Who You Calling Last Century?

Paul Bass PhotoMichael Smart thinks the city clerk’s office is stuck in the last century? Ron Smith said he knows better—and he mailed a letter to the Independent to say so.

Ron Smith, who has run the City/Town Clerk’s Office for the past 10 years, finds himself running for reelection against two, and possibly three, challengers for what is normally a forgotten, uncontested $46,597-a-year part-time position. The clerk is responsible for overseeing the filing of land records and other official documents as well as certifying legislative votes, campaign forms and election results.

One of those challengers is Michael Smart, who launched his campaign last week with a promise to bring the office into the modern technological age by making more public records “easily accessible” and “downloadable” online; and adding some night-time hours to accommodate business people who work during the day and need to file official papers. (Read about that here.)

Smith called the Independent to ask for a chance to respond to Smart’s remarks with a press release. Then he mailed the release to the Independent’s office. The letter arrived Monday.

“If alderman Smart even occasionally visited the office to electronically file his Tax abatement committee reports, he would clearly witness that the office is indeed functioning in the 21st century,” the release quotes Smith as saying. “The office is clean, well lit, and functionally arrange so as to allow visitors, those with handicap, or minimal computer skills to easily search, find data or gain assistance. The office is staffed with highly a skilled 20-year experienced assistant clerk and four other clerks all of whom have taken and passed the civil service exam with the highest possible scores.” (Smart, a Wooster Square alderman, chairs the Board of Aldermen’s Tax Abatement Committee.)

Smith also said that the mayor’s office sets office hours; that “there has never been a complaint for the need of later hours”; and that the office does stay open late when needed to accommodate heightened demand for “voter registration and voter identification.”

Smith also criticized Smart and another clerk candidate, Westville Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, for voting for a new city budget that includes a tax hike and for voting in support of selling two downtown streets to Yale for $3 million.

Smart, who is African-American, also said at his campaign launch last week that he wants to “diversify” the clerk’s office by having some staff who are not African-American.

“The Aldermen should take time to research and accustom himself with the rules of the office of the secretary State of Connecticut, the Statues of the State of Connecticut, and the rules of the New Haven City Service Commission regarding testing qualification and appointments,” Smith responded in his statement.

Gloves Come Off: Meanwhile, a mayoral candidate expected to be spurned for a key union endorsement has joined in criticizing the political moves of the city’s dominant political force, Yale’s UNITE/HERE Local 34 & Local 35. Those unions helped elect a majority to the Board of Aldermen two years ago. They are expected to back state Sen. Toni Harp in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary, which takes place Sept. 10. Seven Democrats are running in that race.

In a release issued Tuesday, Democratic mayoral candidate State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield criticized the “union-controlled” Board of Aldermen for passing the new city budget with the tax increase. He also criticized the board for the sale of streets to Yale.

Holder-Winfield also took credit in the release for working with “other state legislators” “long hours, from early morning meetings to watching the sun come up on all-night debates,” to find an extra $6.3 million in state aid to the city at the end of the session. That enabled aldermen to trim the size of the new tax hike, from 7.7 to 4.9 percent.

Click here to read Holder-Winfield’s release.

In the release, Holder-Winfield also branded as “ridiculous” criticism that another candidate, Henry Fernandez, leveled a day earlier against New Haven’s state legislators (as reported here). Fernandez laid much of the blame for the city’s fiscal woes to the delegation’s failure, in his view, to get the state to fund the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes program (which reimburses cities for taxes lost of exempt properties) at 100 percent.

“Not only did we bring in more funding than was expected, and managed to lower taxes passed by the city, but Connecticut is still struggling financially and doesn’t have the kind of money that Henry is talking about,” Holder-Winfield stated. “PILOT funding already accounts for almost half of the city budget, taking the kind of money Henry’s talking about is impossible for the state to afford and irresponsible for the sustainable budgeting of our city. It just shows how little Henry understands the ways that the state government interacts with the city.”

Holder-Winfield also gave a back-handed compliment to state Sen. Toni Harp, who is another mayoral candidate this year. He credited Harp for her leading role in delivering dollars to new Haven as co-chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee—then added that therefore the city “can’t afford” to lose her in Hartford. Translation: The city can’t afford to have her elected mayor instead.

The One-Half Of 1 Percent: National campaigns sometimes focus on “the 1 percent,” meaning the richest people in America. New Haven mayoral candidate Kermit Carolina said it’s time for a discussion for how to deal with the “one-half of 1 percent”—“repeat, violent offenders” who are shooting up neighborhoods.

He called last week for a civil injunction to bar those troublemakers from certain street corners. His opponents criticized the idea (in this article by the Register’s Mary O’Leary) as raising questions of both constitutionality and effectiveness. Carolina subsequently issued a statement responding to the criticism by saying his idea is but one part of a larger “bold discussion” that needs to take place on how to curb crime.

“It is imperative that the idea of civil injunctions not be taken out of context; this must not be used as a sound bite. Civil injunctions are part of an overall plan, and do not reflect the entire plan. I have repeatedly called for the expansion of Community Policing, job-training opportunities, effective re-entry programs and targeted wrap-around services for families,” the release quotes him as saying. Click here to read the full release.

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posted by: Dee Rien on June 5, 2013  2:19pm

If that is the totality of Mr. Smith’s response, didn’t he sort of just prove Mike Smart’s point? I mean, if Mr. Smith thinks “clean and well-lit” is the definition of a modern office, then Smart is right. Seemed to me that Smart was talking about making records available from someone’s home or office—at least that’s always been my understanding of the meaning of putting something “online.” Mr. Smith doesn’t seem to understand that distinction.

posted by: WC10 on June 5, 2013  2:50pm

You know who is never in that office when I visit? Ron Smith.

All praise be unto the real Town Clerk, Sally Brown.

posted by: Curious on June 5, 2013  3:09pm

Will the NHI please get an explanation up of why a half-time job pays per hour as a highly-educated position in medicine or science?  Why does this job pay $45,000 for 20 hours/week?  Does that include benefits?  How is it that this man supposedly holds down another full-time job while collecting this paycheck?

Also, I LOL’ed at this: “If alderman Smart even occasionally visited the office to electronically file his Tax abatement committee reports, he would clearly witness that the office is indeed functioning in the 21st century”.

Why should he have to go to the office to file electronically?  Why can;t that be online? 

If this guy is in the present century, why did he SNAIL MAIL A LETTER to the newspaper?

Seriously though NHI, with all the interest in this position, can’t you dig into why they pay someone so much to do so little?

posted by: Paul Wessel on June 5, 2013  3:44pm

Gary raises a good point about the importance of both Toni Harp and Toni Walker as the chairs of the Appropriations Committee, but he lets the legislature off too lightly on CT’s dysfunctional tax structure. 

As Voices for Children has been saying for years - see http://bit.ly/14hsTdm - an adequate, fair and accountable state tax system is essential for the entire state - and especially for cities like New Haven with a disproportionate share of both poor residents and tax-exempt properties.  Voices argues that we can and should “Lower Connecticut’s dependence on local taxes by increasing state K-12 education funding and Payments in Lieu of Taxes(PILOT)” and spells out the steps to doing that. 

Not only is it fair game to lay that issue at the feet of legislative leaders, it is essential.  No long term strategy for New Haven and other CT cities’ budgets can fail to include appropriately taxing all of Connecticut’s residents and businesses for the benefits that our cities deliver to the entire state.

And the only ones who can deliver that are the Governor and legislative leadership.

posted by: GoodNatured on June 5, 2013  3:50pm

Gary is right for calling Fernandez out on his irresponsible (and uninformed) statements:  “It just shows how little Henry understands the ways that the state government interacts with the city.” 

And Gary has a good point that the city would lose an ally in Hartford if Toni Harp becomes mayor - It may be a very short-sighted victory for her and for the city.

I also like Kerm’s call for a bold discussion.  He’s right.

I like what both of them are saying, and I want to hear more.

posted by: anonymous on June 5, 2013  4:15pm

Thank you to Gary for calling out the Perez-led Aldermen on their disastrous vote, in a split decision, to give away key public spaces to Yale in perpetuity.

posted by: DownTownNewHaven on June 5, 2013  5:07pm

Looks like we are finally getting a picture of this race. Big Money Toni vs Clean Election Gary running as Democrats. The fair weather friends who will run as democrats one day just to turn around and run as independents the next should realize how insulting this is to the democratic primary voters. Justin Henry Nemerson and Carolina effectively just disenfranchised every Democratic Primary voter. Don’t run in the race if you don’t care about the results.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 5, 2013  5:17pm

I’d like to thank Representative Holder-Winfield and Senators Harp and Looney for helping deliver extra dollars to the City.  I’m also glad that not one but two legislators have now called out Henry for simply not understanding the facts, which show how unfit he may be for governance of our fair city.  However, as Holder-Winfield has voted for tax increases in the past - it is not quite fair for him to demonize others who have done the same.  No one likes tax increases but sometimes they are necessary.  Otherwise, any candidate claiming that s/he would not raise taxes should tell residents what they would have been prepared to cut.  As to his stance that Senator Harp is to valuable to lose in Hartford, is he not willing to try and take up her mantle?  Does he not think that - despite not being chair of approps - he could or would want her seat and would do as good a job as she has over her 20 years?  If he does not believe that he could, then he surely doesn’t deserve to be mayor ahead of her.

@Curious, I agree that the position may be highly compensated but it would be worth the extra money if someone could be innovative with how the office is set up. Let us not forget, there are many positions that cost the city far more than they may be worth.  Perhaps we should look at every salary, the use of overtime, and benefits.  Then let’s put every salary and position on the table.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 5, 2013  5:29pm

In a release issued Tuesday, Democratic mayoral candidate State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield criticized the “union-controlled” Board of Aldermen for passing the new city budget with the tax increase. He also criticized the board for the sale of streets to Yale.

One can say the same thing about the Judas Goat Politicians in Hartford who vote against
the will of the people who want to keep the death penalty and who were against giving undocumented immigrants driver license.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on June 5, 2013  6:05pm

Could the NHI please post a copy of Mr. Smith’s actual press release?

Did it really contain quite that many grammatical errors, and isn’t it NHI policy to politely clean up said errors?

You aren’t doing our City Clerk,—of many, many years,—too many favors with this article.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 5, 2013  6:06pm


1. Ron Smith mailed his letter. Enough said.

2. Holder-Winfield - takes credit for finding more dependency money for New Haven from “those statewide taxpayers.” Those statewide taxpayers are us. He’s finding that money by raising taxes at the pump, on your utility bill, through huge taxation on hospitals who will put that on your next emergency room bill and of course, the addicting game of Keno as a misery tax on the poor.

GHW also doesn’t understand the city budget. Half of the city budget does not come from PILOT. Between the actual PILOT and other forms of state dependency payments, it all amounts to about $250 million, half the general fund budget.

Likewise - Mini-me doesn’t understand PILOT is budgeted at a flat amount and is divided by the claimant cities and towns. New Haven cleans up - gets about 35% of the PILOT and of the Indian money too. DeStefano never talks about that either. The same percentage is applied.

While PILOTS are in use in about 117 cities across the country in one shape or form, I have yet to find one that gets 100% reimbursement. That’s just a myth.

posted by: darnell on June 5, 2013  7:00pm

To little to late from Rep Holder-Winfield. A true leader would have made his position clear on these two issues, the budget and the street sales, BEFORE the BOA voted, not AFTER, when it really didn’t make a difference and was a little serving. There is no risk in making a comment after the deal is done.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on June 5, 2013  9:43pm

The part-time job of city-town clerk is ludicrous and a classic example of wasting the taxpayers’ money. The full time position is the assistant city-town clerk, the position held by Sally Brown. The part-time position appears to be almost ceremonial! 20 hours per week and get paid more than most full-time teachers! And we the people of New Haven fall for this nonsense year after year after year! Aldermen, you want to save the taxpayers some money and do us a favor? Establish one full-time city-town clerk position, get rid of the ceremonial part-time political patronage gig, and hire two new teachers or three new paraprofessionals. If you have to change the charter to save over $45 thousand, it is worth doing so. It just makes so much COMMON SENSE!
It was quite funny that the city-town clerk boasted that he ran a 21st century office and then mailed his rebuttal to the New Haven Independent! This man is paid $45 thousand to have his signature appear on city checks. PEOPLE OF NEW HAVEN:START A PETITION TO ABOLISH THE POSITION OF PART-TIME CITY TOWN CLERK!

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on June 5, 2013  11:09pm

So the City is paying $47 an hour (that’s before medical benefits and pension costs) to someone who seemingly can’t write a grammatically correct letter or use the internet. It would be nice to see the job description for this position, and also see who tracks and approves Mr. Smith’s time-sheets.

posted by: Razzie on June 6, 2013  7:47am

I agree with Darnell that Gary’s comments on the streets sale and budget are more than a little self-serving and timid. Likewise his comments that Senator Harp is “too valuable to lose” up in Hartford. Sounds like the “over qualified for the job” label we all hate to hear. Well. if she has been that good in Hartford for so many years, then maybe it’s time New Haven got a piece of that Toni Harp magic! Go Toni—do for New Haven what you have done for the State.

posted by: abg22 on June 6, 2013  12:16pm

If only we had more prayer in schools, our children would be able to write grammatically correct press releases.

posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  1:09pm

The position of city Clerk, it turns out, is governed by the Board of Aldermen.

The BoA approves the salary every year.

Maybe George Perez can explain why we’re paying a middle-manager twice as much as the position really deserves?

I made a petition to have this position reviewed.  We can’t afford to waste money on this kind of thing.


posted by: Curious on June 6, 2013  1:19pm

We pay our city clerk the equivalent of $90,000 for this job.  That’s insane.  Who on the BoA has been approving this salary for the last ten years?

“What does it take to make $60,000 as a city clerk?  If you are making upwards of $60,000/yr, you are likely college educated, working in a city with a population over 25,000, and have more than 10 years experience.”