We understand Good Governance is about the process for making and implementing decisions on behalf of the public trust. It is not about government making the “correct” decision, but about government engaging in the best possible process for making that decision. Good Governance restores and builds trust, honesty, and a collective vision for a people united by common law.

Good Governance is accountable, transparent, follows the rule of law, responsive, equitable and inclusive, efficient and effective, and participatory.

For more on this definition of Good Governance, click here.

There are three issues in Good Governance:

Bridgeport City Budget
Financial Task Force
Downtown Parking Meters

Please continue reading below for the research and policy recommendations.

Bridgeport City Budget

OVERVIEW

The FY 2018 Bridgeport City budget, as proposed by the Mayor’s Office and approved by City Council, has a $39.1 million assumption of an Excess Cost Grant to the Bridgeport Board Of Education built into it. Back in April, according to the City Budget document, this number came from the Governor’s FY 2018 proposed budget. Our members, however, understood at the time that assuming $39 million from the state was very risky, given the fiscal crisis at the state level, and we asked City Council leaders to address this with a plan of action back in early May. No concrete plan was ever issued by the Mayor’s Office, nor by City Council.

It is now August and the State has not reached a budget yet. It is still highly probable that they will not reach a budget by September, when school starts. So, what is the City’s plan should Bridgeport receive less than $39 million from the state? We can only do three things: 1) Do nothing and therefore underfund our schools 2) Raise taxes to cover the shortfall, or 3) Cut money from City departments and services. City Council members said at our June Member Meeting they would only make cuts to City departments should we receive less money, but that begs the question – after salaries, benefits, and basic municipal services – what is there left to cut? This is a very difficult task that requires financial expertise across City departments and months of special planning and preparation. As of this publication, we know of no exceptional effort on behalf of the City to find those savings.

In order to understand the right plan of action for taking control of our city’s finances, we have to understand what parts of our City budget are large and growing faster than the overall budget. Core Member Niels Heilmann worked hard to analyze the past 4 years of the City Budget.

RESEARCH AND POLICY

Bridgeport City Budget Research

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for Mayor’s Office, City Council, and Budget Appropriations Committee

  • Review the fastest growing items in our budget, which include City Attorney’s Office, Special Ed Transportation, Police, Fire, Custodians, and BOE Food Service. Ask and analyze why and publicly release the report.
  • City Council should receive a monthly report outlining spending versus the overall budget. When actual spending results do not match the budget, City Council must demand answers from departments and Office of Policy and Management (i.e. According to Open Budget, the Police Department spent a combined $6.526 million in money ($4.059 from Patrol and $2.466 from Detective) that was not in their budgets for FY 2017.)
  • Adopt Participatory Budgeting to build an educated electorate who understands the budgeting process.

City Council Comments (from our June 2017 Member Meeting)

City Council Members in attendance said they would cut from City departments if we receive less than $39.1 million from the state for education.

 

Financial Task Force

OVERVIEW

Though Bridgeport was a hub of industrial production and wealth throughout much of the 20th Century, the roots of its economic troubles date all the way back to 1960, years before the first Bridgeport factory shuttered its doors. That year, the Connecticut General Assembly, led by suburban interests, abolished the state’s eight county governments, leaving Bridgeport and other cities in the state to fend for themselves.

Not surprisingly, by the late 1980’s the city was in fiscal crises. In 1989, Mayor Tom Bucci declared the city insolvent and sought $50M in state-secured bond funding to bail it out. The State agreed under the condition that Bridgeport’s budget fall under the strict oversight of a newly formed 9-member financial review board. The panel was appointed by the State and was made up of state-level and local government officials.

The financial review board required Bucci and his successor, Mayor Mary Moran, to create a feasible three-year financial plan and to keep the city’s budget balanced. They reviewed the city’s income and expenses every month for over five years. During that time, city property taxes went up one or two of the years and didn’t go up the other years. The objective was not to keep taxes flat, but simply to ensure that the budget was balanced.

Both Bucci and Moran chafed under the board’s oversight and the City’s financial situation remained in critical condition. Not until Mayor Joe Ganim and his administration were able to achieve a balanced budget for four consecutive years, did the city meet the state’s conditions. At that point, the committee was dissolved. A balanced budget was achieved but the committee in this structure, failed to address the financial conditions that still plague us today – i.e. they did not address the large and growing obligations. The can was kicked down the road. A better solution needs to be considered.

Core Members Lilly Alves, Nicole Cassidy, and Niels Heilmann thoughtfully analyzed a better solution, to establish a permanent Financial Task Force that would advise City Council and the Mayor on the City Budget.

RESEARCH AND POLICY

Financial Task Force Research

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for Mayor’s Office and City Council

  • Short-term: Write and pass an ordinance creating a Financial Task Force
  • Long-term: Establish a separate Board of Finance through Charter reform. Refer to the City of Stamford Board of Finance for inspiration.

City Council Comments
All 7 City Council Members in attendance at our June meeting said they would support an ordinance creating a Financial Task Force or Advisory Board.

Downtown Parking Meters

OVERVIEW

According to best practices for municipal parking in urban centers, parking meters are good as they promote space turnover for local businesses and are supposed to encourage traffic flow. They are not meant to be a tool for raising revenue for a city’s budget. In Bridgeport’s downtown, we have longstanding, fundamental issues with our on-street parking that contribute to perceptions of our downtown as unfriendly to residents, consumers, and business development. We also have a history of poor fiscal mismanagement and public oversight of the revenue generated from the meters and from fines. As of 2016, Bridgeport still had downtown parking meters that accept quarters only, dinosaurs in the 21st century.

In 2016, Mayor Ganim promised to upgrade the downtown parking meters, something that business and property owners had been asking the City to do for years. The Mayor’s Office hastily pushed through disastrous and disruptive changes, including implementing “robo-cob” photo enforcement meters that caused confusion and chaos – contracted without proper public oversight – adding to the dysfunctional perception of our city and downtown.

Core Members Callie Gale Heilmann and Razul Branch, with help from Kelvin Ayala, downtown business owner, and Carmen Lopez, retired Superior Court judge, researched the history, attended meetings, and established clear recommendations for how the City can move forward.

RESEARCH AND POLICY

Downtown Parking Meters Research

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for Mayor’s Office, City Council, and State Delegation

  • Pass the Moratorium on Downtown Parking Meters. This moratorium could last up to 12 months. This would give City Council time to convene public hearings and properly set up a Parking Authority, which would be in charge of implementing a new parking system.
  • Pass the Resolution to Terminate the Contract with LAZ Parking. We still do not know if the current contract is even legal. It is also unethical and unjust for a private corporation to make a commission off our public infrastructure and our people – many of whom are low-income – with no public oversight.  
  • Restructure our Parking Authority with the help of the Bridgeport state delegation. With an update to our state statute, we can fund the operating budget for our Parking Authority by both meter revenues and fines. Look to Hartford’s Parking Authority for inspiration: https://hartfordparking.com/about-hpa/what-we-do/
  • Read this report from the Mayor’s Innovation Project (based in Madison, WI) on best practices and policies for urban parking: http://www.mayorsinnovation.org/images/uploads/pdf/SURDNA_Parking_brief.pdf

City Council Comments
As of our June meeting, 14 City Council Members were in favor of terminating LAZ’s contract and placing a 12-month moratorium on meter enforcement.