Earlier this week, Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education held a meeting of its Ad Hoc Budget Committee to hear from part-time superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, about his plans to over-ride local support and pull Bridgeport’s successful alternative high school program out of the University School, a non-profit entity that has been part of the Bridgeport community for decades.
Although the meeting agenda was explicit, with only two items to be discussed, parents, University School supporters and other community members had to sit through a meeting in which the Budget Committee members and staff held a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of issues.
When an audience member, Carmen Lopez, a retired Connecticut judge, raised the point that Connecticut law requires that the members of a public board or committee limit their discussions to what is on the agenda, the Committee’s Chairman, Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr., became verbally abusive yelling that he “will talk about anything he wants to talk about” and that “no-one is going to tell him what he can talk about at his meeting.”
When informed that failure to follow the agenda would be a violation of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, Moalas was reported to have said “I don’t care.”
Considering that Rev. Moales served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer in last year’s mayoral campaign, one would expect that he would understand the law and appreciate the importance of respecting Mayor Finch’s constituents, but apparently that isn’t the case.
Following his unwarranted attack and diatribe, the Mayor or someone on the Mayor’s staff would do well to provide Rev. Moales with a copy of the law or they could simply print off the following:
Sec. 1-225. (Formerly Sec. 1-21). Meetings of government agencies to be public. Recording of votes. Schedule and agenda of meetings…
“(c) The agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be available to the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before the meetings to which they refer…Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting, any subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be considered and acted upon at such meetings.” [This means that the members can only discuss the items on the agenda unless, by a two-thirds vote the members move to open the agenda and add additional items. The reason this law exists is that the public has a fundamental right to know, at least 24 hours in advance, what their public servants will be discussing.]
In addition, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education should specifically note that;
“(d) Notice of each special meeting of every public agency…shall be posted not less than twenty-four hours before the meeting to which such notice refers… The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted. No other business shall be considered at such meetings by such public agency. “[This means that if the meeting in question is a “special meeting” then the agenda cannot be modified in any way.]
As a member of the appointed Board of Education and a Democratic candidate for Bridgeport’s reconstituted Board of Education, Moales’ public behavior sends a clear message about his approach to ensuring public input on education issues.
However, what may be an even bigger issue for Rev. Moales, is whether he faces a potential conflict of interest when it comes to even serving on the appointed or elected Board of Education.
Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc., a company affiliated with Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, Inc. received approximately $600,000 in public funds for day care and after school services that it has provided to the City of Bridgeport over the past year.
Most, if not all, of these funds were paid through a contact between Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ Inc. and the Bridgeport Board of Education. Since 2006, Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. has received over $2.2 million in public funds.
While the corporate records have not been properly maintained or updated, according to the documents filed with the Secretary of the State and the IRS Form 990s that are filed with the Federal government, Peggy Ann Moales, Kenneth Moales’ mother, serves as the President of Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. and the President of Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, Inc.
Considering the corporation’s records have not been updated since about 2004, it is unclear what, if any, corporate position Reverend Kenneth Moales presently holds, but traditionally a financial conflict of interest occurs when an official or an immediate family member of that official is associated with a business that would benefit directly from that official’s actions.
Since the Board of Education contracts directly with Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ Inc., Rev. Maoles may have just such a conflict, in which he should not even be serving on Bridgeport’s appointed Board of Education, let alone be running for a seat on the upcoming elected Board.
There is absolutely no excuse for public officials to flaunt the law, regardless of whether it is the Freedom of Information law or the conflict of interest laws.