Contractor. Restaurateur. Zoning Commissioner. Supporter of Mayor Bill Finch.
Now Jose “Joe” Tiago can add Bridgeport city employee to his resume.
Sources said – and the city confirmed – that on Tuesday Tiago started work in the Public Facilities Department as a mayoral appointee.
The city has not yet provided a salary. He is earning $91,304.
Tiago is the former owner of Tiago Construction and owner of two restaurants – Tiago’s Bar and Grill and Bare Tapas. He also until recently served on the Planning & Zoning Commission, leaving to take on the municipal position.
Jorge Garcia, the new director of public facilities, in an interview Wednesday said Tiago is a smart addition and part of a reorganization.
Tiago had initially interviewed to fill Garcia’s ex-job as a deputy director in public facilities, but that position went to veteran department staffer, John Cottell.
Cottell was in charge of energy management. Garcia said Cottell will carry those responsibilities with him, freeing up a position that was transformed into Tiago’s new title – deputy director of road management.
Garcia said Tiago will be in charge of cracking down on utility companies and other private contractors that bust open city streets, then do a poor job of patching them, causing more damage and more expenses for taxpayers.
“A utility cut that’s not done properly, you’ll see a square cut out,” Garcia said. “If it starts to separate, water gets in, you’ll have spider cracks that run down the street. Now you’ve turned a utility cut that should have been done properly into a major road reconstruction or patchwork. So it so important for us to make sure we maintain it and hold them accountable.”
A city ordinance makes utilities responsible for such patches for five years.
“But we really haven’t had the kind of eyes on that that we’ve needed,” Garcia said.
He said Tiago will also be involved in other road work, demolitions of blighted property and be a good extra set of eyes on construction projects.
“Jose Tiago’s resume was tailor made for a project manager for roadway construction because pretty much everything he’s done in his 20-plus years in his career has been directly related to roadway repairs,” Garcia said. “He actually (had) a company at one point that did utility cuts and repairs.”
And, Garcia emphasized, Tiago’s local.
“I want to be able to have my people drive down those streets and feel the pain of the citizens,” Garcia said.
Tiago’s job was not advertised. Garcia said he serves “at the pleasure of the mayor.”
For others, Tiago – who hosted Finch’s 2011 victory party at Tiago’s – is yet another new addition to the ranks of the well-connected and the buddies/relatives of someone that have populated City Hall for decades.
John Gomes, a fired Finch staffer who considered challenging Finch in 2011, then backed Finch’s opponent, Mary-Jane Foster, in the Democratic Primary, said he too interviewed for Garcia’s old deputy director job.
Gomes said he was surprised to learn the city found a position for Tiago and that the new roadway job should have been advertised.
“As a taxpayer and voter I find it to be a complete mockery of the system,” Gomes said. “One minute you’re interviewing for deputy director of public facilities, the next thing you know, you’re given another position.”
But asked what exactly is wrong with Tiago’s hire – Gomes himself could be considered a connected applicant, though certainly an unlikely one given his history with Finch – Gomes acknowledged, “You are right. The system gave him the opportunity and he took it.”
Ex-Democratic Councilman Bob Walsh was one of those who opposed Finch’s decision to appoint Tiago to the Zoning Commission in 2009. Critics at the time questioned whether Tiago had truthfully answered questions about a legal battle with the city over what authorities said was his illegally established construction business.
“Tiago owns two restaurants and now he’s going to take a full time job with the city. And the restaurants have been used by city employees and they’ve been used for political fundraisers,” Walsh said. “It does seem like they’re just blurring the lines again.”
Walsh said it’s a good idea to keep tabs on what the utility companies are doing to Bridgeport’s roads, but doesn’t believe it requires a new position.
“If we now have to hire somebody to see they’re doing the job, seems like something isn’t working in that equation,” Walsh said. “Or else it is working and it’s just ‘make work’ for Joe (Tiago).”
Finch’s office in a statement did not mention Tiago by name, but defended the hire.
“Mayor Finch’s administration remains focused on doing right by taxpayers, which includes ensuring that high-quality services are being provided to residents as quickly as possible,” said the mayor’s office. “This reorganization effort in the city’s public facilities department does just that. Led by Jorge Garcia, who has a track record of success with re-organization efforts, it brings top-notch talent to positions that each individual is uniquely qualified for. In turn, it helps ensure that the city is providing the best services possible, in a taxpayer-friendly manner.”
Tiago did not return a phone message left Tuesday at Tiago’s.