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Harp Launches National Search For New CAO

by Paul Bass | Dec 29, 2013 2:19 pm

(19) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall

Thomas MacMillan Photo Mayor-Elect Toni Harp has decided to hold off for now on hiring a new chief administrative officer, and has placed a convict-turned-businessman-turned-candidate in charge of her efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into society.

Harp, who takes office Wednesday as New Haven’s 50th mayor (and first female mayor), said Sunday she has decided to broaden the search for the CAO job rather than have someone in place on Jan. 1. She has asked the city’s deputy CAO, Jennifer Pugh, to do the job on an acting basis, overseeing front-line departments like police, fire, and public works. Rob Smuts, the current CAO, is leaving the position.

The search has provoked the first controversy Harp has faced since the election, as different supporters have pushed two local people for the job: former Assistant Police Chief Petisia Adger and current mayoral aide Rebecca Bombero. Adger had been the frontrunner for the job, which currently includes overseeing the police chief. After Dean Esserman became police chief instead two years ago, Adger and the other assistant chiefs put in for retirement at his request; Adger’s supporters demonstrated against him. That fact had some people worried that her appointment as CAO would create conflict with Esserman and his efforts to revive community policing; Harp has consistently praised Esserman’s performance and made clear her desire for him to continue in the job.

“They’re still in the running. I haven’t interviewed either of them yet for the job,” Harp said of Adger and Bombero. “I will probably take my time and make a decision and see if I can get some other people in the pool to think about.” She said Pugh has not sought the permanent position.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Meanwhile, Harp said that she has chosen Sundiata Keitazulu to serve as her prison reentry coordinator. Keitazulu ran a quixotic campaign for mayor this year. While he didn’t collect enough money or support to run until the end, he often dominated debates with his calls for more help for young jobless people, especially those coming out of prison. He discussed his own path from serving jail time for drug-dealing to starting a successful plumbing business. (Read about that here.) He dropped out of the race in August and endorsed Harp (pictured).

Harp said that she didn’t hire Keitazulu as a payback for that endorsement.

“He had been lobbying for the job after he endorsed me; he basically indicated that he was interested in doing reentry stuff. But he had started going to the meetings and doing all that. He had interesting ideas. It had nothing to do with the endorsement. He’s experienced in life. He can relate in a more real and tangible people with people who reenter society. He has done it in his own life very successfully,” Harp said.

The job has a 90-day probationary period as a matter of course, like other similar jobs, Harp said. It is funded by grants, so the Harp administration will need to raise money to keep the position filled in future years.

“I feel good about. The kids need jobs,” Keitazulu said Sunday. He said he plan to focus on getting young people into training programs, convincing employers to hire ex-cons, and making sure contractors conform to city local-hiring rules.  “Our young people don’t have jobs. That’s what causes violence and crime in our city,” Keitazulu argued. “It’s hard to get a job when you’re coming out of prison. Who wants to hire you? But if you learn skills, you get a better chance.”

Harp also revealed Sunday that Erik Johnson, the current head of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), city government’s anti-blight agency, is the leading candidate to hold the position in her administration. She hasn’t yet made a final decision, she said. Johnson’s current term expires Feb. 1. The LCI director reports to the development administrator; Harp has hired former Chamber of Commerce President (and mayoral candidate) Matthew Nemerson for that position.

“I would gladly work with Mayor Harp to implement her vision for the city,” Johnson (pictured addressing Dwight Gardens tenants in November) said Sunday.

Harp said she believes she has convinced Karyn Gilvarg, the longtime City Plan director, to stay in the position rather than retire. Gilvarg couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.

And Harp said she has hired Daryl Jones to serve as city controller. Harp said Jones grew up in New Haven and currently lives in town with his family while commuting to a job in the New York City office of the state comptroller.

She is reappointing Joe Clerkin to the other top city financial job, budget director. And she selected Jason Bartlett, her campaign manager, to run the city’s youth department.

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posted by: Billy on December 29, 2013  4:11pm

Not payback? Huh? Do you have any bridges for sale,
Ms. Harp? I’m in the market.

The fact that Mr. Keitazulu was selected is another reason to question Mayor-elect Harp’s judgment, thus ability to govern a dynamic city. Though jobs are a critical component of successful re-entry, what does Mr. Keitazulu understand about housing, mental health, substance abuse, finishing/continuing education, and the other, often complex issues faced by men and women being released from prison?

It would also nice to know what skills Mr. Bartlett brings to the table to benefit the city’s youth.

posted by: Threefifths on December 29, 2013  6:14pm

Again.People wake up.Things are going to be the same.The old political guard is coming back from the dead.The political hackers must be taken care of and paybacks must be made to all the fat-cat campaign donors.Let the show begain.

posted by: cp06 on December 30, 2013  12:45am

Wow, new haven is losing two great, highly effective, dedicated employees for re-entry and youth services. I worry that it will be the people of New Haven that will suffer.

If not for political payback, then what standards did the mayor to select these new hires?

posted by: Hill Resident on December 30, 2013  1:35am

Mr. Eric Johnson has done a great work with and for the City of New Haven. He has also established himself as someone who is accessible to the residents of New Haven, he communicates with us, he responds to our calls, he responds to our concerns. He is accessible and responsible. Please keep him on staff as the Director of LCI. We need him ... the City of New Haven needs him.

posted by: Walt on December 30, 2013  10:36am

Do not know Mr Keitazulu, but see a direct conflict of interest here,  but no obvious way to avoid it.

Eons ago, the regional office of the federally-funded National Alliance of Business reported to me.

Part of its responsibilities was jobs for minorities,  another part was ex-prisoner re-hab like Mr K’s

They hired a former convicted embezzler to run the national ex-con   program and of course his main goal was affirmative action for his constituents,

Our record in that category was not good , but was in others.  My fault I guess as I did discouraged those ideas in our own operations..

My   position,  not very popular when voiced at a national conference of the ex-con program, was that for every job reserved for a former offender some deserving minority kid or young-adult who had always obeyed the law would lose an opportunity to even apply to be hired..

Not fair, I felt. Still do
 

Although ex-cons need help to get and stay straight,  I could not buy reserving jobs for them then or now,  and locking out those who have been lawful.

Certainly a quandary then and now. I do not claim to have an answer, 


Good luck to Mr Keitzulu   He will need it.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on December 30, 2013  10:56am

Appointing Keitazulu as the Prison Reentry Coordinator is a daring move on Mayor Harp’s part.

Keitazulu was the first candidate in the debates to raise issues like bus routes and hours, joblessness and the effect of poverty on families and often connected with the public during the debates.

Only someone unfamiliar with his life story would question his qualifications to work in this important area.

I only wish we saw more creativity in Harp’s thinking as she makes her appointments.

Keitazulu has street smarts and I hope he will prove up to the challenge of his new responsibilities.

Regardless of whether he succeeds in the position or not, good job Mayor Harp in being willing to take a chance.

posted by: darnell on December 30, 2013  10:57am

I don’t have any skin in this game, don’t have any relationship with any of these folks. Just seems to me that somehow supporters of the folks that are presently holding these jobs think that they own them for life. They don’t. Mayor-elect Harp can use whatever standards she sees fit to fill those positions with people she believes will move her vision and agenda, just like John DeStefano did; and just as Justin Elicker would have if he could have convinced a majority of New Haveners to vote for him. The voters/citizens of New Haven have two years to gauge their effectiveness.

posted by: ohnonotagain on December 30, 2013  12:20pm

It is Mayor Elect Harp’s decision who will fill certain positions, who will leave and who will stay if they choose to. So for me, I may have some reservations. However, I am willing to wait and see how individuals will do in the job or continue to do in their present job.
Every new incoming mayor picks and chooses and time always will tell if the choices were right and for the right reasons.  I will repeat once again that I wish Mayor Elect Harp much success…..her success will be our success as residents and taxpayers!

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 30, 2013  12:31pm

Walt,

I agree with you 100%. I have always had a problem with these prison re-entry programs where incentives are given to ex-cons for the exact reason you cited. Each job given to an ex-con is a job not given to someone who has played by the rules their whole life. That just doesn’t seem fair.


People should get a fair shake when they leave prison, not at the expense of law-abiding citizens, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet and could really use a leg up.

Furthermore, I feel like a lot of these policies are inherently sexist. Since many more men than women go to jail, it seems like we’re offering preferential treatment based on gender. Are you a man who has convicted several felonies? Great, we’ll help you find a job! Are you a single mom struggling to pay the bills, who’s never broken the law? Sorry sweetheart, you’re on you’re own.

posted by: Zeph on December 30, 2013  4:12pm

Interesting choices.  I do believe that Ms. Harp is losing a very great asset in the ReEntry department.  Mr. Rey knows, lives and breathes this type of work - having been a beacon and resource for re-entrants in New Haven in just the couple of years he was there. He has also assisted in grant writing and developed great contacts and built relationships for the New Haven community.  I don’t know if Mr. Keitazulu is REALLY cut out for this job or fully realizes the workload that he has accepted on to his plate—but I suppose time will tell.  Gooooooood luck.  Hopefully the re-entrants of New Haven won’t have to suffer under this new appointment and administration.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on December 30, 2013  6:55pm

From a basic economic and public safety perspective it makes perfect sense to focus on reentry. For every formerly incarcerated person you employ you reduce the likelihood that they will commit another crime, abuse substances, drain social services, and/or create unstable environments for their children. Lock people out of working, living, and existing and you create a recipe for recidivism which we already know has caused much of the crime and violence in this city. And let’s be honest. The majority of jobs being “taken” by this population are those that the average law abiding citizen you reference wouldn’t want to hold anyway.

posted by: Billy on December 31, 2013  12:19am

@Dwightstreeter

“Street smarts” and “life experience” are not at all enough to qualify Mr. Keitazulu for this position. There are very serious systems, resources, and programs that need to be understood to truly assist people re-entering our community.  So he has some credibility from having been in the criminal justice system, how does that qualify him to work on behalf of people dealing with homelessness, or mental illness, or substance use issues? Just knowing people who experience these things is not enough to understand how to help someone address those concerns effectively. “Street smarts” can get you somewhere, but they alone are not enough for this job. Not by a long shot. This seems like irresponsible payback by Harp for his endorsement. I wish him the best though. I truly hope to be proven wrong.

posted by: thesixteenwords on December 31, 2013  1:17am

With over 1,000 felons coming to New Haven every year—according to the Register—the re-entry initiative position is vital to the future and safety of our city.  The DeStefano Administration put a lot into re-entry and youth, with admittedly mixed success. 

This is not an encouraging pick if we’re looking to go beyond the fits and starts of the past.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on December 31, 2013  10:10am

I understand Billy’s concerns about Keitazulu and don’t mean to blow them off. Will Mr. K be able to function in what is essentially another world? I hope he has the time to learn whatever is needed to make that transition or he finds a mentor to guide him.
It is too easy to underestimate a man of limited education, but with an innate ability to identify a problem and propose some solutions.
Mayor Elect Harp has given him the opportunity. I hope those close to him will give him the support and guidance he needs to use his gifts to help others - which is all he wants to do.

posted by: webblog on December 31, 2013  10:50am

The only logical reason, beyond political, for Harp to keep LCI Director Erik Johnson in office is that she cannot find anyone remotely capable of running the department.

The Appointment of Nemerson as Development Director and Fontana as Deputy, both having zero experience in Neighborhood development, provide the political reason to consider keeping Johnson.

But for practical and factual reasoning Johnson’s job performance has been dismal. Johnson lacks the personal inter-relationship skills to relate to the community. Most, if not all, the alders in Newhallville, Dixwell, Dwight and the Hill say he is unresponsive and detached from their concerns. 

His recent performance failure is the three year bungling of the Dwight Gardens apartments on Edgewood Ave.
 
Johnson does not perform effective outreach to the community informing residents of program funds available for grants and loans. His Anti-blight program is a dismal failure, just look at the visual effects in the above mentioned communities. His landlord enforcement program is poorly executed, as evidenced by the Liens on property report to the federal government last month in response to a SUBPOENA TO TESTIFY BEFORE a Grand JURY. 

If Harp can justify a national search for a CAO, certaintly she can justify a search for a new LCI director, but, starting in New Haven.

posted by: Threefifths on December 31, 2013  12:46pm

Maybe they will use Keitazulu since he is a plumber to unclog all of the S!! that is coming down the pipies.Give me a break.How come Barbara Fair Doug Bethea Kisha Velasquez all who are in the streets and working to help ex offenders where not chosen for this job.People have told me Keitazulu was never around any protest or prison re-entry.Also How come Harp did not pick some one from Warren Kimbro program the deals with prison re-entry.

posted by: wendy1 on December 31, 2013  3:20pm

Some good comments here.  I know and like Sundiata and Barbara and am glad that prison reentry is a cityhall concern.  Everyone willing to earn a living, young, old, innocent, or guilty should have the opportunity to avoid starvation and homelessness.  This is all a moot point as there are NO jobs and you cant live on min. wages.  The local JOB PIPELINE is a joke if you look at their stats.  I volunteered there last March.  Like any other NH NGO or non-profit, all they can do for the oveerwhelming majority of applicants is freshen up their resumes and rehearse job interviewing, 2 projects that are utterly useless and irrelevant in my opinion.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 31, 2013  10:50pm

I have to concur with my good friend Darnell regarding Toni’s decisions as mayor. 

I applaud Mayor Harp for installing Keitazulu in this position.  Is it a risk? Absolutely! But there’s a learning curve and or risk associated with every new position, including mayor.

Barack Obama never new what being President entailed until he assumed the position.

Mayor Harp has a brilliant mind.  Toni believes wholeheartedly in giving people who would otherwise never have an opportunity, an opportunity.  Will mistakes be made? Absolutely!  Shucks, even a dog catcher gets bit every now then.

Many people enjoy casting aspersions on those that may have once broken the law.  Yes it’s true that this gentleman made unconventional choices in his life.  However, he paid his debt to society for these those actions.  Should he be disparaged for the rest of his life? Absolutely not!  We’ve all fallen short of the Glory of God. 

If this appointment is indicative of Mayor Harp’s vision, regarding investing in ex-offenders, then I’m impressed.

It would be easy for Mayor Harp to make popular choices to appease the masses, but that’s not how you acquire a positive result and that’s not how she operates. 

The election is over.  Now let’s all rally around the new mayor and show the sister a little love.

Happy New Year!

posted by: Chip on January 1, 2014  5:10am

Why does New Haven always go outside the city for expertise when there are plenty of talented people in the city! Hire from within!! Every time someone is hired from outside they come here for a year or so, make big money then leave!

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