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Commission Balks At Smart’s “Assistant” Ask

by Thomas MacMillan | Jan 29, 2014 9:25 am

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

Posted to: City Hall

Thomas MacMillan Photo City Clerk Michael Smart wants an “assistant” in an office that already has a “deputy,” which led the civil service board to ask: Who exactly will call the shots in the clerk’s office?

Members of the Civil Service Commission posed that question to Smart (pictured) at a Tuesday afternoon board meeting in the Hall of Records.

The query came after Smart presented a proposed new job description for approval, for a job he wants to recreate: “assistant city/town clerk.”

The commission balked at the request, citing concerns about chain of command in an office that already has a “deputy city clerk,” Sally Brown.

The commission tabled the matter for a month, to give Smart a chance to revise his pitch. In order to fill the position, Smart will also have to win Board of Alders approval to add the position to the city budget.

The commission also tabled another clerk’s office matter: an update to the job description for the position of “election specialist.” The commission also found fault with that item, not for the job description but for the job title.

The election specialist position was created several years ago when the assistant clerk position was eliminated. The move caused some controversy, since the assistant clerk position was part of the Local 3144 managers union and the election specialist position was part of the Local 884 clerical union. Local 3144 complained that Local 884 was taking its work.

The update to the election specialist job description is an opportunity to finally put that matter to rest, Smart told the commission.

The proposed new election specialist description would make it clear that the position does not involve any supervisory duties.

That being the case, maybe the job title isn’t accurate, said commission Chair Daniel Del Prete.“If I’m a ‘specialist,’ I feel like responsibility falls on me.”

Del Prete said people might apply and be hired for the job and then be surprised at how little power they have, become frustrated, and quit.

Smart said he has no problem renaming the post.

Smart then presented the job description for a new assistant clerk, who would be responsible for, among other things, “outreach.” That means “getting out in the community” and letting people know what the clerk’s office does, Smart said. He said he’d prefer to have a Spanish speaker in the job.

He said the deputy clerk would be a supervisor in the office and the assistant clerk would be in charge of day-to-day operations. In other words, the deputy and the assistant would both be in charge in the office, Smart said. “It’s going to really be a shared responsibility.”

Del Prete said the proposed hierarchy in the office seems unclear.

“This is a shared responsibility,” Smart repeated.

Del Prete said his concern is that if the clerk has an assistant and a deputy, “Who really is next” in the chain of command. If it’s muddy, it could lead to confusion and inefficiency, he said.

The assistant clerk job description sounds “eerily similar” to the deputy clerk job description, Del Prete added. Smart has already run into controversy seeking to curtail Brown’s authority and duties in the office. (Read about that here.) His position is part-time; the full-time deputy has traditionally run the office.

Commissioner John Cirello predicted several commissioners would likely vote against the proposed job description. He asked Smart if he’d like the commission to table it so that he could work on it some more.

“I don’t want this to be confrontational,” Smart said. He deferred to the board on the question of tabling.

The commission voted to table it.

Outside the meeting room, Smart said he sees the assistant clerk positions as “parallel with the deputy clerk.”

On the question of chain of command, Smart said that choice should fall to him. “The director is responsible for divvying up responsibilities.” He said he would like to hire an assistant director, train him or her, and then divide office responsibilities based on the strengths of the assistant and the deputy.

The main thing is to have back up, so that the office can function when the deputy isn’t there, Smart said.

“I want to make sure the office can sustain itself,” he said.

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posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  9:43am

What Mike wants is a full time stooge in the office to track the comings and goings of political opponents. The BOA should flatly deny this request and censure the City Clerk for his continued obstinate attempts to subvert the purpose of the office.

posted by: westvilleresident on January 29, 2014  9:51am

Just curious, what exactly does Michael Smart do on a day-to-day basis in HIS role? I would love to see a flow chart of responsibilities that are divided between all of the current and proposed positions.

posted by: Wooster Squared on January 29, 2014  10:07am

Sally Brown is already doing an excellent job running the City Clerk’s office. The only thing that office needs is for Michael Smart to stop trying to rule it like a dictator.

The fact that Smart is currently on the wrong side of an inquiry around voter fraud and is trying his hardest to control the flow of information in and out of the City Clerk’s office is disturbing to say the least.

He’s already broken the law once in the 1 month he’s had this office, and now it looks like he’s trying to undermine the authority of Sally Brown and replace her with one of his cronies.

posted by: Threefifths on January 29, 2014  10:21am

I love it.Keep voting them in.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on January 29, 2014  10:43am

I’m confused. Smart’s title is City Clerk. He is the department head. Ms. Brown seems great. But doesn’t Smart have the right like any department head to organize the office the way he thinks best? Having a bi-lingual person in there and fully staffing the office seems like a good thing. No?

posted by: webblog on January 29, 2014  10:43am

“The main thing is to have back up, so that the office can function when the deputy isn’t there, Smart said”.

Mike, this is really a weak argument for the creation of two new positions. If the deputy is not there, you are the back-up, really.

The commission tabled the matter providing you time to re-organize the role and job functions for each person in the office including, job description, reporting authority, justification and impact statements as to the effectiveness and efficiency that would be created with the addition of two new members. You offered no clear line of authority including yourself, and you failed to show how the positions will “Pay for itself”.

I think the commission was kind and lenient by only tabling the request. Based on the information you provided, the request should have been tossed out.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 29, 2014  10:43am

And all these years I thought the City Clerk’s office was efficient and well run, even with a staff of just four or five people.

Now to find out that there is such a back-log of work, that even with the notable addition of a fully engaged City Clerk, two more workers are desperately needed!

The one thing I can say is that if the new positions aren’t added, all those over-worked staffers deserve raises at a minimum. Five people forced to do the work of seven? That’s the type of thing you only expect to find in the private sector.

posted by: Lisa on January 29, 2014  11:12am

He wants two people running the office, the Deputy and the proposed Assistant.  “...the deputy clerk would be a supervisor in the office and the assistant clerk would be in charge of day-to-day operations. In other words, the deputy and the assistant would both be in charge in the office, Smart said. “It’s going to really be a shared responsibility.”  What pray tell is the need for the part time city clerk position?  What, exactly, will he do besides bully people?

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 29, 2014  11:33am

The City-Town clerk office has typically been quiet, efficient, and non-controversial. People received the information they needed without being questioned or challenged. The office met the needs of the public providing them with access to public records.
Then came Michael Smart. The part-time head of this office tried to stop unimpeded access to public records and instituted a “gag” rule upon his small staff. Now he wants to add additional positions to the department which has managed to function adequately without these positions for many years.
Most New Haveners believe the position of a part-time City-Town clerk is unnecessary and should be eliminated. One full time executive clerk to head this office should be sufficient for a city the size of New Haven.
Now Smart wants to hire an assistant! The office would have a part time City-Town clerk, an assistant City-Town clerk (full or part time?), and a full time deputy City-Town clerk in addition to the other office staff. Is this office so busy and backlogged to justify additional staffing?
Under the previous administration the office of the City-Town clerk managed to sustain itself for decades. Mr. Smart will have to learn how to manage this job under its current staffing and budget. If he is unsure what to do, maybe he can ask former City-Town clerk Ron Smith for advice, or possibly he can seek advice from Sally Brown who has been running the office for decades. She is the resident expert in running this office because of her years of experience. That is just an obvious plain and simple fact, no disrespect implied to Mr. Smart. If he can’t work with the office as it has been set up, maybe he should resign. THE PEOPLE OF NEW HAVEN WILL OPPOSE ANY ADDITIONAL STAFFING FOR THE OFFICE OF CITY-TOWN CLERK! We already want the part-time position eliminated.
If there is strife, contention, jealousy and rivalry in that office, these adults need to sit down and work it out. Adding new staff will not fix that problem.

posted by: Guido Brunetti on January 29, 2014  12:12pm

As someone who would have supported a Michael Smart mayoral campaign, subsequent to his stellar leadership chairing the Tax Abatement Committee hearings in response to public outcry over unfair treatment by city assessor Bill O’Brien I am disheartened by this news.

So if this BS position gets approved then Mike doesn’t even have to visit the office- he can just phone it in.

If this position gets passed by anyone-Shame on you!  Michael Stratton Right On!!!

posted by: HewNaven on January 29, 2014  12:30pm

Smart appears to be a typical manager in that he doesn’t bother to learn the job of his subordinates. If any manager things they can run an operation without understanding what their staff does day-to-day, they are in for a surprise. Smart seems to be covering himself by creating an assistant position. That way he can get away with even less work.

Also, NHI could help shine some light on this subject by interviewing former City/Town clerks (e.g. Smith), and those from other towns, to get some idea of what’s going on in that office.

posted by: wendy1 on January 29, 2014  12:48pm

I .wish NHI would interview Sally Brown.  I want to know what she wants.  I am a fan who uses the real estate vault.

Cityhall needs to create jobs for people since no one else is doing that.  The more people there, the better service will be.  Since Harp moved in, its a more friendly place especially for working class and poor people. And bilingual people.  I personally wouldn’t mind if cityhall became a “warming center” for the homeless for that matter.

I use cityhall.  I got married there.

posted by: Shaggybob on January 29, 2014  12:59pm

Don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken. I’m very disappointed in Mr. Smart’s actions in this office to date. It is obvious he has some sort of hidden agenda for all this hoopla. Sally Brown ran this office for how long with no problems?? 20 years??
Can we just go back to the way it was ?

posted by: grounded on January 29, 2014  1:02pm

There are many city departments that could use an extra couple of bodies to run more efficiently.  Many departments are half the size they were 15 or 20 years ago.

But the Clerk’s office isn’t one of them.  It runs great (thanks, Sally!).  In fact, it’s got one too many staff members—the Clerk himself is totally dead weight.  It would be a travesty if the Clerk’s office got extra staff positions because of Mike Smart’s political clout at the expense of actually staffing up departments that could put people to good use.

posted by: ohnonotagain on January 29, 2014  1:36pm

Let’s just stop with new positions. It seems this administration is continuing not only to create new positions but also a entirely new department along with new personnel and doesn’t even have a handle on the city’s budget woes yet.
What are they all thinking and ofcourse that includes Mayor Harp? Does she think the taxpayers are bottomless pits of money to give them on any whim they choose?
Everyday it seems this situation is getting worse and worse. And everyday I grow more and more concerned!

posted by: darnell on January 29, 2014  3:32pm

I’m amazed by the way different folks are treated by the commentators on this site. Migdalia Castro is dragged over the coals without given one day’s chance to prove her worth, yet Doug H. is hoisted on shoulders without setting a foot in city hall. Victor Bolden, an unelected department dept head, cans three lawyers in his office and not a peep from you folks, yet Mike Smart, duly elected by a wide margin, hasn’t fired anyone, and is trying to replace positions illegally removed (according to the union) and you guys go all ape crazy. I’m shaking my head because I am trying to figure out why Mike Smart has become the new wiping dog.

Please enlighten me.

BTW, without seeing an overall budget, I would initially tend to oppose adding any positions that have the potential to raise my taxes, but these unfair attacks on and talk of “trying to hide something” and “broken the law” just seems over the top.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 29, 2014  5:11pm

@ Darnell—

I just reviewed the last six City budgets, and they all contain four salaried positions for the Clerk’s office, five if you count the Clerk himself.

So I reckon that most of us are alarmed that Smart is attempting to add unnecessary, patronage positions to his fiefdom, at a time when the City’s finances are in a near-crisis.

It also seems wrong to me that Michael is rocking the boat by not deferring to Sally Brown, a true professional who has run the City Clerk’s office superbly for well more than a decade.

If it wasn’t broke, and it certainly wasn’t, why mess with it?

posted by: darnell on January 29, 2014  5:37pm

@Scooper

I understand the budget issue, I like Mike and he wouldn’t even be able to get me to vote for the added positions. But this talk about him “braking the law”, “hiding something”, and trying to “hire his sisters”, is just dead wrong, and counter to the “People’s Caucus” principals all of these NHI posters seem to love.

Everyone keeps saying that the office is not broken, so he should back off. Well, I’m a believer in the idea that nothing is perfect; there is room for improvement in all city departments. He was elected, and during that election process he said that he would make changes, including adding a bilingual component to the office. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that he is being aggressive, he really only has a year or a year and a half before he will be campaigning on his performance.

So, yes I am defending his right as a department head and newly elected official to make changes; I am defending him against unwarranted and near slanderous comments; I AM NOT defending his desire to add to the budget.

posted by: Guido Brunetti on January 29, 2014  5:54pm

“The commission also tabled another clerk’s
office matter: an update to the job description for the position of “election specialist.” 

“The election specialist position was created several years ago when the assistant clerk position was eliminated. The move caused some controversy, since the assistant clerk position was part of the Local 3144 managers union and the election specialist position was part of the Local 884 clerical union. Local 3144 complained that Local 884 was taking its work.”

Darnell this is not referring to the Town Clerk’s Office, it’s Registrar of Voters. Unfortunately this distinction was not made by the reporter and it is confusing if you read too fast.

Regarding the lack of comments on Victor Bolden’s decision not to renew 3 CC attorney’s: when does the public ever interact with CC staff? When they sue the City? The cc attorneys are not direct service providers to residents.

All CC staff attorneys are aware they serve at the Mayor’s discretion. I can not begrudge Mayor Harp for exercising her prerogative.

[Ed.: The election specialist position already exists—in the city clerk’s office. According to the city website, it’s currently occupied by Sharlene King. Smart said the current election specialist is about to retire.]

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  6:50pm

DARNELL,

Our criticisms are quite warranted. Mike is exhibiting a pattern which indicates he wants to regulate and track the flow of information in and out of the City Clerks office. This subverts the purpose of the office and is just plain wrong.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 29, 2014  7:13pm

The New Haven Independent cannot interview Sally Brown, from my understanding of a directive from Mr. Smart, because of his the City-Town clerk’s “gag” rule.
@darnell
All of the media attention and criticism of the new City-Town clerk has come about because of controversial decisions he has made. His attempt to control and regulate the public’s access to public documents was a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act. His “gag” rule for his office staff violates the First Amendment. His call for additional staff for this small department violates common sense. Statements made by Smart himself have led me to believe that he did not have a thorough knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of the position of City-Town clerk before he ran for the job. I hope he did not just think of this position as a stepping stone on the path to the mayor’s office.
I voted for Mr. Smart. I thought of him as a potential future mayor. Based on what I have read, seen and heard, I will never vote for him again for any office.

posted by: Guido Brunetti on January 29, 2014  7:49pm

NHI-Thanks for the clarification.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on January 29, 2014  8:01pm

As municipalities countrywide are trying to reduce the size of government, Michael smart is single-handedly trying to grow it. 

Sally Brown for years has done a magnificent job in getting the proper information out to those that speak both Spanish and English. 

If the City Clerk feels as though information isn’t going out sufficiently, then he himself should conduct regularly scheduled City Clerk info. meetings city-wide.  Apparently he ran to delegate, and not to work.

I’m in no way discouraging the hiring of Hispanics for city jobs, but his argument makes absolutely no sense.

“The main thing is to have back up, so that the office can function when the deputy isn’t there, Smart said.

“I want to make sure the office can sustain itself,” he said. 

What a disgusting comment to make.  He in essence just said that Deputy Clerk Sally Brown is incapable of handling her job.

Giving the myriad of problems that have come from this department already, Clearly the problem isn’t Sally Brown, but Mr. Smart himself.

Mr. Del Prete is most impressive to not only easily analize the waffling done by Mr. Smart, but to present to him a cojant argument regarding the potential ambiguety such a job will bring.

I would submit to the board, do the right thing by voting this “power grab” tactic down unanimously.

posted by: darnell on January 29, 2014  9:59pm

@robn and Thomas Paine

Mike wrote ONE bad memo that he immediately admitted was a bad call and withdrew. He hasn’t exhibited “a pattern ... to regulate and track the flow of information in and out of the City Clerks office”, nor has he attempted “to control and regulate the public’s access to public documents”. Stop the hyperbole and exaggerated statements. The guy’s been office for less than a month. Jeez…..

posted by: outspoken on January 30, 2014  8:37am

Mr Smart seems to need controversy and turmoil. His actions can not be good for the moral of the employees he is now in charge of. I agree that his position is unnecessary and possibly, with him in it, harmful.

posted by: Ozzie on January 30, 2014  9:15am

It’s quite obvious to me that Mr. Smart wants an assistant so he can delegate all his work to his assistant, therefore keeping his day free to do what ever he wants. Which is nothing !

posted by: robn on January 30, 2014  10:00am

DARNELL,

The ONLY way one could reach your conclusion is to assume that Mike is a blithering idiot and completely misunderstands the purpose of the City Clerk’s office (he isn’t; he doesn’t).

His first sin was to subvert the entire purpose of the office by limiting and tracking information (this is like finding out your new fire chief is a pyromaniac)

His second sin was to suggest an unneeded redundant position; its reasonable to assume the purpose of that position is to place a full time person in the office to do exactly what he was trying to do before (information control and monitoring of political activities)

Did Mike graduate from the NSA school of management?

Does our BOA have the guts to eliminate the City Clerk position or will they fall back on the line that the crony loaded Charter Commission process was the voice of the people?

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 30, 2014  10:40am

@darnell
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
That is Michael Smart’s major problem.

posted by: NewHaven06513 on February 1, 2014  12:39pm

How do we allow this nonsense? Smart needs to go, Now!

posted by: Razzie on February 1, 2014  5:39pm

After 1 month of play, the official score in the City Town Clerk’s office scrum is:

      Sally Brown - 2:
      Michael Smart - 0.

Stay tuned for updates.

posted by: Threefifths on February 1, 2014  8:02pm

posted by: NewHaven06513 on February 1, 2014 11:39am
How do we allow this nonsense? Smart needs to go, Now!

Put election recall in the charter.

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