The new “People’s Caucus” stormed the office of New Haven’s second-highest elected city official to call for the elimination of his position and an end to employee gag orders like one he has instituted.
The Caucus—a breakaway group critical of the labor-backed majority on the Board of Alders—formally submitted its proposals as city ordinances Tuesday, then arrived en masse at the the City/Town Clerk’s Office at 200 Orange St. for a press conference. Click on the video to watch highlights.
The proposals come in reaction to a memo, first revealed in this Independent story, that City/Town Clerk Michael Smart issued upon taking office last week. The memo ordered his staff not to speak with reporters—and not to hand out any public documents without his consent, even if he wasn’t in the office. (The video shows him explaining the original order; click here to read Independent readers’ reactions.)
Following publication of the story, Smart, who was elected with support of the Yale union-backed Democratic Party vote-pulling operation, modified the order. He said staffers could now routinely hand out requested public documents without his OK. He kept in place the order that they not speak to the press about matters affecting the office.
That didn’t satisfy members of the alders’ People’s Caucus, which formed this month.
“The seven alders that make up the caucus refuse to stand by as our civil servants labor under a gag order. It is wrong morally and legally to tell civil servants that they cannot speak to the press or the public about matters affecting the public,” the group said in a press release.
The group announced that it will submit a bill to the Board of Alders “making such orders illegal.”
In doing so, the group said it “apologize[s] on behalf of other elected officials who have stood by as people in this office were told that working for New Haven means you lose he right to speak freely. We need to know what city workers have to say. Light is always the best disinfectant.”
Newhallville Alder Brend Foskey-Cyrus read the statement at the event in the City/Town Clerk’s Office, surrounded by four other caucus members: Beaver Hills Alder Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, Bishop Woods Alder Richard Spears, East Rock Alder Anna Festa, and Prospect Hill/Newhallville Alder Michael Stratton.
“The group also announced plans to submit a second bill seeking to amend the charter to eliminate the elected position of city/town clerk altogether. The group’s release called the part-time position, which pays $46,597 a year, a “completely unnecessary burden on taxpayers. This job is easily done by our city service employees who we already pay $250,000 a year. After 10 years of this legislation eliminating an elected part-time clerk, we will have saved at least a half-million dollars. To do this we are asking the Board of Alders to create a new charter revision commission immediately. The mission of this commission will be to eliminate the elected position.”
Smart Tuesday afternoon defended the existence of his position. As an alder, Smart had chaired the commission that put proposed changes to the city charter on last fall’s ballot. He said he sees no need, then or now, to add the question of whether to eliminate the city/town clerk’s job.
“People spoke” during last fall’s mandated once-a-decade charter revision process, Smart said.
“A town clerk who is accessible and can work with the staff and make the department stronger” plays an important role, he said. “If it was a situation where you had a clerk that wasn’t active, that would raise questions.”
Smart also defended his order against staffers being quoted in the press without his approval. He said government agencies need to speak with a consistent voice. When a reporter asks a question that a staffer can better answer, he will then authorize that staffer to respond, he said.
But “you want to make sure you have one message. You don’t want to have people out there” confused about a government office’s position, he said.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Stratton announced a third proposal he submitted as well: to create a “more thoughtful process” for taking down trees in town. He submitted it in reaction to a plan by United Illuminating to take down trees all over town, a plan that went ahead with little public notice or discussion. Stratton Tuesday said the clerk office proposals were the first in what will be a series of “good government” proposals coming out of the caucus.
posted by: Wooster Squared on January 14, 2014 4:11pm
If we eliminated the City Clerk position, we could use that money to create jobs for 14 youths every single summer.
Here’s the math:
1 summer job: $10/hour * 40 hours per week * 8 weeks = $3,200 per youth summer job created.
City Clerk Salary: $46,597
$46,597/$3,200 per summer job = 14.5 jobs, or about 14 youth jobs every single summer.
posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on January 14, 2014 5:42pm
Great. I’m glad the People’s Caucus has introduced this legislation. Let’s hope Perez has the guts to bring it to the floor for a vote so the taxpayers can see where their respective alders stand on the issue.
posted by: state st on January 14, 2014 5:46pm
we as residents, constituents and voters opened up the hen house to the foxes ,WE need to close these loop holes before there are irreparable damages done.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 14, 2014 5:47pm
The Charter Commission was a huge disappointment. Many of the most interesting suggestions never made it to a real discussion. If the goal was to make small changes and leave the current system without checks and balances, it was achieved. And that was what the powers that be clearly wanted and got. No significant changes.
posted by: ELMCITYPROF on January 14, 2014 6:53pm
The charter revision referenda were purposely obtuse and confusing and seemed to advance the interests of particular aldermen rather than the best interests of the city. That said, I see no reason for the City Clerk position as it currently stands. Either make it a full time job that involves more than issuing edicts and presiding over ceremonies, or eliminate it all together.
posted by: wendy1 on January 14, 2014 6:53pm
I like Mike but this is why i voted for Sally Brown who already runs the clerk’s office for 20+ years and gets paid $90,000 to do it.
I agree we dont need 2 clerks. Find something else for Mike to do that’s real and pay him to do it full-time not part-time.
posted by: Elaine Braffman on January 14, 2014 6:55pm
The “Peoples Caucus” is heading in the right direction. And as far as Michael Smart goes, would never vote for him again! Hopefully this position will be eliminated because it really is a waste of money. Sally Brown does a darn good job and doesn’t need some Johnny Come Lately city town clerk giving directives that make no sense what so ever. This press conference by the “Peoples Caucus” should be a wake up call to the entire BOA and maybe they will remember what democracy in action should be, sounds like and looks like!
posted by: webblog on January 14, 2014 7:10pm
This group of malcontents would do well to halt their attempt to influence taxpayers to support their failed political in-fight over a few meaningless BOA follow-the- leader positions.
To call for a charter change(eliminate the clerk) after the ink is barely dry, is not only foolish it is foolhardy. Claudette Robinson-Thorpe and Brenda Foskey both voted to support the charter changes as offered to the public in September.
To now, belately, announced that it will submit a bill to the Board of Alders having Michael Smarts retracte an order he has already retracted, illegal, is nothing short of a power play which will not reach committee and is domed to fail.
The group needs to stop creating fights it knows, or should know, it cannot win.
Political 101: Don’t fight battles you cannot win.
I applaud this group. Enough is enough. Lets hope the BofA stands behind this bill. And wow if this “new” administration isn’t disgusting. Mayor needs police escort? What? What?!
posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 14, 2014 9:06pm
Dwightstreeter I agree. The charter change that the People Cauces is butting forth is one of several that should happened.
I also agree with this bill and if we really have a true alder of the people this will be put to a vote. And I know I want to see who votes how.
We in New Haven have been trying to replace all our trees and UI needs to take the time to do it right! So I have to say good job Mike for catching that one.
I am blowen away by these Alders! Bravo!
posted by: beyonddiscussion on January 14, 2014 9:06pm
Where were these folks during the Charter Revision process? Nowhere to be found. And why did they support Ron Smith for City Clerk in such a big way if they wanted to eliminate the position? It’s just a steaming mess of sour grapes - rejection of election results. Reminds me of the GOP Tea Partiers in 2009. They immediately started attacking Obama before he had even begun and never let up. A strategy of attack, attack and attack with no substance. Is the goal to make New Haven as dysfunctional as DC?
posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 14, 2014 9:23pm
The people of New Haven did not speak when it came to the charter revision process in New Haven. Sure there were some public hearings about proposed changes. There was some public input. Only a very small minority of New Haveners participated. Only a small minority knew or understood what was being proposed. When the proposals were placed on the ballot last November, most New Haveners were not adequately informed or prepared to make an intelligent decision on how to vote. The Charter Revision committee, the Aldermen,and the former mayor’s staff didn’t do an adequate job to inform the public about these changes. Many did not vote. Many who did vote did not understand what they were voting for. Some voted the way there aldermen or other Democratic party leaders told them to vote. The process was a sham and a shame in which several half-baked, poorly thought through ideas were thrust into our charter. New Haveners, like most Americans, must come to an understanding of what democracy really means. Democracy is not one party rule. Democracy is not dictatorship, aristocracy or oligarchy. Democracy is rule of the majority. Democracy is government of, by and FOR the people. We surrender our national birth right whenever we cave in to the minority ad let them make decisions for the rest of us. The city town clerk may attempt to squash our constitutional rights. We have the right to reject such proposals. Freedom of speech and press and the right to public information shall not be denied in New Haven as long as the people speak up, show up and make demands. The people are not servants of the government. Government has been instituted to serve the needs of the people. If the people feel that the part time position of city town clerk should be eliminated, it should be eliminated and it should not take a decade to do it. The full time position should be the sole city town clerk. No deputies required. This would be the smart thing to do. It only makes sound, common sense.
posted by: boricuizi on January 14, 2014 10:56pm
It’s sad to see these called Alders behaving the way they are all because things didn’t go they way one of them wanted it. I remember seeing Claudette at Michael Smart’s fundraiser congratulating Michael and now she has turned on him too. What a sad commentary, I love seeing the newly elected Alders who don’t know their heads from their rear ends and are following the others like lap dogs. I wish they would inform themselves first, but congratulations on making a name for yourselves by showing what asses you are. I feel for your constituents who are left behind, I am so sick of self serving politicians who claim to be for the people but are really about what they can get out of their positions. If your are running for a leadership position make sure you have the votes first. Bitterness & being vindictive gets you nowhere. Ms Claudette didn’t have a problem either when she came to the Labor council looking for support, now all of a sudden labor is bad. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
posted by: robn on January 15, 2014 9:58am
Departments need appointed directors so that they are accountable to the executive (the Mayor). What’s really at question here is should New Havener’s be electing this position? I say no because it takes some expertise and I’d like the Mayor to be accountable for that appointee, and whether or not he/she knows exactly what the department is supposed to do. For the question of amending the Charter, I present the following:
1) The recent Charter review process was dominated by political plants and the results match the desires of its sponsors; there’s no way the Union Coalition wanted to remove a plum, no-show political appointment from their arsenal of tools. 2) The referendum vote on Charter issues is non-binding; it was just seeking public opinion that the BOA can either vote for or against. 3)BOA Charter review is mandatory every ten years by law, but the law also allows it to be revised by a special vote at any time (notethe phrase “at least”.
Title 1, Article XXXIX, Sec. 216 Mandatory Decennial Charter Review. <i> At least once every ten years after July 1, 1993, the board of aldermen shall appoint a charter revision commission pursuant to section 7-190 of the general statutes to consider such amendments to this charter as the board of aldermen may direct and such other amendments as the commission may deem appropriate
The BOA should revise the Charter, eliminate the elected position and make it a mayoral appointment. If Mayor Harp wants Mike, so be it; let her argue his qualifications in public.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 15, 2014 10:15am
And what would lead any one to believe that the BOA and Perez are in favor of change?
posted by: Eddie on January 15, 2014 11:26am
The so-called People’s Caucus is quickly becoming a bigger joke than Take Back New Haven. You can say what you want about the current BOA. At least the majority coalition has a positive legislative agenda that isn’t based on spite and electoral vendettas.
Competing ideas on governance is healthy for electoral democracy. But, this group comes out with a ridiculous amount of bluster and righteousness, and yet, what is their first major legislative priority? Attacking someone associated with Harp, so that they might save a measly $46,597 by eliminating a city position and the services associated with it.
Any news about New Haven Works is met by the usual critics claiming the nascent program hasn’t produced enough jobs. A return to community policing is met by the usual critics claiming the BOA didn’t play a role in it. Or that community policing hasn’t done enough to curtail violence. Securing 3/4s of a million dollars that will support youth opportunities and seeks to curb violence is met with criticisms that it is misplaced priorities. Yet we see cheers for a DOA proposal that will not make a significant difference in the lives of anyone.
Paul when you push this coalition past their antagonism, buzzwords and petty grievances with other members on the BOA, what are they offering? What is their overarching agenda for New Haven and why can’t they figure out a plausible way to implement it? My guess is that there is nothing more than incoherent priorities held together by bitterness and entitlement.
posted by: HewNaven on January 15, 2014 11:47am
“People spoke” during last fall’s mandated once-a-decade charter revision process, Smart said.
As I write this, 1203 people have ‘spoken’ in the True Vote. 803 (66%) think Smart’s position should be eliminated.
posted by: robn on January 15, 2014 12:00pm
One week into the job, Mike Smart dismissed the mission of the City Clerk office and violated black letter FOI law. This is a perfect example of why this position should be appointed and not elected.
posted by: yim-a on January 15, 2014 12:19pm
In response to Eddie’s charge of “entitlement”. “Entitlement” became, during the last mayoral election, a kind of proxy or code word for East Rock/Westville residents with white collar jobs. In response to the charge of entitlement, I respond that a transparent local government, sound fiscal policy, effective social and human services, and responsive and accountable law enforcement are not “entitlements”. They are the most basic functions and responsibilities of government. New Haven has been dysfunctional for so long (had it ever been a truly functional municipality?) that people forget these fundamental principles of self-governance. No, we don’t feel entitled, we are requesting government honor its responsibilities.
posted by: Eddie on January 15, 2014 12:43pm
Be a cheerleader for a legislative agenda that won’t improve the lives of anyone. Denigrate the efforts of people who have secured more significant policy accomplishments. You have only negative things to say about securing $750 K for youth opportunities. Yet defend the bluster and righteousness of a legislative agenda that cuts a position and saves the city $46,597. Clearly these are the priorities that will tackle New Haven’s challenges.
posted by: TheMadcap on January 15, 2014 1:16pm
Do you think, just possibly, it has something to do with the outrageous actions of the person in that position. Most of us had no strong opinions on the city clerk’s office until we found out the clerk can unilaterally try to stop the public from gathering information. It’s impressive when in one day you manage to get both the NHI and the NHR to write articles about you with the word illegal in the headline.
posted by: robn on January 15, 2014 1:53pm
On the subject of the city clerk, i’ll just ditto BH and MC’s responses to you.
The truth matters but you guys don’t seem to understand that. Here some truth coming at you. I didn’t criticize $750K of funding; I caught Alderperson Sarah Eidelson using untruths to get that funding. You can read the truth at the link below.
Sarah Eidelson and the Youth Services Committee undertake an immense amount of work to secure $750k to enhance youth opportunities and curb youth violence. In her remarks at a press conference she emphasizes the importance of this issue. Instead of acknowledging this work or the importance of the issue, you grandstand on some minor detail that you believe she has wrong. Literally, you denigrate all of this work over the word “risen.” You take the opportunity to call her an opportunistic demagogue. Again this is someone who has worked hard and in good faith to make progress on what many agree is a fundamental challenge in New Haven. This suggests to me, a severe misplacement of priorities and is another example how unfairly the BOA is treated.
After everyone here finishes falling over themselves to praise the elimination of one city position, you all might take note that there is not a single positive comment on the article reporting that the BOA secured $750K for youth opportunities.
posted by: robn on January 15, 2014 3:49pm
Maybe I was being too polite in my last post so let me spell it out for you. When an Alderperson lies to secure funding, using patently untrue phrases like “Youth violence and hopelessness have risen to crisis levels,” (a statement I’ve shown to be false), it pollutes public discourse and creates an anything goes atmosphere in competition for financial assistance. In that scenario, somebody else who is telling the truth loses out for that funding and that’s wrong. Frankly, the fact that you don’t perceive this as wrong doesn’t surprise me.
posted by: Eddie on January 15, 2014 6:25pm
I think you were better off being polite. So let me get this straight. You latch onto something Sarah said in a press conference to infer what was stated in or during an application. You interpret violence and hopelessness to mean homicide rates. You choose your own time frame of analysis that Sarah does not reference. You use this convenient and extremely casual analysis to call people liars. Further you suggest that your analysis may indicate New Haven is not deserving of these funds. Who again is the demagogue?
Why is so much energy wasted attacking people who are actually trying to make a positive contribution to their community and who now have significant accomplishments from this work?
And this gets back to the larger issue. Why is the so-called People’s Caucus chasing news cycles to pursue legislation that scores cheap political points but does nothing to significantly impact the welfare of anyone? Sure government ethics is a priority, but their proposed legislation isn’t going to secure significant changes even if passed. So why isn’t this group building consensus around a comprehensive reform that may actually change New Haven for the better? Why do they immediately choose strategies that are designed to alienate and polarize? Why are we more commonly reading about their personal differences with other alders, instead of policy priorities?
Paul, if this group is going to dehumanize and denigrate the work of the other alders, I think it is fair that you press them on their plan to do better. What is their vision for improving employment in New Haven? What is their vision expanding youth opportunities and improving education? What is their vision for curbing violence? How does this vision bring them together and how is it so distinct that they cannot work with others to implement it?
posted by: Bill Saunders on January 15, 2014 8:46pm
Hate to tell you something Eddie, but in New Haven, the mission’s success is rarely proportional to the money-grab.