Mayor-Elect Toni Harp’s transition team is set to start work next week—with much of its initial work already carried out by the outgoing administration.
Working with a $28,104 budget, the transition team will now start planning for the Harp administration to take office Jan. 1.
Harp, who won election this Tuesday as New Haven’s first female mayor, said Friday that she will announce the members of her transition team this coming Tuesday.
Retired education professor Ed Joyner (shown speaking in this video), who has taught at Yale and at Sacred Heart University, will head the team with the assistance of local attorney and former Greater New Haven Jewish Federation President Mark Sklarz. Joyner started teaching at Hillhouse in the 1970s, served as principal of Jackie Robinson Middle School from 1977 to 1986, then spent almost 20 years designing the Yale Child Study Center’s School Development Program. He also taught at Yale and at Sacred Heart, retiring in 2013.
One big task facing Joyner’s and Sklarz’s team: vetting candidates for top administration jobs.
Another big task: figuring out in detail how each city department is faring, where its money is currently going, and what major decisions loom in Harp’s first months in office, from unresolved disputes to needed new appointments.
While candidates campaigned this fall to replace him, outgoing Mayor John DeStefano quietly assigned his department heads to begin work on that second task. They compiled detailed reports on their current budgets and responsibilities as well as top decisions facing their replacements in 2014.
At least over the past few mayoral transitions, the incoming chief executive never got that kind of help before.
DeStefano had that report—which also included extensive attachments of internal and outside looks at city finances—completed by the time the polls closed Tuesday night. He presented two sets of binders filled with the report’s content to Harp on Thursday. The report also went up on the city’s website Friday afternoon. Read it here.
“The senior staff feel very passionate about their work and their city. The transition report was generated out of respect for both,” DeStefano said..
Harp’s predecessors didn’t have the luxury of beginning their transitions with that kind of help.
Harp Friday publicly thanked DeStefano for his help.
“I think it’s a really great start. I think it’s very professional and thoughtful of him,” Harp said. “We really have a head start with what Mayor DeStefano has given us.”
Harp said her transition staff will comb the reports to see what additional information it needs.
She said the team will include paid staff as well as numerous volunteers. They will work in different committees to look at questions such as whether and how to reorganize some government departments, she said. The team will also begin the process of vetting candidates for top administration appointments. Another group will work on planning the inauguration, Harp said.
The DeStefano team’s transition report makes for detailed and insightful reading about the daunting challenges, many of them financial, facing the incoming Harp administration as well as the current state of the city.
Pressing needs cited by department heads are modest, such as more computers and Spanish-speaking staffers for the public libraries and refilling some lost positions in the combined human resources and benefits staff to cope with increased workload. Millions of dollars are at stake in other pressing tasks cited. Examples: reining in police and fire overtime, refilling the almost-empty rainy day fund, weaning the city off reliance of one-time revenues to fill budget gaps, closing a $3.5 million school budget deficit, and finding $15-20 million in outside grants needed to repair bridges.
A sampling of some policy challenges posed to the transition team:
• How to update the assumptions on returns that the city uses in funding pensions. That revision is years overdue and at some point could sock the city to the tune of $10 million or more.
• Whether to move the police firing range from noise-plagued Newhallville and Beaver Hills to the former Army reserve facility on Wintergreen Avenue if a hoped-for federal grant doesn’t come through.
• How to invest in City Hall’s information technology systems, which are viewed throughout government as woefully outdated.
• Whether to accept title to the old Goffe Street Armory if the city can’t find $2.7 million needed to “fix the water damage, clean up the asbestos,
fix the HVAC systems and make the building ADA compliant.”
• How to find social-service “partners” to address a drag on staff morale and public use of the public libraries: “the environmental issues created by clients who are suffering from addiction, mental illness, and other conditions that create behavioral issues.”
• Navigating the barriers that have held back promotions at multiple levels in the fire department. The chief writes that the problem has had “a compromising effect on the ability of the department to meet the mission of the department, and the associated core values of protecting civilians, and firefighters from injury and death, and the prevention of property loss.”
• Resolving a dispute with the state over who’s responsible for repairing two failed expansion joints on the Church Street South Bridge over the Union Station rail yards.
• Addressing shoreline problems resulted from the recent wave of superstorms: the sinkholes and damaged Brewery Seawall, the compromised foundations of homes near the Morris Cove Seawall, erosion on Long Wharf Drive.
• Prolonging the useful life of the 60-year-old public works facility on Middletown Avenue.
• Reorganizing the Finance Department, which has lost all three deputy controller positions.
The report also included attachments with key financial documents such as audited financial statements, updated monthly reports, independent analyses from the Financial Review and Audit Commission, a bond rating agency’s latest diss on the city, an auditors’ report from an Oregon community trying to rein in police overtime costs, pension fund updates, and an outside “ability to pay” report that details the deterioration of city revenue streams. Those stream include state aid, one-time revenues (like this year’s budget-plugging sales of city streets to Yale and the old Martin Luther King School to Achievement First).
Elm City-Big Apple Parallels
In the past mayors-elect have deployed their (taxpayer-paid) transition teams to spend more than a month between the election and inauguration tracking down data, compiling financial reports, and asking officials in depth for detailed budget breakdowns and pressing looming issues. Mayor John Daniels’ transition team, for instance, ended up producing from scratch a detailed report much like the one DeStefano handed Harp this week.
On the other hand, DeStefano isn’t the only mayor to assign his staff to give a successor this kind of help: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just did the same. (That is yet one more way the Elm City’s mayoral transitions have eerily mirrored New York’s.) Both cities elected their first African-American mayors in 1989 thanks to the work of coalitions that included civil rights activists, clubhouse pols, and District 1199 of the health care workers. Both of those mayors, John Daniels and David Dinkins, introduced community policing as a hallmark of their administrations. Both cities turned back to mayors promising more hard-nosed governing and in 1993. Both new mayors rejected, at least at first, their predecessors’ community policing approaches. Now, in 2013, both New Haven and New York have elected a new mayor to succeed a powerful figure with more than a decade in office.