Stratton: Here’s The Uncensored Budget Story
by Michael Stratton | May 22, 2014 2:27 pm
Posted to: City Hall, Opinion, Politics, Schools, City Budget
Freshman Newhalllville/Prospect Hill Alder Michael Stratton (pictured) submitted this opinion piece to offer what he calls the under-reported and neglected true story about his budget fight this session.
If you come to my office on Elm Street, you will see what appears at first glance to be a framed piece of abstract art—- a smattering of black, brown, and red pastels. If you were in a rush, you might think, “Another one of those pretentious paintings that sell for kazillions that my 5-year-old could do.” But if you get a bit closer and give your brain a chance to get used to the painting, you will see that all of these lines tell a story. The subject is a bloodied rhinoceros who has been badly mauled by a large group of attackers. But the rhino is not conceding, he is charging back into the fray. You question the sanity of the rhino, but cannot help but admire the passion and courage.
Someone looking at my first few months as an alder might have the same impression. I can almost hear the collective voice of the city say, “Interesting fellow that Stratton. I like the zealousness, but I can’t really understand whether all this charging around has a point.”
I write this op-ed piece to clarify my positions so you know what they are, and to convince you that the issues we confront today are worth every ounce of our attention and energy, and I ask you to join me and our band of freethinkers known as the Peoples Caucus.
But first, why is it that residents don’t get the full scoop? The problem of not quite understanding the impact of the issues I have identified comes not from a failure on my part or yours. It is the result of a very sick and undemocratic politics that drowns out dissident voices. For example, my questioning of mayoral staff on multi-million dollar budget items is regularly cut off at finance workshops; my requests for documentation of budget line items universally rejected; my proposals to get independent verification of appropriate salary levels and staffing levels is always denied; even answering a constituent’s direct and simple question to me at public budget hearings was censured for violation of some unwritten rule; handing out of copies of budgets from other peer cities to contrast with our opaque one met with Finance Committee Chair Andrea Jackson-Brooks requiring all future handouts be approved in advance; the superintendent of schools was permitted by the President of the Board of Alders to avoid answering a list of questions about Board of Education spending that he requested I submit in lieu of oral questioning; alerting the mayor in a most dignified way to potentially illegal payments to the Board of Education was met with three letters from her and her staff insulting my intelligence and claiming that I had not done my homework; and any objection by me however civilized to being treated unfairly is shouted down by the chair in a chorus of the suburban Yale union’s trained alders.
The net result is that I am never able to get a full point across or completely corroborate my preliminary findings. It has also led to distractions like when I lost my cool 5.5 hours into a brutal finance meeting where I had been repeatedly silenced. Not wanting to be egged into confrontation, I did not complain. But near the end, at 11:45 p.m., Alder Jeanette Morrison claimed that I was being disrespectful in suggesting we verify salary data before paying someone $116,000. I responded that any city that can’t afford to pay for summer camps for kids ought to look hard at any and all expenses, and they, not I, ought to ashamed. That set off an ugly shouting match that cost me credibility and distracted from my message. Like most people I have my limits, but when I am raising such critical issues it is incumbent upon me to have a gravitas matching the significance. I failed that day but I also learned.
Misleading Press Coverage
The other issue is press coverage. The press in this town is not an objective reporter of the news, it is too often a player in the politics. The New Haven Independent for instance seems intent on using its forum to pick the winners and losers. I was very frustrated when the NHI did nothing to corroborate my findings on education or PILOT. Instead they left facts hanging in the air with, I believe, the intention of weakening my point.
The press also regularly fails to report the whole story. At the final budget meeting of the Finance Committee, I proposed amendments for reductions in education spending so that the money could be used for universal community policing, a WPA jobs program to get parents of school age children working, a full recreation and arts program for kids city wide, and a wide range of summer and year round jobs for kids. The press report from NHI: “Stratton moved to dramatically cut education funding.” Not one mention of the other half of my proposal, and that the intent of education cuts was to do more for New Haven not less. The Register did the same thing when I questioned where the homeless grants were going. I asked this to make sure that the homeless were the ones primarily benefitting. The report: “Stratton advocated cutting benefits for the homeless”.
Three weeks before that homeless cut falsehood the New Haven Register reprinted a letter from Reverend Newman of the Greater New Haven African American Ministers Association that said I called members of the board “welfare mothers.” This was after the Register was notified by Newman that he had his facts wrong and was retracting the letter.
The lesson: the Democratic machine is powerful, and they are running scared. They want me out of politics quick. I love the comments I get from leadership: “You’re too big for being an alder. This isn’t for you. Go back, make money. Run for the Senate …” No, I say, I am not too big for the place where I was born. I don’t care about Hartford or D.C. I care about New Haven.
So here are the real issues, none of which are being addressed, and which would totally transform New Haven overnight if only the leadership could remove politics from the equation:
Issue #1: Education Funding
Education is a state function and our New Haven Board of Education works for the state not for the city. The state sets all the mandates, and also the minimum amount that must be given by each town. The state and federal government give a combined $275 million to the BOE for all special education, regular education, transportation and food. Our total revenue available for city spending is $350 million. In this year’s budget, the Board of Education is shown as receiving a total contribution from the city of $24 million. There is no other line item to education.
What I uncovered was that buried in the non-education budget were at least another $112 million in payments to the BOE. We were paying $112 million per year more than we had to and nobody knew. The relevance of this finding was enormous: $112 million represents 35 percent of all our revenue and it was being shifted to education without anyone outside of leadership knowing.
Why was this happening?
My conjecture is that education is the best place to put money if you want less accountability. There is no one watching the store. With the alders thinking we gave only the minimum, there would be no reason to see how it was used. And in fact, there appear to be tens of millions of dollars in consulting contracts and political deals hidden away in the BOE budget.
How can you prove the waste?
I can prove that at least $50 million is being wasted and that if eliminated no classroom impact would occur. But I have been denied all access to proof of the BOE line-item budget. We are literally slated to approve a budget that has no substantiation. The BOE, the mayor and the alder leadership will not give me or anyone else access.
But don’t we want to give more $$$ to the kids?
What I discovered was that almost every town and city in Connecticut gives only the exact amount required by the state. The reason they do this is because once the money is given to the BOE the city loses control over the money. The BOE has no accountability to the city and we cannot dictate education policy. Giving more than the minimum is like giving a gift. It is money we lose control over. Prudent people and governments do not give money over what they must when the purpose for its payment cannot be enforced.
What should we do?
We need to retake control of our city money. Education is more than what happens in the schools. When we lose 35 percent of our budget to an unaccountable BOE, we impoverish city services. Safe neighborhoods are necessary before kids can learn. If we take our money back we can afford universal community policing and blight reduction. Jobs are critical for parents of school-age kids. Unemployed parents lead to educational issues for the children. Sports, music and art are programs that inspire educational success. If we take our money back we can do this. We can also build real vocational schools and early childhood centers run by the city, where we have accountability. We can also cut taxes to stabilize neighborhoods, and bring in businesses. $115 million dollars changes our city overnight. Throwing it at an educational system that is out of our control, and which is overfunded when compared to any other of the 169 town is bad for everyone.
Why can’t we do this?
Whenever the topic comes up leadership talks about how Stratton wants to hurt the kids. That could not be further from the truth. I see education holistically. The city’s leaders see it as a place of enormous patronage. Opening up education to a serious investigation threatens those who make their living off of it. 115 people make more than $200,000 a year cloistered away at 54 Meadow St.
Issue #2: PILOT Funding
Our New Haven delegation has bargained away our legal rights to PILOT. In 2001 New Haven received the full statutory PILOT. This is when then-Sen. Toni Harp became Appropriations Committee co-chair. What Senators Harp and Looney then did was agree to have PILOT cut for all towns if they were given discretionary funds for their favorite charities and causes. From 2001-2013 (while Sen. Harp and state Rep. Toni Walker were appropriations chairs) our PILOT funds were cut 70 percent while their discretionary funds increased every year. Suburban legislators loved it. They were able to reduce PILOT by hundreds of millions while giving a tiny portion of that back to Harp, Looney and Walker.
When I testified for PILOT this year, Mayor Harp was actively working against the bill. In fact state Rep. Walker took Alder Anna Festa and me aside and said, “Why are you supporting PILOT, don’t you know this will cost me mental health funds?!” These legislators are now costing the city $50 million a year through deal-making that builds up their political power and makes the city poor. This is a 22 percent tax reduction every year that they bargained away.
To add insult to injury, Sen. Looney proposed a bill that dramatically cut our statutory share from 77 percent to 50 percent, but which made the payment mandatory. Not a good bill but better than the 32 percent we were receiving. Nonetheless, under pressure from Governor “Gimmick” Malloy, Looney killed even that bill on the final day of the session—even though the votes were there to pass it.
Issue #3: No Transparency & Undemocratic Behavior
The budget is not in conformity with the charter. All allocations are supposed to go to a department so there is accountability and we know what each department actually costs. Instead, the administration has created aggregate funds like “pension”, “health benefits”, and “debt service” that allow monies to be lumped together so that no one knows for whom the money is being spent. This violates the charter and allows for illegal activity.
The most incredible illegal payments are to teachers and administrators. Over $30 million is paid out of our fund marked non-education “employee benefits.” When I asked the budget director why we were making these payments, he told me it was required by the Municipal Employee Relations Act. I responded to him by pointing out the second sentence of this law reads “teachers and administrators are not covered by this law and are employees of the BOE.” Conceding that point, he then said the union contract was approved by the alders and required the city to pay. I pointed out in response that the union contract with teachers and administrators clearly states that the BOE would be fully responsible for the health benefits. So, I said what’s the reason the city is paying $30 million or almost 18 percent of its revenue? His response: “Faith ... good faith.”
Mayor Harp was made aware of these illegal payments and chose to continue making them. Under our charter, she can be held personally liable for those payments. Incredibly she wants them to continue into fiscal year 2014-2015. A simple injunctive action should end this practice. My hope is that her honor will come to her senses by next Tuesday’s budget vote. This represents a massive amount of revenue for the city that could do so much good.
Issue #4: No Vision Or Plan For Jobs
My proposed ordinance would require all city-funded construction projects to get 50 percent of their labor from the city residents. This is a constitutionally acceptable ordinance and would create almost full employment of residents in three to five years. Boston instituted such a law 30 years ago. Why this wasn’t put into place when we built $1.5 billion worth of new schools? The response? Leadership doesn’t like the law. Why would they oppose such a good bill? It takes away their ability to trade favors with powerful suburban contractors.
No plan for youth jobs: This is the single most important issue and justifies raising taxes to accomplish. We are in the middle of an unprecedented spike in youth violence. We need to make sure we have a full offering of camps and jobs for teens. We also need to get as many police on the street as possible. The mayor and board have offered no new money for any of these very pressing needs. Instead the mayor cut youth librarians and underfunded youth jobs (1,200 applied but only 400 can get a five-week job). The mayor, in a mind-numbingly bizarre response, offered gift cards to the families of disengaged youth.
My amendments to the budget pay for immediate universal community policing and jobs for every child as well as camps. It would also expand the library staffing and hours, as well as expand the street outreach workers. These items could easily be paid for with education reductions or if there is no will for that, a small tax increase. But to date there is no plan on how to respond. We badly need a bridge to get us through this summer to a place where we can look at this issue more deliberately.
Issue #5: No Allegiance To The City
The mayor has four senior advisors. They all live outside New Haven. 79 percent of the 118 employees making over $150,000 (including salary and benefits) at the BOE live outside New haven. 81 percent of police and 67 percent of fire employees live outside New Haven.
It was Sen. Looney who passed the bill making it illegal for us to require employees to live in New Haven. There is nothing more destructive to New Haven then losing more than 800 middle class workers to the suburbs and there is nothing more frightening then having a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, a budget director, a communications chief, and a public works director all living outside New haven. How can we trust policymakers to properly care and advocate for New Haven when they don’t even want to live here?
These are the issues that matter; the issues that will make us a great city.
Tags: Michael Stratton, city budget, opinion
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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 22, 2014 3:18pm
Excellent piece, thanks for writing it.
Stratton makes an irrefutable point about transparency and openness - the budget should be reviewed comprehensively, precisely, and honestly.
The critique of why the budget is the way it is mostly accurate and fair. Political patronage is certainly an issue, along with consultants and employees having an interest in retaining their jobs regardless of what is most efficient. In order for patronage to stop though, we need campaign finance reform, term limits, and tighter restrictions on no-bid contracts.
Stratton’s proposals for what to do with a more efficient funding are interesting and look promising, though I think he should have done a better job in this article of separating the two arguments - how to budget, and what to budget.
“115 people make more than $200,000 a year cloistered away at 54 Meadow St.”
WHAT!? How is that possible?
Your points are dead on regarding the orchestrated stifling of alternate viewpoints in this ‘town’.
A few years back, I embarked upon a full-scale ‘investigation’ into the programs and finances of the then “Office of of Cultural Affairs’), and was met with full-on ‘resistance’ to provide even the simplest of information.
If my memory serves me correctly, in 2012, I filed 10 separate requests through FOI for what should have been readily available information. On average, getting that info required, on average, 15 emails over 80 days of follow-up.
Lesser Rhinoceri just get frustrated and find a different pond to drink from. The others get persistently bullied, and sometimes even arrested!
Keep it up!!!
@ Mike Stratton:
I get it…the main reason for this op- Ed “is to clarify my positions so you know what they are”.
Trust me, you have written too much here for the average citizen to comprehend, spoiling your effort to clarify yourself.
Let me tell you what your problem is and continues to be.
1. It readily appears that the people’s caucus is all about you.
2. Your presentation to the finance committee was very much different than the presentation with explanations you provide here. If you really believed in these budget amendments, you would not have unilaterally withdrawn then from consideration during committee deliberations.
2. You accuse the city of providing unsubstantiated spending line items, many of which I agree with you, however, while citing the city, you manufacture your own budget justifications which are equally unsubstantiated, laborious, and out of context.
3. It is simply not possible, practical or politically sound to cut $50M from the BOE, based on statements like:
“The most incredible illegal payments are to teachers and administrators. Over $30 million is paid out of our fund”. Is contradicted when you earlier said…“In this year’s budget, the Board of Education is shown as receiving a total contribution from the city of $24 million. There is no other line item to education”.
In fact: The ECS state grant to NH is 152M the city’s match is 24M. There is no illegality with the grant or the city match.
You correctly forced the issue about the city’s lack of transparency concerning the in-kind contribution of 112M, but you failed to follow-up with a verifiable amendment to have the contribution in writing each year.
4. Issues four and five are not part of the budget and although you mentioned them here in your opt Ed; you did not present them to the committee.
5. YOU DON’T HAVE THE VOTES.
Since I don’t get the space you were allowed, I’ll stop here..to be continued.
I too note the apparent bias on this website and Paul’s failure to challenge the “powerful” for real answers. The NHI never seems dig for the real stories about anything; they just ask department heads about an issue and get the party line just like the Register. What happened to your Advocate chops? The NHI is Pabulum.
When I read the Preamble and scanned the length of this piece I was encouraged that I might be treated to a reasoned, well-documented first- hand discussion of Alder Stratton’s issues that have been splashed over the NHI pages for the last several months. Unfortunately, what I got was IMO neither reasoned nor well-documented, but was rather a series of largely anecdotal rants attacking the character, integrity and motives of 3 of New Haven’s most highly respected legislators – Looney, Harp and Walker. And at the end, I am still left wondering why Alder Stratton chooses to blame his personal BoA budget problems upon these noted public officials.
Initially, I was intrigued that he seemed willing to attribute some of his difficulties in making the necessary transition into an effective Alder upon his newness to the process and the stress of an oppressive workload that often goes on and on into the late-night— Situations where his zeal and freshman passion may understandably get the best of his self-control. But again, unfortunately, in a plot worthy of “the X-Files” he blows past his introspection and moves all the way out to the land of conspiracy theories and government hobgoblins – a place where everyone and everything (including Hartford based legislators who predate Stratton’s current budget woes by more than a decade) is singularly of one mind … to keep him and his allies from finding THE TRUTH! It is small wonder to me, in light of the charges and personal attacks he so freely throws out, that his efforts to get more cooperation and information from his colleagues are resisted at every turn.
To a degree, I share a concern about the items listed by him as “Issues”, although I see those issues transcending budget discussions. But Stratton’s protests ring very hollow to me. I hear and understand his charges, but … WHERE THE BEEF IS! Or are we to accept his anecdotes and claimed hallway side-conversations and “admissions” by adversaries as being truthful sim
What I would find really convincing is a detailed description of where the figure of $112 million comes from. My understanding is that pension payments and health benefits for teachers should come directly from the state, so any pensions/health benefits from the city would only apply to the non-teacher staff at the schools.
I would also be interested to hear what other towns/cities Stratton has looked at that do not have this co-mingling of pensions for all departments (and also pay only the required minimum including these obligations).
If these accusations are true, New Haven should probably rethink its contribution to education, but I would like to see a bit more in the way of data before I can really draw any conclusion.
I love a fair and honest debate, however….
Mr Stratton you always seem self serving. It’s always me me me. The videos from the aldermanic meetings showed you never “playing well with others”. You stated in one of your tirades that we would see you in 2015…..does this mean that all this STUFF is really campaign material. I think if you’re honestly for this city and it’s people, please come down to earth. Humility is a great thing.
BTW, this article is too long. Get to the point.
Our New Haven delegation has bargained away our legal rights to PILOT. In 2001 New Haven received the full statutory PILOT. This is when then-Sen. Toni Harp became Appropriations Committee co-chair. What Senators Harp and Looney then did was agree to have PILOT cut for all towns if they were given discretionary funds for their favorite charities and causes.
The history of PILOT funding that Stratton presents here is absolutely damning, if true. Why hasn’t the media provided this version of the story yet?
Thank you for printing this; it is informative and eye-opening. My crystal ball predicts that there will be lots of negative comments, mostly falling into three categories:
(1) Too much information (but how can a complex story be told in a tweet?)
(2) Too little information (but that’s his point: even elected legislators are routinely denied access to basic budgetary data)
(3) He’s some kind of evil racist elite snob (always a good way to get some people to shut down and stop thinking)
Oh, and FacChec: You’re quite right that $50M can’t be deducted from $24M. But I think the author was speaking of the other $112M, the money paid by the City to the BOE but not considered part of the regular BOE contribution. There may or may not be $50M worth of corrupted pork in there, but surely the question deserves to be looked into?
I think that it’s about time that we have at least one person with a “pair” and who is willing to stand up to our bloated city government. Nice going. Keep it up.
Why did the NHI use a photo of a tired looking Stratton? Is this the kind of editorializing that led him to write his own piece?
As to all the opposition, those claiming he lacks facts or those accusing him of making the Peoples Caucus all about him:
1. He has been denied information, answers and access. Did you read his piece at all or did you just have your oppositional attitude ready to go?
2. He is the primary voice for the people who want accountability in the budget and in government. Who else in a leadership position has stepped forward to stand with him - other than Anna Festa and others in the PC?
Who else has the guts to confront the establishment and the status quo?
The sniping here at the one person strong enough to take on the issues almost makes us unworthy of the truth. Almost.
Thank you Mike - this has been enlightening. I always suspected such things existed in the BOE, and this confirmed my suspicions. The embedded corruption runs deep in this city I love.
Keep up the good work. You will win. Truth, honesty and integrity will win in the end. You have my support and that of many others.
Folks are questioning whether Stratton is correct that there is a $112 million (previously hidden) contribution from the city to the BOE. Let’s be clear: the BOE and the city both admit this is true. They call it “in kind” but it is straight-up money that pays for benefits, etc. The city and BOE say this is all legal, if unusual. No other Connecticut city does this.
So to be clear: the factual dispute is not over whether $112 million of BOE spending has been hidden under other line items in the city budget. Everyone admits that is true. The dispute is over whether it is advisable to devote that amount to the BOE and, even if so, whether it is even legal to do it this way. Stratton says no, the city and BOE say yes.
If I had had two wishes right now they would be:  that Stratton be less histrionic and  that the NHI could somehow devote more resources to calmly reporting the facts on all of this.
I don’t buy into Stratton’s worldview that the press, the state legislators and the alders are evil. If Marty Looney is evil, then where do you place Bush, Cheney etc.? But he has done a service in bringing light to some very telling insider secrets. State legislators deal off some of our Pilot funds in securing projects they value. It was remarkable that Looney didn’t bring up his own bill on Pilot when things finally seemed to be lined up. Also, the city may have been way overfunding the Bd. of Ed. to shelter funds from city government scrutiny.
Although long and wordy, it is difficult to disagree with the main points that Alderman Stratton makes in this OpEd.
Many of us love your rhino performance. We should all feel relieved to know that you do care for the City and its residents. I especially like your 50% employment idea and the new approach to caring for the young of New Haven.
ChrisTheContractor hit the nail on the head. Keep up the good work.
This city has no chance when virtually the entire leadership either lives outside New Haven, or is elected entirely on the basis of massive support from suburban interests.
Want the city to be safe, so children can learn? Neighborhoods are only as safe as the number of city employees and police officers live in them. Patrols and programs don’t make any difference.
To tell you the truth I am still struggling with Stratton’s first paragraph…..
“If you come to my office on Elm Street, you will see what appears at first glance to be a framed piece of abstract art—- a smattering of black, brown, and red pastels.
Turns out Stratton’s explanation of the painting is——
“the painting, you will see that all of these lines tell a story. The subject is a bloodied rhinoceros who has been badly mauled by a large group of attackers.
Stratton goes on to interpret his analysis of the painting for us as——-
“You question the sanity of the rhino, but cannot help but admire the passion and courage”.
I agree, the press media including the NHR, NHI, and Yale daily news, all print a one-sided story depicting the city administration’s view, supported by Perez and his merry band of alders that hear no evil, see no evil.
“My conjecture is that education is the best place to put money if you want less accountability. There is no one watching the store. With the alders thinking we gave only the minimum, there would be no reason to see how it was used. And in fact, there appear to be tens of millions of dollars in consulting contracts and political deals hidden away in the BOE budget”.
This has been true for years, but what makes it legal is that the full board, first under Carl Goldfield, now under Perez, approves the budget with these hidden provisions each year.
I’m 99% sure that Stratton doesn’t own a pair of uterus’ (uteri?) but nonetheless he’s OK in my book.
mstratton is doing the job he was elected to do.
If citizens ignore him, we deserve what we have gotten, are getting, and will continue to get…
_ _ _ _ ed!
posted by: Q-Bridge on May 22, 2014 8:38pm
I certainly hope no one is shocked by any of this. This city is slowly turning into Detroit.
Stratton and other interested parties:
I Googled “New Haven Board of Education Budget” and found the site based budget for 2013-2014. It has spending for every school and every service listed by budget code - it’s even got every employee’s name and salary.
Do you need something more detailed than that for your line item investigation?
For those who want to look:
posted by: BenBerkowitz on May 22, 2014 10:00pm
Very informative piece. Thanks for writing. I love the true vote tool alongside the op-ed. Seems like readership is with Stratton.
Also seems like we’ll have to send MS back to NHPS to get his ‘then’ and ‘than’ straight:
” There is nothing more destructive to New Haven then losing more than 800 middle class workers to the suburbs and there is nothing more frightening then having a chief of staff”
“alerting the mayor in a most dignified way to potentially illegal payments to the Board of Education was met with three letters from her and her staff insulting my intelligence and claiming that I had not done my homework”
Um. Was that when you raised the non-existent “legal” issue about how the city pays for employees’ health benefits?
Sadly letters “claiming” that you had not done your homework were entirely accurate.
And please illuminate: even if your spurious legal issue had some basis in fact, shouldn’t you be advocating for finding a way to maintain the status quo? After all, if the BoE has to pay for workers’ health benefits, how does that create efficiency? Requiring both the city proper and the BoE to hire staff to manage health benefits means redundant bureaucracy and higher property taxes. You’re advocating for meaningless shuttling of funds between accounts and the hiring of unnecessary staff.
And for goodness sake, stop all the whining about your alleged silencing and victimization. You’re worth more money than the rest of the Board of Alderman put together, and the Independent covers your every sneeze, no matter how ill-informed. If there is a single human being whose opinions are overexposed in New Haven, it’s Michael Stratton.
Stick to the issues, and try to find some actual facts.
Just fyi, you are wrong about both the pensions and health care. Pension payments for teachers come from TEACHERS and teachers only. They are paid into a fund managed by the state, a regular deduction from salary. No local property taxes or state general fund revenue goes into that fund. Only payments by teachers themselves. No city match, no state match. Only in the sense that the state manages the fund do they “come from the state.”
The health benefits are paid by the city, as negotiated in the union contract.
Thank you, Mike. I wish we had more folks like you working on our behalf.
Sorry that my prior comments ran over the limit. But to sum up my reaction to Alder Stratton’s unfiltered op-ed, in the middle of explaining his BoA budget woes, he levels some very weighty charges of corruption and self-dealing against members of the New Haven delegation which are unsupported by ANY facts other than self-serving renditions of conversations he had.
There is always a better way to present information or to explain admittedly complicated financial information. However, if Alder Stratton truly believes that there is something ILLEGAL about the budget presentation that has been followed by the current and prior administration, he need only test his theory out the way its always done—in Court. That is not a battle to be won in the pages of the NHI. It does a huge disservice to the process, and detracts from the seriousness of the issues raised, by continuing upon his “X-Files” conspiracy theories plot lines. Looney, Harp and Walker are not his enemies (and are not enemies of New Haven); suburban legislators are not staying awake at night dreaming of ways to derail his budget proposals; Mayor Harp and her administration are not out to get him; and his colleagues on the BoA are not afraid of his “TRUTH-telling”. Alder Stratton is but 1 of 30 Alders who must make decisions in concert for the betterment and governance of New Haven. That simply doesn’t leave much room for prima donnas!
To those who yell “X-Files” when a story is too complicated, let me boil it down.
The city took a portion of Education funding (mandated by city charter to be kept separate) and diverted it back into the main city budget. In doing so they sacrificed complimentary funding from the state.
The reason for this is political power and money; power of the former and current mayor over the education system and power of the aforementioned legislators to pad the nest of their employers.
I am proud to have Mike as my alderperson. The unfortunate thing is that he is fighting a system that does not believe in honesty, transparency, or dealing with facts. While I will continue to support all of Mike’s efforts to bring legitimate change to a disingenuous governmental system, I see his task as being beyond what any small group of people can achieve.
Our city is broken and it’s so unfortunate that our “leaders” want it to remain that way.
Wow - one of the best pieces to appear in the NHI in quite some time;
> Thumbs up: NHI for posting a story that is not very positive towards NHI’s previous actions and for posting a story that is longer than some are used to or comfortable with.
> Thumbs up: Mike S. This article - and all of the work that he has been doing to stand up to The Machine - is impressive for its thoroughness and clarity. Although many city residents are convinced that the high taxes we pay are mostly going to waste, very few have the energy and persistence to expose the truth like this.
> Thumbs up: To NHI readers who are posting and continuing the dialogue around these ideas. Open debate of ideas is a cornerstone of American greatness.
> Thumbs down: to the 2 or 3 posters who (consistently) respond to Mike’s ideas with personal attacks. The concept is getting very tired. Does his personal wealth really make him unqualified to debated city spending? Does being a lawyer make him unqualified to determine what is illegal? Does his being in the minority on the BOA make it wrong for him to have an opinion or a new idea?
You know who you are - Responding with no ideas and only Stratton-bashing makes you look small.
I wish every New Haven “RESIDENT!” would read this. I have shared it with others. He hits it on the head. But as stated by others the leaders of this city are working hard to fight the truth from getting out to the residents. Just look at some of the negative posts and the people that have posted them. They are the same people that do negative post to ANYONE that dears to question how this city is ran or how they are spending our tax dollars. (I stopped reading their posts during the elections because they are nothing more than spam).
and Robn states “Pretty damning for Walker, Harp and Looney.” They could care less. But what I think bothers me they most is here is Harp our new mayor with a chance to correct all of this and Stratton has laid it all out for her and she is not running with this. SHe can become a hero to the residents of this city and she chooses to do exactly what JD did :( a bit of a disappointment…because in my heart I had hoped she would be the leader she promised to be.
very interesting, and certainly, the BOE budget - and well as the city budget in its entirely should be examined carefully. Mike brings up an excellent point on journalism in New Haven. It basically no longer exists. The NH Register is dead. The NHI gave up on journalism years ago to move toward a model of sensationalism. It’s sad really. The poling questions that get asked are nothing short of ridiculous.
Regarding salaries and reviews of positions. We should definitely be looking into now what other city’s pay for similar positions, but what is being paid locally in private and non-profit company’s. Let’s remember that the cost of benefits have to be calculated into the salary as well. The city has a very good health care plan as well as a pension plan. These are hard to come by now in the private sector.
I’d also like to see an in-depth look at the resume’s and qualifications/education/previous work history of some of these new appointments (ie: Jackie James, Migdalia Castro, etc).
These were items that were challenged in years past, but seems to get swept under the carpet with the press these days.
Maybe we should look at the under-lying cause of the 901 houses that Trulia.com shows for sale in New Haven.
Whoa. Alder Stratton, I agree with many of the positions he has taken, though I disagree that personally attacking folks will be a successful strategy. I had many of those policy fights myself, but for the most part tried to stay away from the personal stuff. I like his passion, but his arguments begin to lose their luster when they are tainted by outright lies made by him.
Lie #1 - Mr. Stratton claimed in a letter that former Alder Jackie James told him in phone conversation that the Alder leadership knew that there were “illegal overpayments” from the city to the BOE.
The Truth - I’ve known Jackie for many years and spoke with her after the letter came out and before she saw it. She said she never had such a conversation, and I for one believe her. It just doesn’t make sense.
Lie #2 - Reverend Newman of the Greater New Haven African American Ministers Association that said I called members of the board “welfare mothers.”
The Truth - From the letter to the editor by Rev. Newman,“His angry comment that finance chair Andrea Jackson-Brooks was ‘living off of core government’ her whole life was a weak attempt to insinuate that Ms. Jackson-Brooks was some sort of ‘welfare queen’.” Clearly, Newman did not accuse Ald Stratton of calling anyone “welfare mothers”. - http://www.nhregister.com/opinion/20140410/letters-to-the-editor-alders-criticisms-border-on-racism
Lie #3 - “the Register was notified by Newman that he had his facts wrong and was retracting the letter.”
The Truth - There is no evidence whatsoever that Rev. Newman contacted the Register to retract his letter. In fact, the letter remains on their site, as referenced in The Truth #2.
Lie #4 - Ald Stratten continues to say that certain conversations have happened with people that sound absolutely incredulous (see Lie #1), yet offers no proof other than his word that these conversations happened.
*From leadership: “You’re too big for being an alder. This isn’t for you. Go back, make money. Run for the
It is true that teacher pensions are funded by a 7.25% contribution from the teacher’s salary. But page 14 of the BoE budget shows $8.9M in pension expenses - as well as $40.5M in medical benefits. Presumably these moneys go to employees ineligible for the teacher pension program. But they are real expenditures.
Thank you for writing this, and thanks NHI for printing.
I suspect a number of those who immediately refute this article are people with something invested in the status quo. One of the biggest points I take from this piece is Stratton’s desire for more transparency. Why shouldn’t we as tax payers, and especially our alders, be able to see the line items on the BOE budget (or any other budget)? It should be easier to see clearly where tax money goes. How could any reasonable un-biased person disagree with that notion?
@darnell: You cite four “lies.” In three cases (#1, #3, and #4) your only “evidence” that these statements were lies is your refusal to believe that they are true. If Alder Stratton states that a conversation took place, then how do you justify calling him a liar? Do you expect people to routinely record their conversations? (In case #1, I expect that former Alder James did not say “I know we are breaking the law” [who would?], but instead, something like “I know about those payments.” Your “lie #2” consists of Alder Stratton saying that the Register published a letter accusing him of calling a fellow Alder a “welfare mother,” when in fact the letter said that he insinuated she was a “welfare queen.” Okay, he got mother and queen confused. What he did not get confused were the facts that (a) he is subjected to personal attacks including being accused of racism whenever he calls the power structure into question, and (b) the letter was published. Of course, you seem to be following the party line laid out in (a), so I guess this won’t affect your “thinking” on the issue.
Good Managers hate slush funds. Slush funds hide the metrics needed to run an organization efficiently. In education, pupils/teacher ratio, $(incl OH)/pupil compared to other cities and in other states, head count and $ teacher/education staff ratio are all important metrics to manage a department efficiently. Whether the $ are coming from state or city, it’s the taxpayers money. Good managers hate slush funds.
@Ravenclaw - to accuse me of “following the party line” you have either must be very new to New haven or have never read the NHI previously. I am as anti party line as anyone can get. And years before Ald Stratton began his crusade, I was on the front lines of the BOA fighting a similar fight, until the “party” found a way to get rid of me.
A statement by Ald Stratton is not the “truth” until he can provide reliable independent evidence to back the statement. Saying someone said “this” or “that” stretches his credibility when those accused deny his comments. Why should we believe Ald Stratton’s version of events and conversations based on his word alone?
And by the way, in regards to Jackie James, Ald Stratton said that Jackie said that leadership, including her, knew that what they were doing was wrong but purposely kept the information from everyone else.
With respect to the Rev, he said the Rev accused him of calling women on the BOA “welfare mothers”. Even if you substitute “queen” for “mother”, neither accusation is true. Rev never accused him of saying such, he accused him of insinuating that by suggesting that “she lived off of public monies” all her life. It says the same.
As I said in the first sentence of the earlier comment, I support many of his arguments,, and certainly support his right to make those arguments before the BOA and the public without interference, but if you are going to make pronouncements, at least have evidence to back your charges. Until you do, they are just myths, or lies.
Mike is right but he unfortunately seems to be going it alone. He’s raised the right issues and awareness, but now he needs to organize the grass roots support so the voters will have an option come November 2015. The time to build a base is NOW.
I guess to me what so clearly is pointed out by Mike is the profound failure of the fourth estate to do its job in New Haven. For years they (the press) have abided by the rules set out by the mayor in power to talk to only those who are mayoral spokespeople. So they only get the story they’re supposed to get, not the real story. Paul Bass has no “sources”, no insiders. The Register has no sources; they only talk to the Mayor’s appointees, who tell them what the Mayor wants them to hear. They don’t dig, they don’t go get the real story, and I don’t think they really want to. They are part of the game, and they are also probably afraid that if they tell the whole story, they won’t be allowed to play anymore.
NHI covers every little bike crash in the city. Yeah we all know you want more bike facilities, and that’s great, but New Haven’s biggest problem is right here, the failure of its government to function at its base level and the NHI fails to get the facts on why. This needs exposure. Thirty fiefdoms of power co-opting the city’s residents out of progress through ignorance and the glory of personal power. All the while spending our hard earned tax dollars.
Truth Hurts Notes:
1. Stratton is significantly more right than wrong. When people don’t like the message, they attack the messenger, his demeanor, his decorum, his lack of “respect.” That is a distraction to denigrate the message: The New Haven budget and its sorry, pathetic process of fake public hearings and non-response from city departments including the renegades at the NH BOE are out of control.
2. Andrea Jackson Brooks should resign from the BOA - or at least as chair of the Finance Committee. In covering or attending 30 years worth of city hall meetings I have never seen a chairman shut down questioning on a half billion dollar budget and refuse to demand answers of those who would spend it.
3. I like the visual of the rhino, bloodied, still fighting the attacking mob. That’s Stratton. I also like my own visual of Stratton standing in the doorway, fingers on the light switch and the other hand pulling back the sheets to see who is cavorting with whom.
4. A vote for this budget, is a vote of cowardice. Even Hartford has more integrity than what has been shown so far by the Finance Committee. It rejected the mayor’s $6.5 million spending and tax increase. By July, it will create a panel to restructure city finances and organization aimed at saving money and serving the public better. In New Haven - the rubber-stamping board just wants more of the same. Tax increase? No problem.
5. As for the NH BOE - it is just sad. Year after year, they spend some $400 million and have damn little to show for it. What’s really pathetic, is that they insist on more educational experiments and refuse to justify and respond to the questions and concerns of elected officials or the public. Maybe if their budget was cut by $10 million per month for every month they refuse to respond fully and truthfully, we might get better cooperation and the ability to have a fair, open and transparent conversation about educational spending and outcomes.
Yes, it really is as bad as Mr Straton claims. In the May 19 issue of the New Yorker, “Schooled” describes Cory Booker’s efforts to reform the Newark school system. Like New Haven, Newark’s school system is dysfunctional, with one if the highest administrator to students ratios and largest budgets in New Jersey. New Haven is similar, with an opaque, unresponsive and at times hostile bureaucracy that serves itself, and not it’s students. Change is hard, and anger is to be expected. Keep at ‘em, alderman Stratton, you’ve got truth on your side.
Granted I can’t speak for them, but I think if you have some inside information on stories the NHI should be covering they’d probably be glad to be informed about it.
@Middle-if you believe that budget you put the link to is an accurate document I have a bridge to sell you. There are so many missing positions, and a good portion of the salaries-including mine-are incorrect. Many of us who take the time to review the annual budget report get a good laugh since it is always wrong.
Thank you thank you thank you, Mr. Stratton. In a system of city politics organized to empower a tiny party-backed oligarchy at the cost of the general well-being of this city, it is beyond refreshing to listen to someone who speaks from a clear moral position and is willing to criticize.
It is further gratifying to see a lengthy, intelligent piece of the sort much more common in the old days of print journalism than on modern blogs or news sites (although it is my opinion that the New Haven Independent has always been unusually willing to deal with the long-form). I feel that I am better informed of the issues now than I was when I began reading.
I feel that if there is one thing most discouraging about these comments, it is those posters who respond to Mr. Stratton by talking about his personal demeanor, by insisting that he be polite to the current city leadership, by maintaining that this city leadership must be met with a certain respect, even a certain deference. I am tired of hearing that Harp or Looney or Jackie James is a nice person or a good representative. These are public figures; if we don’t subject them to a certain level of scrutiny, then we aren’t doing our job as citizens. I don’t care how nice these people are; I care a bit whether or not their constituents like them but they make decisions concerning the whole city and if they make the wrong decisions, they should be taken to account for it regardless of how popular they are. False deference and feigned politeness only empower the structures damaging New Haven. To have an Alderman willing to write op-eds, to point out criminality, to file lawsuits if necessary, to operate, in short, so blatantly outside the system that everyone in the system wants him gone - well, I would take that aldermen over a dozen well-meaning nice guys.
When dealing with a demagogue of Stratton’s audacity, one always has to ask “liar or misinformed?”
On issue after issue after issue, Stratton substitutes bluster, unsupported assertion and self-pity for actual facts.
Take jobs. Labor, the city and the BoA have been fighting hard to hold employers accountable for local hiring for two years.
Stratton weighs in with a “bold” proposal to require 50% New Haven hiring for all city funded construction projects. I certainly support that, and would really like to see the percentage go higher.
Stratton says “this is a constitutionally acceptable ordinance.” Actually it depends on what he’s talking about. As an attorney, Stratton must know that only those construction projects that are either 100% city funded or structured in a way that the city investment meets the “market participant” test can actually be subject to such an ordinance. Anything in which the city kicks in a subsidy to a private project likely can’t be covered without high risk of constitutional challenge. This kind of simplistic rhetoric is designed to agitate people who don’t know better. So, sure, let’s raise the percentage for local hire on fully funded city projects. But don’t pretend that will create full employment.
It all adds up to demagogic fantasy disguised as “progressive” policy. His message: although I talk about hard choices, there actually aren’t any, see? The gummint and the corrupt sleazeballs who run it are so incompetent and inefficient that there are just tens of millions of dollars floating around and we could have everything we want—great education! Full employment! Fully funded PILOT! But no new taxes!
So the $30 million in “illegal” payments can be stopped by an injunction? Great!! So, um:
1. File for the injunction.
2. Explain to us where the $30 million in health benefit costs is going to come from.
You see, it’s all just so easy if only everyone were a courageously honest straight-shooter like Mike.
Noteworthy VS Accountability— and interesting masked match-up.
CAGE MATCH! CAGE MATCH! CAGE MATCH!
Stratton is a smart guy and is correct on several key issues, notably the need for more transparency. But he is clueless about the legislature. Fully funding PILOT and other formula grants would cost several hundred million dollars, necessitating tax increases and/or spending cuts. This did not happen despite solid Democrat majorities in the House and Senate and a Democrat governor. Regardless of how the election turns out, I would not hold my breath waiting for it to happen in the future. Moreover, if the state substantially increased PILOT funding, it would in all likelihood decrease the targeted funding New Haven receives. There is a good argument that unrestricted funding is better than earmarks. But it is naive to believe that the state will increase its total funding for the city anywhere near the level Stratton contemplates. In a more just world, the state would fund municipalities with a more progressive income tax; we do not live in such a world.
Your lengthy, self contradictory criticisms of Stratton tip your hand as a political partisan circling wagons around Harp and the union coalition. For instance, you acknowledge MS wanting a legal requirement of local jobs for “city funded” construction projects and then immediately warm that the projects must be city funded.
Seriously? Give us a break.
posted by: Q-Bridge on May 24, 2014 9:16pm
One of Mayor Harp’s first orders of business was to close the City Hall Public Information Office to the to the public. Jackie James said it was closed for “security reasons”. Jackie didn’t explain that she meant “keep all information secured from the public”
So, here is my understanding of Stratton’s criticism. The issue is that we are overspending our MBR (minimum budget requirement) substantially and that other towns do not and that New Haven misreports how it funds the board of Education. Indeed, the Board of Education budget is $396 million for the current fiscal year, which does amount to about 57% of the total city operating budget, and is much higher than what I believe the MBR to be (year out of date):
That being said, the MBR value listed is quite low and, with 21500 students in the system, would amount to less than $10,000 per pupil. This would be substantially lower than any other municipality in the state. While there are certainly inefficiencies in any agency as large as the New Haven BoE, it’s a hard pill to swallow that its budget can be reduced to anywhere near the MBR.
Moreover, other municipalities are spending a similar proportion of their budgets on education. Norwalk, for example allocates 61% of its budget to education once capital costs are taken into consideration.
I think the criticism of opacity, however, is well founded. Not listing benefits to employees involved in education separately from the city employees is misleading and understates the city’s contribution to education and I can see why an Alder voting on this budget might be peeved. The city should, in future budgets, clearly delineate how much of the medical, pension, debt service and workers compensation are going towards the board of education. Fortunately, all of that is right at the beginning of the BoE’s budget, though that has not been released for the coming fiscal year.
Interested parties can certainly see what the city is spending on education. The question of the appropriate amount to spend on education for New Haven is very difficult to answer and I would like to hear from Stratton where we should make those cuts (say, from last year’s BoE budget).
Comment for McKitt:
I have tried unsuccessfully to understand your comments concerning the BOE budget and MBR.
For comparison, the FY 14 tuition for an in-state resident, full-time undergraduate student at UCONN is $9,256.00
If I divide the numbers you mention: $396 million NH BOE budget by 21,500 students, the result is $18,419, which is almost twice the UCONN tuition.
Does this make sense?
The best answer I can give to that question is maybe. In 2012-2013 the per pupil spending in Connecticut public schools was $16,272 (source: http://www.nea.org/assets/img/content/NEA_Rankings_And_Estimates-2013_(2).pdf)
I can think of reasons why it might be more expensive to provide an adequate level of education in New Haven. For example, 70% of students in New Haven, CT qualify for free school lunches. As a result of this and the issues that would arise from having an exchange of money for the other 30%, the New Haven public school system does not charge for school lunch. This is a money loser for the city, but it means that children who might otherwise hungry can get the meals they desperately need as they are growing up. I am sure you can think of other examples why public schools in cities with substantial populations economically disadvantaged families might cost more to run (New York, New York spends over $20,000 per pupil).
I’m not saying the BoE is in the clear by any means. As with any big organization, there are certainly areas where it could be improved upon, but I am not convinced that accusations of graft and corruption are well-founded.
And not to belabor the point, but that value for in-state tuition does not nearly reflect the costs of educating the student. The state budget pays for a great deal of UConn’s operating expenses (in the hundreds of millions). Out of state tuition, which is likely more reflective of the cost to educate, is about $30,000 annually.
Strattton is not clueless on PILOT and the legislature now and under the two Toni(s) and Looney. The state made the promise and then welched on it - diverting PILOT money for other initiatives that came later. That’s the problem. Looney spearheaded another piggyback on the federal EITC to create another layer of welfare - he did it by sacrificing full payment of PILOT, of properly funding promises made to state employees among other existing programs. Walker did it by choosing her pet program over PILOT. These program may or may not be important, but when you can’t properly pay for what you’ve already bit off, it is outrageous to launch even more spending.
And frankly, the Harp House is doing the same thing locally. It’s wrong. Period.
My observations of NHPS and the BOE:
1. The money spent is about half of the city’s budget.
2. The student outcomes change very very little year in and year out.
3. The teachers spend their own money to buy supplies for their classrooms year in and year out.
4. Essential functions such as copying machines are neglected by management year in and year out.
5. Administrative support for student disruptions is nonexistent year in and year out.
6. Teacher accountability for lack of student outcomes is cited by administration year in and year out.
Through all this, where is all the money going? Or to put it another way, how is the money not finding its way to the classroom or where the students are? Or to put it a third way, how is the money being sopped up before it reaches our kids?
My opinion is that administrators make far too much money. This perverse incentive creates all sorts of insider stuff and opacity. Those on the inside eventually believe they are worth what their salaries. And the beat goes on.
Look, education is about motivating and encouraging our youth. It is not about harumphing in board rooms while enjoying catered lunches.
In public education, a government function, there is no check against waste, inefficiency and nepotism. This is why our taxes are high…precisely because those who run our schools are wasteful, inefficient and in the interest of self-preservation, seek to hide from the taxpayers what is really going on.
Is it that hard to understand? Human nature what it is, who would want to give up 10K+ per month by falling on their sword?
I think this is what some are trying to change and the first step is uncover the money trail.
Lets do just that and see where it takes us.
A statement made by a person without proof is not a myth or a lie. It is an allegation. To accuse a person of lying when you were not even present for the conversations in question comes close to slander. But probably falls a bit short.
You are, however, correct in stating that the Reverend’s letter only accused Alder Stratton of implying that a fellow Alder was a welfare queen; it did not claim that he called her a welfare mother. My apology to you for this slip. Of course, it does not change the facts that (a) the letter did try to tar Alder Stratton as a racist and (b) the Register did publish it. You doubt that the Reverend ever retracted the letter. What does he say?
Nothing self-contradictory at all, and you get no break on this one. You don’t understand the law. Stratton does and is lying.
As I wrote, I support a local hire requirement as high as possible for any projects that would pass constitutional muster.
But when Stratton blusters that 50% local hire for these “city funded” projects “would create almost full employment of residents in three to five years,” he’s full of crap, and, worse, dangling false hope in front of people who need real opportunity.
The number of city-funded projects that could be covered by such a policy is small. Neither 100 College nor the convention center site nor the developments on Route 34 have the level of city involvement that would allow the imposition of local hire mandates.
As he does so often, Stratton takes a commendable policy idea and adds a huge dose of demagoguery. “It’ll create [almost] full employment!!!!! Wheeeeee!!!!!!”
It won’t. Not even close now that the school boom’s over.
This body of law is subtle and complicated. I don’t expect you to know it. But Stratton is a fabulously wealthy lawyer with the expertise and resources to know it and, as a responsible elected official, to educate his constituents about the important but ultimately incremental gains that we can achieve. He chooses not to.
Instead we get rhinos, blood, full employment, and other dangerous demagogic fantasies that perpetuate ignorance among his supporters.
A question: Do you agree that Stratton’s local hire proposal “would create almost full employment of residents in three to five years?”
I’ll bet a nickel you won’t respond.
You most certainly did contradict yourself and all it took was a few consecutive sentences; bravo. The law is clear and quite simple. If a project is city funded the city has a right to set conditions for general contractors including local hiring.
The answer to your second question is, “it depends upon how much stuff we build and what kind of stuff were building.”
You state - “A statement made by a person without proof is not a myth or a lie. It is an allegation. To accuse a person of lying when you were not even present for the conversations in question comes close to slander. But probably falls a bit short.”
I beg to differ. Merriam-Webster’s definitions;
Lie: an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker
Allegation: an assertion unsupported and by implication regarded as unsupportable
Myth: an unfounded or false notion.
They all say the same thing, a lie by any other name is a lie.
As a former public figure, I was subjected to such lies myself, and have a special aversion to such things.
Since I was not a direct witness to these conversations, I can tell you one way or another. I did speak with Jackie James, and asked her directly if such a conversation occurred. She said it did not, and said that if someone did say it did, then they are lying.
I also spoke to the Rev, and others, and the consensus was that it appeared from Ald Stratton’s comments that saying to an African American woman that she “lived off the public dole” was paramount to calling her a welfare queen. What was he trying to convey with that comment?
And by the way, your attempt to scare me with threats of slander lawsuits don’t work.