Scene: New Haven City. Occasion: The fortnightly meeting of the Board of Alders. From a fanfare-filled clean-air press conference to a surprise homelessness political emergency, rousing speeches and multimillion-dollar bond deals—come see your elected officials at work, in 10 acts over two hours and 25 minutes.
I. Brackeen Clean-Air Resolution Hailed
Monday, 5:15 p.m. Flanked by colleagues, clergy, activists, and city officials, Alder Darryl Brackeen (pictured above) announces a new city resolution calling on President Barack Obama and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Cleaning the air can not only stop global warming and protect public health; it can be good for the economy, says Mayor Toni Harp. Brackeen says the city has formed a clean-air advisory council and is planning to form a commission on energy use and a task force on public health, a green economy, and clean air. The resolution is non-binding on the feds.
II. Brackeen Budget Plan Bashed
5:40 p.m. After expressing her support for Brackeen’s clean-air resolution, Mayor Harp (pictured) voices opposition to his budget plan. Brackeen has submitted a proposal to avoid the 3.8 percent property tax increase that’s part of Harp’s proposed new $511 million city budget. Brackeen’s plan comprises many small cuts, and two large ones: flat-funding the Board of Ed, saving $1.5 million; and eliminating $1 million set aside to replenish the city’s rainy day fund. Harp rejects both of these ideas. She says New Haven’s schools need money to close the city’s large achievement gap, and it needs to replenish the rainy-day fund to avoid getting socked with more bond-rating downgrades. Brackeen responds that the schools can make do with what they had last year, and that, while it’s important to avoid more hits to the bond rating, New Haveners can’t afford to pay more taxes.
III. Homeless “Sign-Out” Privileges Revoked?
6:50 p.m. Just before the formal biweekly meeting of the Board of Alders is to commence, homelessness activists Gregory Williams and Mark Colville crash the party. They report that they have just had a unusual and unpleasant experience at the overflow shelter, which offers overnight housing for homeless people during the colder half of the year. Williams says he and Colville showed up at the shelter to “sign out” some six homeless people so that they could come to City Hall to talk to alders about funding the shelter to stay open longer this year. When staff at the shelter heard what they wanted to do, Williams says, the staff refused to let homeless people leave to go to the meeting. Hearing this story, Mike Harris, the mayor’s legislative liaison to the board, reassures the pair that “that’s definitely not city policy. We want as many people to come to meetings as possible.” Harris immediately arranges meetings among Colville and Williams and mayoral Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes and Mayor Harp. Reyes (pictured conferring with Williams, Harris, and Colville) says the city will contact the overflow shelter and make sure that peoples’ ability to come to city meetings is not “abridged in any way” in the future.
IV. Sneaky Developers, Wage Thieves Put On Notice
7:10 p.m. Then Alders Dolores Colon and Delphine Clyburn deliver the annual Black and Hispanic Caucus address to a packed chamber. They speak about the Board of Alders’ progress on its legislative goals of boosting jobs, youth and public safety. They highlight New Haven Works, the newly unveiled New Haven Youth Map, and community policing. They promise to keep a close eye on each new economic development project and “shut it down!” if developers are not abiding by minority hiring goals. They also promise to fight against wage theft, as seen recently at Gourmet Heaven, and “make an example of negligent employers.” The speech ends with chants of “We want jobs” from onlookers in the gallery, led by union activist Scott Marks.
V. Loophole Closure Begins
7:20 p.m. Shortly after the meeting begins, Majority Leader Alder Al Paolillo officially “notes” agenda items 3 through 14, the way the board acknowledges new proposals before sending them to committee for review. The noted items include a proposed ordinance amendment that would change the personnel policies regarding retirement benefits for “sworn personnel with 20 years of service prior to July 1, 2014.” The change is intended to remove an incentive for two assistant police chiefs, Denise Blanchard and Thaddeus Reddish (pictured), to retire. Under the existing policies, the chiefs, who are not part of the police union, are entitled to the same benefits and retirement packages as union cops. Under changes to police health benefits that will come into effect on July 1 (click here to see the current union contract, look for Article 16, Section 5), the chiefs would have a “significant incentive to retire,” new Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter wrote in a submission letter to alders.
VI. Putnam Street Rebirth Continues
7:20 p.m. Alder Paolillo also notes agenda item number 10, a proposed order authorizing the city to sell four new houses it built on Putnam Street as part of a federally-funded neighborhood revitalization project. The city’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative, last year rehabbed three homes on the street and is now almost done building another four. The four new homes will be sold to people who meet certain income requirements and who plan to live in them. The full project — rehabbing and new construction — cost $1.6 million in federal funding and $1.6 million in city money. It’s meant to revive a struggling neighborhood and clean up after the Hill Development Corporation, after that organization folded and abandoned the properties.
VII. Of Parking Bondage
7:20 p.m. Alder Paolillo notes item number 11, which would authorize the parking authority to issue $9.9 million in revenue bonds. The money, borrowed against projected parking fee collection, would allow the authority to pay off $4.8 million in old bonds, and borrow — at a lower interest rate — $5.1 million to pay for improvements at various parking garages and the $2.5 million construction of a controversial new parking lot in the Rt. 34 corridor, between Sherman Avenue and Tyler Street.
VIII. See Ya, CMED
7:30 p.m.Among the votes that alders take Monday night, they decide unanimously to terminate New Haven’s membership in the South Central Connecticut Regional Emergency Medical Communications System. CMED, as it’s called, is a system New Haven helped create in the 1970s to enable communication between ambulances and hospitals. Each year, CMED sends a bill to each of 17 participating towns. New Haven has long argued that it is paying disproportionately more than other cities. In the current fiscal year, for instance, New Haven pays $342,637.06 while Bridgeport pays $90,000 and Hartford pays $117,000. The goal of leaving CMED is to find a more cost-effective way for the city to provide communications between ambulances and hospitals.
IX. Snow Job
7:35 p.m. Alders vote unanimously to grant “leave to Withdraw” to a city request to authorize the transfer of $200,000 to public works for snow removal contracting. This item was introduced in January, Harris says, in the midst of the winter’s seemingly endless stream of blizzards. Before alders considered it, however, the city controller improperly authorized the transfer, says Board of Alders President Jorge Perez. That’s why alders give the request leave to withdraw. The improper transfer still needs to be somehow dealt with legislatively, Perez says. The item needs to be resubmitted, or someone will have to make a motion to reconsider it.
7:35 p.m. Aldermen subsequently vote unanimously to: support Brackeen’s resolution calling for federal enforcement of the Clean Air Act (see Act I); authorize $22,000 for emergency repair to the main generator at police headquarters; accept a grant to participate in national Kick Butts Day 2014 (which is about quitting smoking, not beating people up); call on the federal government to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; accept a new, free “mobile command vehicle” for the police department; call on the state delegation to support the city’s efforts to curb nightclub violence; and close part of Fountain Street for Westville’s annual ArtWalk (pictured) this weekend.