A hearing about the city’s top lawyer’s budget turned into an examination of why his office is taking over the labor relations department, when he plans to fill a top vacancy there, and whether he’s assuring that city officials are up to date on how to properly handle and dispose of official public records in the wake of a still ongoing controversy over a high-profile firing.
Corporation Counsel John Rose Jr. fielded those questions when he presented his proposed new budget at a three-hour-plus budget hearing held at City Hall Thursday night by by the Board of Alders Finance Committee.
Few of the questions had to do with the relevant numbers in the mayor’s proposed budget, however, which asks for Corporation Counsel to incorporate the three-person staff and $425,000 budget of labor relations into its purview.
Rather, the alders’ queries for the city’s top lawyer focused primarily on the ongoing fallout from the city’s 2015 firing of Nichole Jefferson from her directorship of the Committee on Equal Opportunities (CEO), the subsequent FBI investigation that found no criminal basis for the firing, and a more recent reprimand from the state in regards to the city’s improper disposal of official public documents related to the case.
At the alders’ request, Rose made sure that a few key documents related to the issue were available for review and discussion.
One such document was a July 2016 letter that the Connecticut State Library sent to the city, formally admonishing it for violating three Connecticut General Statutes related to the retention, maintenance and disposal of public records.
In the letter, Connecticut Public Records Administrator LeAnn Power identified a series of required remedial steps for the city to take in order to ensure its compliance with the necessary regulations.
These steps included the documentation of the status of all of the CEO records in question, the distribution of a copy of Public Records Policy 05 to all city staff and officials, and the attendance of state-organized record management training sessions by at least five additional key city staff members. (As of the sending of the letter, then-interim CEO Director Lilia Snyder and Local 3144 President Cherlyn Poindexter had already attended the training.)
“I know there’s ongoing arbitration on this issue, and I’m not looking to litigate that here,” Annex Alder Al Paolillo, Jr. said to Rose. “What I am looking to address is the information in the letter, which relates to the state library saying that the city is cited for violations of [three] Connecticut general statutes. That’s pretty concerning. What are we doing to comply? What are we doing to train? What are we doing internally? What are we doing going forward, so that we’re not looking at another letter like this?”
Rose explained that Assistant Corporation Counsel Kathleen Foster, who has also already attended the state training, has been working with Public Records Administrator Power to organize New Haven city official attendance at the training sessions, which happen only three or four times a year. The next session is on April 19 in Westport.
“Let’s start with the fact that the people going to the trainings are coming from interesting quarters,” Rose said. “Michael Carter, the CAO [chief administrative office] of the city, is going to training. Mike Piscatelli and Matthew Nemerson from Economic Development are going to training. Martha Okafor from CSA [the Community Services Administration] is going to training.”
Rose and his staff promised to follow up with Attorney Foster on the status of the city’s formal reply to the state library’s letter. At the end of the letter, Power writes that the city should “respond within 60 days of the date of this letter outlining your corrective plan of action for the violations identified in this letter, including the submission of the records status report, confirmation regarding the distribution of Public Records Policy 05; and plan for the selection of key staff to attend an upcoming records management training session.”
Finally, A New Labor Relations Chief?
Rose also mentioned that his department is nearly ready to announce a selection for a new director of labor relations, a position previously occupied by Marcus Paca, a former alder who was fired from the position by Mayor Toni Harp in April 2016 and who recently launched his 2017 campaign for mayor. The position has remained vacant ever since Paca left.
“As you know the city has been without a labor relations director for some months now,” Rose said. “We have in fact received 36 applications for labor relations director, and have pared that list down to six. There are four people who will be interviewing in the next few weeks, and then I expect that we will be presenting a name for selection for the labor relations directorship.”
Westville Alder Adam Marchand asked why the labor relations department should move from the finance to corporation counsel office’s purview. Rose responded that the history of close collaboration between the two departments makes the transition a logical one.
“Historically, that’s where labor relations was with corporation counsel,” he said. “When we installed an acting legal labor relations person, I spent a great deal of time with him, whether he would report to me or I report to him on the status of labor relations, negotiations, contract relations, litigation, arbitration. It just makes sense for that department to be under my office.”