Ex-Budget Boss sues Bridgeport over compensation

July 15, 2016 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — For years Tom Sherwood maintained the city’s books.

Now the retired budget director wants the city to give his personal finances a little surplus.

Sherwood, who retired late last year ahead of Joe Ganim’s return to the mayor’s office, has gone to court claiming he is owed $35,000. The money is compensation Sherwood claims he was promised for temporarily assuming extra duties in 2013 when the finance department was short-staffed.

Bridgeport has both finance and budget offices.

“I don’t want to spend their (Bridgeport’s) money on any legal stuff,” said Sherwood when reached for comment. “But I have no choice.”

City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer in a statement called Sherwood’s alleged side duties “absurd” and “unauthorized and outrageous.”

“This claim is a clear indication of how the prior administration operated and explains why they left a $20 million deficit,” Meyer said.

Hired in 1985, Sherwood was the budget chief for 12 years, last year earning $157,570. Ganim ran the city from 1991 until 2003, then waged a successful comeback in 2015, ousting Finch in the Democratic Party primary.

According to legal documents, Sherwood in early 2013 was asked by Andrew Nunn, Finch’s chief administrative officer, to take on the “critical” duties of the vacant deputy finance director’s position.

Those extra duties included preparing monthly financial reports and preparing for an audit. Sherwood claimed he worked a total of 27 weeks, 24 hours a week, performing those extra duties.

“The plaintiff was requested to wait for the payment for the additional work, to which he agreed,” reads Sherwood’s lawsuit.

Late last year, near the end of Finch’s administration and his own career with Bridgeport, Sherwood requested his payment as he prepared to retire.

“The mayor said, ‘He did the work. Pay him’,” Sherwood recalled.

But before the check was cut, Ganim was sworn back in on Dec. 1.

“Then the world stopped,” Sherwood said.

The primary battle between Finch and Ganim was particularly bitter because the latter was convicted of public corruption in 2003. Finch ran as the honest candidate. Subsequently Ganim and his advisers have not been shy about portraying Finch and his ex-staffers as hypocrites who abused their power at the expense of taxpayers.

Meanwhile Sherwood recently did some consulting work for one of the larger municipal unions - the National Association of Government Employees - as it negotiated givebacks with Ganim. During that time Sherwood publicly cast doubt on Ganim’s assertion that Finch left a $20 million budget hole.

Meyer argued that there is neither evidence of a written agreement between the Finch administration and Sherwood for side work nor that such a deal was approved by the City Council.

“Neither Finch nor Nunn had legal authority to approve a $35,000 supplemental payment to Sherwood,” Meyer said. “Does Mr. Sherwood want us to believe as (budget) director he was not aware of the approvals and legal authority necessary before spending taxpayer dollars?”

But Sherwood argues his work was actually split between two budgets. It began during the 2012-13 fiscal year and resumed in the 2013-14 fiscal year. As such, Sherwood said, it would have counted as two different payments, each falling below the $25,000 threshold for council approval.

“The City Attorney knows they do ‘professional service agreements’ that don’t require council approval up to $25,000,” Sherwood said. “The City Attorney does it every day of the week.”

Sherwood is being represented by prominent labor lawyer Thomas Bucci, a former Bridgeport mayor. Bucci could not be reached for comment.