Alders Balk On Approving Harp’s New Positions

THOMAS MACMILLAN PHOTOFaced with the new mayor’s first big request, city lawmakers refused to get on board—until the administration can explain why it needs seven new staffers, and how it will pay for them.

That’s what happened Wednesday night in City Hall’s aldermanic chamber, where the Board of Alders Finance Committee convened to consider a budget request from Mayor Toni Harp’s office. The committee decided to table the matter rather than pass it along for approval by the full board.

Harp would like to create seven new positions. She would like to add a bilingual receptionist and a “legislative director” in the mayor’s office, and create a four-person “Office of Development and Policy.” She also wants to have a director for a new “Minority and Small Business Initiative.”

In order for those positions to exist in the current fiscal year, the Board of Alders would have to approve some changes to the budget. Michael Harris, the mayor’s liaison to the Board of Alders, said surplus grant money could fund the positions for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Alders objected to the fact that they received details of the plan only at Wednesday’s meeting and had no time to examine it before being asked to vote on whether to recommend the proposal to the full board. Alders also pointed out that the administration didn’t even provide them with job descriptions for the new positions, nor information on exactly how the administration proposes to pay for the positions in future fiscal years.

In public testimony, two budget watchdogs called the proposed new positions unnecessary and wasteful.

The committee voted unanimously to take no action on the proposals, effectively tabling the matter until its next meeting.

The incident shed some light on the working relationship forming between the Board of Alders and Mayor Harp, who took office Jan. 1. Despite alders’ near unanimous endorsement of Harp during her mayoral campaign, New Haven’s executive and legislative branches have not always been on exactly the same page this year. Harp apologized last month, for instance, for not taking input from alders before sending her legislative agenda to New Haven’s state delegation.

Wednesday’s meeting showed that the administration had again failed to keep lawmakers in the loop, this time on the details of the new positions.

Harris (pictured), the legislative liaison, made the pitch for the new positions. He started with the new Office of Development and Policy, which would have a director earning $116,000 per year, a senior development officer ($60,000), an administrative assistant ($40,000), and an analyst ($40,000).

The department would be charged with finding and applying for grants to help the city pay for services and capital projects.

“We’re trying to capitalize more on federal, state and private money,” Harris said. Since the federal government recently passed a budget for the first time in years, all sorts of grant opportunities are going to open up, he said.

The plan is for the new office to bring in more money than it costs the city.

Harris said the mayor is looking to add a new bilingual receptionist, earning $40,000 per year, and a legislative director, earning $80,000 and focusing on the city’s interaction with the state and federal government.

The new director of the Minority and Small Business Initiative would earn $80,000 and be charged with improving opportunities for such businesses.

For the rest of the fiscal year, the city would pay for the new staff members using unrestricted leftover money from a variety of old grants, Harris said. Alders were dubious about this process. Hill Alder Jorge Perez (pictured), president of the board, asked for certification that the money can be spent the way Harris claimed it can.

Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison asked how the city would pay the new staffers after the current fiscal year.

Harris said the administration hopes to “make space in the budget” by eliminating vacant jobs and transferring the salaries allotted to those positions. The development office would bring in more money than it costs the city, or it wouldn’t last, he said.

Morrison said she wants to make sure the new positions are really necessary, because once they are filled, it’s much harder to do away with them. “It’s easier to say no to a no-face than to a face.” Once it’s a person and not just a position, “saying, ‘you gotta go’ becomes harder. I don’t want anyone to have to lose their job.”

Perez asked for job descriptions for the positions, saying that that’s standard procedure when trying to convince the board to create a new position. “Why are we having such a hard time getting information?”

Hill Alder Andrea Jackson-Brooks, voiced the same frustration: “I’m almost at the point of not wanting to take the item up.”

Alders also asked for information about how many grant writers the city currently employs, how much the city pays them, and how successful they are.

Mayoral staffer Becky Bombero said the city currently has only one grant writer, who works part-time on contract in the police department.

She urged the committee to move the proposal along immediately or risk losing out on grant opportunities. She said the next four weeks will see “the highest volume of federal notices of funding in the last five or six years.”

The quicker the board approved the new positions, the quicker the new development office can get ahold of those dollars, Bombero said.

“The more prepared you are, the faster we can approve it,” Perez shot back.

East Shore Alder Al Paolillo asked why the proposed salary for the new department’s director is so high, as high as the chief administrative officer (CAO).

Compared to what the city pays for outside grant writing contractors, “this is pretty fair,” Bombero said.

Paolillo said he wants more than that, an explanation of why the new director would be worth more than the CAO, who has an essential job in the city.

Perez commended the administration for looking for more sources of revenue. But he said alders need more information to justify the expense of creating seven new positions, since alders have to answer to their constituents.

Before and after administration staffers testified, the committee heard comments from budget watchdogs Gary Doyens and Ken Joyner, both of whom spoke out against the new positions.

Joyner (pictured) called the new positions “duplicative,” saying that other workers in the city are already doing all the work of the new positions. Almost every department already applies for and receives grants, he said. “We’re already performing those functions.”

Doyens cautioned that the city might not want to win every grant that’s out there; it might end up with unnecessary stuff to take care of. “That’s how we ended up with the boat for the fire department.”

Doyens (pictured) said the city doesn’t need a director of minority and small business development. Other city agencies are working on that project already, he said. A new legislative director position in the mayor’s office is similarly unnecessary, he said.

“This city is broke,” he said. It would be “a terrible decision” to add more staff.

At the end of the meeting, Perez noted that the committee had had a number of unanswered questions about the administration’s proposed new staff positions. He moved to adjourn the meeting without voting on the matter. The committee voted unanimously to adjourn.

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posted by: anonymous on February 13, 2014  10:36am

Why is the City adding staff positions for Harp campaign workers, while cutting essential staff like parks, library, and snow maintenance? 

Salaries for the one or two truly critical positions like CAO and City Engineer are set so low that the City can’t attract the best candidates.

Adding new political staff when the city is making draconian cuts everywhere else is a terrible idea.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 13, 2014  10:45am

Wake up people.It is call Tammany Hall.

posted by: inGodwetrust on February 13, 2014  10:50am

For real are these positions necessary. Also is these a give back for running the campaign so successfully that’s call pay back time.

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  11:10am

Joyner is 100% correct. The city already pays for grant writers; they’re called “Department Heads”.

posted by: anonymous on February 13, 2014  11:31am

InGod, it seems likely that all or most of the new high-paid positions would be staffed by campaign helpers.

If the Alders are worried about sustaining these positions permanently, as they should, perhaps they can encourage Mayor Harp to create them as a one-year contract position (consulting arrangement, e.g., the city pays 90K and the staff are responsible for covering their own taxes, benefits and work schedule) rather than as full-time staff.  This may make it harder to attract the best candidates, who probably want a permanent job including “vacation time” that they can use to campaign for their favorite politicians, but the City frequently does that.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on February 13, 2014  12:45pm

Shame on Mayor Harp. Although this comes as no surprise to me or should it to anyone else. Now aldermen, do not buckle and show the taxpayers what you are made of! No new positions. None because this is loud and clear pay back through our pockets. Completely unacceptable!

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 13, 2014  1:40pm

I agree, we should NOT add anymore positions. And the alders are right to find out where the cash will come from in years to come. Second if you can find the cash (almost a half mill a year) I say still do not create these positions and actually SAVE a half mill of the tax payers money for once!
Iagree with anonymous. We also seem to cut more and more of the lowest paid, blue collar, out in the field doing the dirty work jobs…and we create more and more paper pushin supervisor fluff jobs…who seem to have less and less people to supervise because we cut them. Half ass backwards.

and for those that have been paying attention year after year…I will bet Jorge will fold and scare the others into doing so. HOLD STRONG to the resst of you! Be the real voice of the people not of the elected (elected meaning they work for us)and there choose few.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on February 13, 2014  2:46pm

There is a simple flaw in the logic that the development office will pay for itself by bringing in new grants.  That may be true in actual dollars, meaning for example that the office brings in $1 million in new grants.  That would be great!  The problem is those grants will be for specific purposes and will probably not allow any of the costs of the Development office to be passed on to the grant, so it leaves the question of how to pay for the positions despite the fact they could be bringing in new grant money.

posted by: citoyen on February 13, 2014  3:02pm

It really is remarkable how bureaucracies, over and over again, demonstrate a never-ending imperative to keep expanding themselves.

And this comes just after Mayor Harp expressed reluctance this week to expand the school budget, in remarks that seemed hopeful.  “I know that people really care about education, I do, too; but people also care about not raising property taxes in this town,” she said.  “This board needs to take a little bit more authority in terms of oversight of this budget.  . . . We’ve got to make sure that we’re a lean, green, tough education machine.”

Just substitute the word “administration” for “education.”

Particularly galling is the pressure tactic of saying that if a new office for grant writing is not approved *within the next four weeks,* the city will lose out on new luscious tempting opportunities for federal funding.  If that is so, then a functioning, well-organized, effective administration would be moving mountains to get grant proposals written *now,* with the staff available (like, as robn suggests, department heads).  No new office—which would not even be in place for at least a week or two at the earliest—could get up and running in time to be able to submit proposals that would be taken seriously.

posted by: anonymous on February 13, 2014  4:10pm

Honest is correct that the administration’s logic is faulty.

Citoyen is correct that the administration’s threats about “leaving money on the table” are illogical and counterproductive.

posted by: state st on February 13, 2014  4:52pm

maybe they see the 475,000 slated for new signs etc. as a grant that they could fast trac into these positions.

posted by: Guido Brunetti on February 14, 2014  12:18am

Becky B -Really?!! If this was a movie, critics would refer to this scenario as eliciting unintended laughs from the audience.

This is such a blatant patronage ploy, because (yes Gary D and Ken Joyner) the positions are duplicative.  The Finance Committee conducted themselves quite admirably this round, but I share Cedarhill’s concern that Jorge will fold and persuade the others to approve these positions.

Any committee members voting to approve these positions betray the public trust and deserve to be voted out of office.

posted by: Conscience on February 14, 2014  12:23am

Voted for her, but disappointed with moves thus far. Too many questionably qualified appointees from campaign and no sense of how she must set the example for fiscal discipline. She will have to do a lot better to get my vote again. It looks like we are running out of good leaders at all levels of government on both sides of the aisle. The Alders should hold the line on this one.

posted by: leibzelig on February 14, 2014  2:24am

Threefifths, you are doing Tammany Hall a disservice by using it as a metaphor for the maneuvers of the gang moving into New Haven’s City Hall.
Tammany Hall served a purpose, a clearing house for those who wished to seek office. Around here, there was a time when if you wanted to run for an office, you went to see Art Barbieri. On the state level, you went to see John M. Bailey. Yes, it was about political control, machine politics if you will, but it also was about keeping the real idiots off the ballot. There also was a certain subtlety about what was going on. Perhaps that is what I find most concerning about politicos today. They lack subtlety. You helped the ticket win this ward or town or district: bang! You are now the commissioner of this or director of that. No subtlety. The je ne sais quoi has been replaced by je ne sais pas.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 14, 2014  5:41pm

Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and Incorporated on May 12, 1789, as the Tammany Society. It was the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in controlling New York City and New York State politics and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise up in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. It controlled Democratic Party nominations and political patronage in Manhattan from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 through the election of John P. O’Brien in 1932.

It is the same political machine that is being run in this day and time like back then.Your Point.

posted by: Stephen Harris on February 14, 2014  9:14pm

How about staffing the City Plan Department? It’s been cut to the marrow. Since every development proposal needs to pass through this office it seems sensible to staff it.

posted by: fastdriver on February 15, 2014  9:33pm

Time to bring back the old adage- JUST SAY NO!!!!!!!!