.
Six of the seven members of Bridgeport’s legislative delegation support this important government reform measure. Yet, Mayor Finch, Senator Osten, organized labor, and even CCM are doing everything they can to prevent a vote on this legislation. No municipal chief executive, Republican or Democrat, should attach their name to an effort clearly dedicated to defeating sensible, common sense reform.
The Hennessey bill is an appropriate remedy to maintain the separation between the executive and legislative branch in any municipality. This same separation allows teachers to serve on local boards and commissions so long as they are not a member of their employing Board of Education. This same separation exists in the Connecticut Constitution prohibiting members of the Connecticut General Assembly from also being state employees. Likewise, the U.S. Constitution prohibits members of Congress from working for the federal government.
The good people of Bridgeport deserve better. They deserve a government that places the public interest ahead of special interests. Their hard earned tax dollars should not be asked to fund a government that places cronyism and patronage ahead of the public good.
Sadly, we have come to a time in Connecticut where so many expect so little from those in government. Every day there are politicians saying one thing and doing another. From deficits, to higher taxes, to bloated government and passing the buck to avoid public scrutiny, the people of Connecticut, both Republican and Democrat, are fed up with business as usual.
This legislation helps to put an end to some of that, by restoring openness and transparency and removing barriers that benefit only a few.
I urge all legislators, in both parties, to bring this bill to a full vote of the General Assembly. I urge Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to support this bill and sign it into law. And I ask my fellow Mayors and First Selectmen from both parties to urge CCM to reconsider their position on this legislation.
This is bigger than one city. This is about enacting common sense reform that opens government, prevents abuse and helps restore faith that the ultimate power still rests in the hands of we the people.
On this issue, there is no gray area. The problem is easily identified and the solution is crystal clear. To quote my late football coach, Jerry McDougall, it is time for the bureaucrats and self-preservationists to lead, follow, or get out of the way. The people of Connecticut deserve better.
Timothy Herbst is the first selectman of Trumbull.
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