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Bridgeport cop captain accused of racism among high earners

March 22, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — It likely was not how former Police Captain Mark Straubel intended to exit Bridgeport’s Finest, but his decision to retire from the department last August while under investigation for an alleged racist rant at least fattened his wallet.

Straubel not only broke into the list of top 100 highest paid Bridgeport employees, but actually came in seventh. He cashed out on $129,971 worth of unused holidays, vacation, sick and compensatory time accrued during his 20-plus years with the department.

So while the ex-captain only earned a portion — $66,433 — of his annual $104,051 salary, his gross 2018 earnings, according to city data, totaled $212,254.

Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration provided the list of its top 100 earners along with a breakdown of their gross pay, to Hearst Connecticut Media in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

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As was the case in 2017, cops and educators made up the bulk of the list, with around 20 others, like Ganim, Public Facilities Director John Ricci, and some municipal lawyers, popping up.

Straubel, who is white and was a close aide to Police Chief Armando Perez, retired amid an internal investigation into allegations he wrote racist messages over Facebook to a white woman. One of those messages stated that African-Americans are a “cancer” and that Straubel hoped for a race war.

Police Capt. Roderick Porter, until recently Bridgeport’s highest ranking black officer and a recent finalist for chief, has a complaint pending with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities challenging the city’s handling of the Straubel case.

Porter was not among the 100 highest paid. However Lonnie Blackwell, promoted this year from sergeant to captain after suing the city in federal court for discrimination, came in 14th with $174,925 in gross earnings — over $96,000 more than his sergeant’s base salary of $78,675.

Much of Blackwell’s extra income was in overtime. He earned $70,927 in straight work overtime, and $13,636 for “outside” off-duty assignments at construction sites and other security positions. Many of those jobs are supposed to be reimbursed to the city by the private companies involved, such as utilities.

Retirement payouts and police overtime helped determine who made the 2018 list and where those employees appeared on it.

Beside Straubel, three other retired police officers were among the 10 highest paid workers: Sgt. John Losak was number one with $283,308, Police Capt. Robert Evans was in second place with $264,604 and Police Sgt. John Evans was fourth on the list, earning $240,043 in 2018.

Police Sgt. Gregg Granello was sixth on the list. While his base pay is $78,675, Granello earned the largest amount of straight overtime — $112,288 — and $13,762 working off-duty.

“He’s just a working machine,” Perez said Friday of Granello.

The chief said that beside performing his regular patrol duties, Granello in 2018 had a key roll in implementing the department’s uniform cameras and technological upgrades to police cruisers.

Bridgeport’s finance and budget staff, who track and estimate overtime, recently told the City Council that Perez might wind up $1.9 million over his $5.3 million overtime budget when the fiscal year ends June 30. But some of that is expected to be offset by reduced personnel costs because of vacancies.

“I think I’ve got a better handle on” the overtime, said Perez, who Ganim promoted late last year to permanent chief after nearly three years as acting top cop.

From top lawyers to mayoral chauffeurs

Perez was 36th on the top paid list, earning $154,164. For the bulk of 2018, he was acting police chief with a base salary of $145,428. Like many long-time Bridgeport employees, Perez took advantage of a city policy allowing staffers who have earned four weeks of vacation a year to choose a payout for two of those the following year. In Perez’s case, that was $5,192.

Perez also received the annual longevity bonus provided long-time employees. His was $2,625 after more than 38 years on the force.

The chief’s standing on the list of high earners is likely to improve in 2019. Perez, because he left the union after being made permanent top cop, was allowed to cash in unused time accrued during his career. So in January he was paid $171,830 — $122,017 after taxes — for unused vacation, personal and sick days, holidays and for compensatory time.

Among the non-cops in the top 10 municipal earners was Attorney Mark Anastasi, a veteran of the law department. He still advises city officials on legal matters, but as a consultant. Upon retiring in mid-2018, Anastasi cashed in $119,109 worth of unused sick days and $13,098 worth of vacation time, helping him become the eighth highest paid official, with gross earnings of $210,346.

In contrast, City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer, Anastasi’s supervisor, was much further down the list, taking home $147,821.

Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson dropped from second on the list in 2017 to third last year, receiving $252,365. Marlene Siegel, the school district’s chief financial officer, inched up from sixth place to fifth, earning $215,016.

Ganim had been in 29th place in 2017. In 2018, he dropped slightly to 35th, but still earned more — $154,502 versus $152,876 in 2017. The mayor recently negotiated a new contract with the city’s supervisors union that also benefits non-union elected and appointed officials. So he will be receiving a retroactive 2 percent raise as of last July, and another 2 percent raise this summer.

The mayor has a couple of police officers who drive him around and serve as security. Only one of those, Lt. Richard Azzarito, appeared on the list, helped by the $44,859 he was paid in straight overtime. Perez, however, said the overtime was not related to Azzarito’s mayoral duties. The lieutenant took home $146,916 total.

Another noteworthy name on the list is Ricci’s. His job running the massive public facilities department earned the veteran of the city payroll and of Bridgeport politics — he helped elect Ganim in 2015 — $146,829. And, like Ganim, Ricci, a non-union political appointee, will share in the supervisors union’s raises.

Those pay increases should help offset the four weeks worth of salary that Ricci recently lost as punishment for his role in a recent scandal involving the illicit sale of scrap metal by members of Ricci’s staff.