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Better — or restrained — information from City Hall

December 16, 2018

When a mayor’s office tells city employees not to talk directly to the media, there’s only one way to find out what’s going on: talk to some city employees.

Bridgeport city employees opened their in boxes last week to discover just such an order from Mayor Joe Ganim.

Inquiries, he said, should be relayed to his communications director, Rowena White, to insure accurate response.

By at least one employee’s account, there may have been no specific reason for the action, just a technical update of a written policy that actually was put in effect by former Mayor Bill Finch.

By this account, White came across the written policy, which still bore the names of Finch and his communications director, Elaine Ficarra, and wanted to bring it up to date with the names of Ganim and White.

The need to reissue the policy at this stage of the game was less clear.

By another city employee account, it could have been precipitated by the recent kerfuffle over the blooming of the entrepreneurial spirit in the hearts of one or more employees in the city’s Department of Public Facilities.

Police are looking into the sale of more than $35,000 worth of scrap metal, the profits gone to, well, no one seems to know.

John Ricci, head of the department, said some $5,500 was collected over three years for a sort of departmental “sunshine fund” that would pay for such things as morale-boosting birthday cakes, tickets for various social and cultural events, for meals and accommodations for workers who had to toil through snowstorms and for contributions to food pantries, youth sports, funerals and Toys for Tots, according to reporting by Hearst Connecticut Media reporter Brian Lockhart.

The municipal department with a heart of, well, scrap metal.

That had nothing to do with the timing of the instruction, White said Friday. “It’s been on my desk for a while. We’ve had discussions about it and I just got to it this week. We’ve been intending to send it out for some time. People sometimes don’t realize when they’re asked something that other departments and other people may be involved. I’m trying to be helpful to the departments and to the residents.”

Seems reasonable. And neither she nor Ganim were original authors of the policy.

City employees always will find a way to speak, whatever restrictions imposed by an administration.

Just for instance, the whistle was blown on the scrap metal caper by an anonymous letter, this time one sent to the city council, not, as has frequently been the case, directly to the newsroom.

Credit the city’s finance director, Ken Flatto, with sending out the message that private departmental “petty cash” operations have no place in city government.

There are plenty of policies that take root in a bureaucratic world that ought to be looked at in Bridgeport.

Consider the superhuman stamina of police officers who leave service with six-figure compensation for vacation days never used during decades of service. It’s a long-standing practice that needs review.

While White makes valid points, the view from other perspectives is that discouraging employees from engaging directly with the media is one more impediment to getting information to the public.

Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the editorial page of the Connecticut Post. Email: edit@ctpost.com.

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