“Ambassadors” Kept Off The Green

Paul Bass photoWhen the New Haven Green was hit by over 100 K2-related overdoses, downtown’s “ambassadors” — whose mission is to help keep the center of town clean and safe — could only stand by across the street.

That’s because the ambassadors, two dozen yellow-and-blue-uniformed workers employed by the Town Green Special Services District with the goal of cleaning and patrolling nine square miles around the Green, are not allowed on the Green itself.

The overdoses prompted renewed calls for the privately hired force to work on the Green itself. It turns out that disputes over money and labor rules have stopped that from happening.

“We get to know people,” said Terrence McIntosh, who has run the District’s ambassadors program since 2015. “We get to know their names, where they’re from.”

During last week’s crisis on the Green, he said, “all we could do was just sit and watch.”

Thomas Breen photosAs the city, downtown neighbors, and the obscure private owners of the Green all try to figure how best to respond to the concentration of homelessness and substance abuse on the Green in the wake of last week’s overdoses, some are saying the Town Green District’s ambassadors should provide an additional uniformed presence at the neighborhood’s center.

While the ambassadors are by no means a replacement for law enforcement or emergency medical responders on the Green, Town Green District Deputy Director Matthew Griswold said, their mere uniformed presence and close working relationship with the police may help calm the city center.

“We want the Green to be clean and safe like the rest of downtown,” he said.

He said the ambassadors already help deter illegal behavior from the sidewalks and small parks that they patrol elsewhere downtown, and that they are able to quickly call in emergency responders in the case of a medical or criminal incident.

Furthermore, Griswold and McIntosh said, this year the Town Green District is planning on providing ambassadors with formal training, courtesy of the Apt Foundation, on how to better recognize and respond when someone is suffering from an opioid-related overdose.

In interviews with Town Green District staff, local police, city employees, and the little-known private owners of the Green, the Independent found that no one is necessarily against having ambassadors on the Green.

What’s standing in the way is money. And inertia. And the particularly convoluted web of relationships around exactly who is allowed to do what on the privately-owned, publicly-maintained park at the center of downtown.

Who Are The Ambassadors, Anyway?

Created in 1996, the Town Green Special Services District is a private organization that serves downtown’s businesses and property owners by cleaning city sidewalks and emptying trash cans, providing outdoor tables and seating in public places, and maintaining over 280 flower baskets throughout downtown.

The Town Green District derives almost all of its annual revenue from a tax that the city levies on downtown property owners on behalf of the private organization.

This fiscal year’s Town Green District levy is 1.99 mills. (One mill represents one dollar in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property value.) According to the Town Green District’s 2017-2018 annual report, the district raised over $1.3 million of its over $1.6 million budget from the municipal tax levy.

Last fiscal year, the Town Green District also received $140,000 from the city and $50,000 from Yale University. The city’s contribution to the Town Green District is slated to increase to $200,000 for the fiscal year that began in July, according to the budget passed by the Board of Alders in June.

The Town Green District contracts with an organization called Streetplus to employ between 22 and 25 full-time ambassadors.

Some are assigned to cleaning the areas they patrol by power washing sidewalks and emptying trash cans. Some serve as park rangers for the two small public parks downtown, Pitkin Plaza and Temple Plaza; and some serve as “safety” ambassadors, charged with walking throughout the neighborhood, greeting passerby, and calling the police when they see illegal activity.

Town Green DistrictThe ambassadors work three seven-person shifts from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the year.

They patrol the nine square miles downtown that fall within the Town Green District’s purview. Their domain forms a reverse-L shape around the eastern half of the green, stretching from Audubon Street to down to North Frontage Road, and then from State Street over to York Street. They cover the sections of Chapel Street, Church Street, and Elm Street opposite the Green, and do not cover the Green itself.

“We have no responsibility on the Green,” McIntosh said.

Hands Off That Trash!

Thomas Breen photoGriswold and McIntosh said that one of the biggest obstacles to stationing ambassadors on the Green is the resistance of Local 71, the city laborer’s union that represents parks department employees.

According to a 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city parks department and the Committee of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands in New Haven, which is the obscure, private self-perpetuating organization that has legally owned the city’s central square for the past 200 years, the parks department is de facto responsible for maintaining the Green as if it were a public park.

Neither the MOU nor the Local 71 contract specifically details which park maintenance responsibilities are to be the sole purview of city employees.

The 2015 MOU does recognize, however, that “The City has, as a matter of long-standing practice, managed and maintained the Green in accordance with the practices and policies of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees.” It also describes a capital improvement plan that includes proposed improvements to the Green’s irrigation, drainage, and electrical systems, with the understanding that city employees will do that work.

Jim Wankowicz, the president of Local 71, said that his union represents two parks employees who are assigned full-time to the Green. He said the union also represents city employees whose work brings them to the Green several times a year.

Local 71 employees are responsible for cleaning trash from the Green, cutting trees, and providing electrical services for special events, among other responsibilities.

Wankowicz said that in early 2017, his union filed a Municipal Prohibited Practice (MPP) complaint against the city with the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations because of what it saw as incursions by Town Green District ambassadors onto city employee work responsibilities on the Green. In particular, he said, ambassadors were pulling and emptying trash cans from the Green

“We’re trying to secure our purpose on the Green,” he said. “We’re the maintainers of the Green.”

Wankowicz said that the union ultimately withdrew its MPP from the state labor board.

City Labor Relations Director Tom McCarthy said the state board informally noted that the city does not own the Green; the proprietors do. Therefore, the proprietors, not the city, are ultimately in charge of who does what work on the Green. The city cannot be held responsible for decisions made by the proprietors.

Trial Run

Paul Bass PhotoIn 2016, several months before Wankowicz’s union filed its complaint, the proprietors and the Town Green District did indeed engage in a 21-week pilot to place an ambassador on the Green full time.

Griswold said the Town Green District paid $10,000 and the proprietors ponied up another $10,000 to have an ambassador work on an eight-hour shift on the Green, seven days a week for 21 weeks.

Griswold and McIntosh said that the Town Green District has ambassadors keep track of nearly every interaction they have over the course of a shift, particularly for ones in which they have to call in the police or emergency medical responders.

That 21-week pilot “showed us how many daily problems there are on the Green,” Griswold said. McIntosh said that one employee on the Green recorded more adverse interactions over the course of the 21-week-pilot than all of the other nearly two dozen ambassadors combined over the course of the same period.

Wankowicz told the Independent that, even though he opposes ambassadors doing any maintenance work on the Green, he has no problem with safety ambassadors making the rounds on the city’s downtown square. He said that that work, however, may infringe upon the city police’s responsibilities on the Green.

Tom Breen PhotoDuring a recent Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSCMT) meeting specifically about what the city and neighbors can do to address drug addiction-related concerns on the Green, Lt. Mark O’Neill, the neighborhood’s top cop, said he is fully in support of Town Green District ambassadors working on the Green.

“I’ve gone to the proprietors and I’ve spoken to them and I’ve made it publicly clear that I think the Town Green safety ambassadors should be on the Green,” he told the attendees at Tuesday night’s meeting. “That puts more people, more eyes, more uniforms on the Green.”

He said that as long as they don’t clear any trash and infringe on the work of the city laborer’s union, he sees no problem with the safety ambassadors walking around the Green and serving as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the city’s police and other emergency responders.

So what’s stopping the Town Green District and the proprietors from putting ambassadors on the Green tomorrow?

Money Dispute

Janet Bond Arterton, a federal judge who chairs the Proprietors committee, said that the proprietors are also open to having safety ambassadors on the Green.

“We do not oppose the ambassador program,” she said. “We are happy to encourage new ideas through pilots” like the one that Town Green District and the ambassadors engaged in in 2016.

However, she said, the proprietors cannot afford to pay for a full-time ambassador out of its own pockets.

“We are just not going to take on that ongoing operating expense,” she said. “We have said before that they are welcome to come on the green. Their presence on the Green to give information to people, to be an assistance to people, to calm people down who might be heading towards an argument, and to promptly call a particular agency, like the police, those are all good things. We certainly welcome that, but we are not going to be able to pay for that.”

 

Griswold said that the Town Green District is also interested in setting up a safety ambassador on the Green, but that they too cannot afford to foot the bill alone.

“We can’t go on the Green for free,” Griswold said. “It’d be a disservice to other businesses that do pay.”

Griswold said that placing a safety ambassador or two on the Green would have to be a collaboration between the proprietors, the Town Green District, the city police, Yale police, the churches on the Green, and any other constituents with a vested stake in the welfare of the Green.

He said that Yale pays a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to the Town Green District every year to have ambassadors patrol the areas of downtown near the university. He said that Gateway Community College also chips in an annual PILOT for ambassador coverage.

He said stationing a Green ambassador would likely require a similar PILOT from the proprietors, or a combination of other stakeholders on the Green.

“We have the capability for intervention,” McIntosh said about how ambassadors can in theory assist the city in responding to the next wave of overdoses to hit the Green.

But Griswold said he doesn’t currently see any way out of the financial bind and potential for future city-related labor disputes presented by having ambassadors permanently stationed on the Green.

“At this point,” he said, “it’s not going to happen.”

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 26, 2018  9:45am

Who are these hoity-toity Propietors who get off on being part of such an exclusive club, but have done such a crappy job of actually stewarding New Haven’s town square?

Judge Janet Bond Arterton
Anne Calabresi (lives in Woodbridge)
Robert B. Dannies, Jr.
Julia McNamara (doesn’t live in New Haven)
Kica Matos

Rumor has it ex-University Properties head David Newton is now a member, but of course that isn’t public knowledge, because the Proprietors meet in secret, not deigning to include city officials, let alone the public, in their proceedings.

Shouldn’t we ask how many hours have these privileged elites spent actually managing the Green? How much fundraising have they done for much needed capital improvements? Why haven’t they included others, particularly community institutions, in leadership positions?

Finally why won’t they hold a public forum? Why won’t they turn over active management of the the Green to the Town Green Special Service District?

The Proprietors are a secret society, dominated by Yalies. They have done a terrible job of stewarding the Green, and it is definitely time for change. Worst case is the City should employ its powers of eminent domain to out an end to this elitist farce.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 26, 2018  9:54am

The city has two full time people, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year - servicing the Green.  How do they possibly stay that busy? Fire those two workers, outsource the electrical work - and turn the ambassadors loose on the Green. Screw the union - that nonsense about being their work vs. somebody else is nonsense. Come on people - the sum of this story? The owners bear responsibility - so does the city and Yale. Figure it out. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.

posted by: vpaul on August 26, 2018  10:35am

These “Proprietors” can’t afford to pay for this service?? How about their liability for knowingly allowing the dangerous conditions to exist on the Green?

As demonstrated by the “occupy” movement, it’s time to get rid of this obsolete, ineffectual body and replace it with a publicly accountable entity. The Green is too valuable a City asset to be left to the vagaries of an isolated, unresponsive ivory tower elite.

posted by: 1644 on August 26, 2018  2:50pm

Who are the stakeholders in the Green?
1. The proprietors
2. The city
3. Yale
4. The Green/downtown District

Of those, only Yale has money.  It would be in everyone’s interest, including Yale’s, for Yale to fund the Proprietors to care for the Green, with them contracting with the special services district.  They city has enough on its plate.  The ultimate problem, though, is that the Proprietors’ go softly approach to abuse of the Green is endorsed by the elected offices of the city.  The bulk of city residents, at least if the elected officials are a guide, oppose “broken windows” enforcement of laws which improve quality of life, and seem to want to tolerate all but the most violent of crimes.  The Green is a mess because the compassionate people of New Haven don’t want to clean it up.

posted by: Itcantbereal on August 26, 2018  3:37pm

The Proprietors of the Green sound like the civic version of Skull & Bones!

posted by: Bikeman on August 26, 2018  6:36pm

The Green has been great the past 2 days.  Saw significant police presence and a more balanced sense of of what the Green should be…a place not dominated by one segment of society. Oh yeah, it was move-in weekend for Yale.  Amazing what happens when New Haven is in the national spotlight and Yale is concerned about perception and safety.  It finally hit me today why the Green is usually filthy on weekends.  Town Green Ambassadors aren’t allowed to clean it.  And then I read this article.  Another example why the city is screwed up.  We need leadership badly, and it’s not mayor Harp.  I love this place, but the dysfunctionality may eventually drive me out someday. Or the massive potholes in my neighborhood roads may.

posted by: Gimp on August 26, 2018  9:36pm

1644, and others. New Haven Green is one great enigma.There is a very good entry on it on Wikipedia that I suggest you refer to. It describes the Green as privately owned, and also as common lands, so there’s a big contradiction there. Up until 1604 much of England was common land, which all people could use in all manner of ways. From 1604 onwards a series of enclosure acts allowed private individuals to enclose these lands for their personal use, and the landed gentry displaced the common man. It was one of the largest land grabs in history, with the rich becoming super rich, and the displaced commoners supplying the labor that eventually fed the industrial revolution. Most of the great houses of England were built between 1650 and 1830, being funded from the profits of this land grab. As the Green was established in 1638 I would very much think it was the result local worthies agitating against what they saw as unfair governance in what was then the homeland. Remember, this was 150 years before the concept of the United States of America had become a reality. The appointment of the proprietors at that time would have been the establishment of trustees to conserve the land for the common man, in other words everybody. Going on to who are the stakeholders, the answer is not easy to give, as attitudes, social norms, and the laws of the land have changed radically since 1638. At the time of it’s establishment the stakeholders were the common man, meaning everyone, with the Proprietor’s being their Trustees or Agents, providing good governance. At that time they would probably have been put in place by general consensus amongst the populace, and their rights to appoint successors would have been an act of trust that if they were all good, upstanding fellows they could be relied upon to replace themselves with like. Please do not be offended, ladies, as my use of the male gender only is an attempt to be consistent with former times.
Continued …….

posted by: Gimp on August 26, 2018  10:17pm

The Green - Stakeholders - Part 2
Jumping now to the 21st Century, my response to 1644’s query on who are stakeholders is that everyone in New Haven is, at an individual, corporate and municipal level. I think the question he is really asking is who legally and financially responsible for the Green, and with the societal changes since 1638 I don’t think anyone can come up with an ironclad answer. My best take on an answer is—
(1) The Proprietors - As trustees of the common man they have a legal responsibility for the upkeep and law and order on the Green, but if they have no taxing authority then they have no financial responsibility.
(2) The City - As the taxing authority of the common man in New Haven they have financial responsibility to support the Green, but no legal responsibility for it unless there are specific responsibilities under the Charter.
(3) Yale - As they didn’t turn up in town till 1701 they are completely off the hook.
(4) The Green / Downtown District - As this type of organization would not have been conceived of back in 1638 it’s anybody’s guess.
As I see it, the druggies and other miscreants congregating on the Green have every right to be there, as common men ( and women as it’s now the 21st century). Okay, so they are breaking the law, but does NHPD have any jurisdiction over them. The earliest police forces in the country were established in the 1750s, well after the Green. I do not know when NHPD was formed, but unless there are specific powers and responsibilities for the Green in the City Charter, all their activities in dealing with the overdose crisis could have been illegal. Equally, as common men and women, the Ambassadors may well have the right to police the Green, if they so wish.

All I an say is that the Stakeholders, whoever they may be, need to get their act together.

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 27, 2018  12:19am

If the Ambassadors can’t step on the Public Square, Town Green Special Services needs to change their name!

posted by: LookOut on August 27, 2018  7:14am

Just another way that the unions are making our city worse

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on August 27, 2018  9:55am

Downtown should have security ambassadors. That’s what the Town Green District should have, but does not. The New Haven Police has to protect, serve and patrol the whole entire city. Not just the Town Green District or Downtown itself. So, in that case the Police won’t really be much help for the area. That’s the reason why I believe having security ambassadors would be needed in support of making the district feel more like a safe place.

posted by: 1644 on August 27, 2018  12:43pm

Gimp:  There is a major difference between the New Haven Proprietors and those of England.  In England, the “landowners”. held their land by a grant from the crown, and by right of conquest.  They were descendants of Norman invaders who had forcibly subjugated the Saxon population (who had, themselves, engaged in ethnic cleansing of the Celtic Britons earlier).  In contrast, New England towns were voluntary associations of like minded people.  There were, at once, a church, a business partnership, and a civil society.  Land was acquired first through purchase from local Indians, and letter, in parallel, by royal grant.
  The lands purchased from the Indians were purchased in common, often funded by wealthy men like Eaton, as well as by the promise of military support to the local Indians from the settlers as a whole.  All of the land was not immediately divided among the originals settlers, first, because it was generally more than could be used productively, and to save some for future settlers and descendants of the original settlers.  In most towns,  land grants were generally made based on a settler’s prospective contribution to the community, either in wealth’s with Eaton, or skills, such as grain milling, carpentry, and religious ministry.  As towns grew in population, the common and undivided lands would be further divided and granted to community members.  In most towns, divisions were overseen by Selectmen selected by the town at a town meeting.  In New Haven, control seems to have been retained through this self-perpetuating group descended from the original proprietors.  (The separation of church and state further complicated matters, with undivided lands sometimes falling under town control and sometimes under Ecclesiastical Society/Congregational Church control.  Thus, in some towns, greens are considered owned by the First Congregational church, and in others by the town.) con’t.

posted by: 1644 on August 27, 2018  12:56pm

The retention of control in unelected proprietors in New Haven my have evolved because of instability in church governance structures, with Old and New Lights establishing overlapping jurisdictions.
https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.cloversites.com/5e/5e52739e-4911-4fc0-a4a7-a6a32c3f5f6c/documents/UCG_History.pdf

The clearances and enclosures were particularly brutal in the Scottish highlands, where crofters, who had only recently shed their blood for the clan chiefs in 1745, were evicted by hated Redcoats to make way for more profitable sheep,  all to allow the chiefs to build those grand homes you speak of.

posted by: Chrisssy on August 27, 2018  8:21pm

TWO FULL TIME employees assigned to the New Haven green?!  They spend 80 hours a week keeping the green clean and it looks the way it does?! LMAO. Gotta love unions.

posted by: cellardoor on August 28, 2018  1:09pm

I wonder whether there ever can be a crisis in this city without the immediate formation of a circular firing squad.  For those who are interested in understanding something about the history of the Green’s stewardship by private citizens, there was a great piece in the New York Times magazine some years ago, and the Wiki cited above is helpful. 

If it were not for the Proprietors of the Green through the centuries, I suspect we would by now have giant parking garages and nail salons dominating the center of the city.  For those of you railing against “the elites” and the “hoity-toity” people who deviously and malignly created a nationwide epidemic of recreational drug use, if the day ever comes that you have worked as hard for the people of the City of New Haven as have, say,  Anne Calabresi or Janet Arterton, then by all means you should feel free to criticize them.

posted by: OutofTown on August 28, 2018  2:04pm

Unions and one-party government are defined by inertia and ineffective policies.  Local 71 is more concerned with protecting their turf than they are with New Haven itself.  If Jim Wankowicz believes Local 71 is a good “maintainer of the Green”, then let their actions speak for themselves.  But we know that politicians support labor to get votes, and keeping political office is more important than maintaining the Green.  Never let a serious crisis go to waste.  Let’s get the Green out from under the thumb of Local 71.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 28, 2018  3:09pm

@ Cellardoor — “us little people can’t be trusted not to sell off our central park?”

You do know that argument, as the Proprietors’ raison d’etre, is completely laughable and borderline narcissistic?

Fwiw, every city in America has drug problems. That does not mean the Green can’t be made family-friendly, — free of drug dealing, litter, alcohol and drug use.

I feel completely comfortable in criticizing the performance of Arterton, Calabresi, etc. The Green is a disgrace, and the Proprietors have performed woefully as self-appointed stewards of our Town Green.

More than anything, I criticize their ego and sheer arrogance. Why not turn the management if the Green over to the professionals at TGSSD, and return title to the people of New Haven?

posted by: 1644 on August 28, 2018  3:54pm

Some not too out of date (2013) financials on the Proprietors:

http://www.nonprofitfacts.com/CT/Committee-Of-The-Proprietors-Of-The-Common-Undivided-Lands-In-New-Ha-Schenck-Charles-N-Iii-Ttee.html#similarList_a

posted by: 1644 on August 28, 2018  5:07pm

Is that Matthew Griswold from Old Lyme, decedent of one of Connecticut’s oldest families? https://www.geni.com/people/Matthew-Griswold/6000000003243276944

posted by: LookOut on August 28, 2018  6:51pm

AverageTaxpayer:  Why not turn the management if the Green over to the professionals at TGSSD, and return title to the people of New Haven?  Because of the threat of union revolt.  The union is holding the health of The Green hostage….trying to protect two jobs, which by the way are not keeping the area clean or safe. 

Until we find a way to reduce the union stranglehold on our city, our gains will be small and temporary.

posted by: westvilledad on August 29, 2018  7:43am

i love it! the ambassadors try to help out and empty the trash and the union files a complaint! the worst part of these union contracts is that when they do a crappy job you still can’t supplant their work if you find a better, cheaper, way!  this city is bankrupt and we pay 2 f/t parks workers? i don’t see parks workers hustling to clean the green when i’m there.  i do see the ambassadors doing good work all over down-town.

posted by: Dennis Serf on August 29, 2018  11:47am

If you’re tired of reading stories like this one, and the overdoses, and the 11% tax hike, and the Mayors personal bodyguards, and the $4,000 spent on ‘uniforms’, and the trip to China, and…...............................then please send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). We’ll email you when our website is up and running. We’re looking to replace Mayor Harp & the Alders who voted for the 11% tax increase.

posted by: 1644 on August 29, 2018  4:29pm

Lookout:  The people of New Haven who had title were the original proprietors,.settlers whose descendants the Committee of Proprietors represent.  The present “people of New Haven” never had title, so title cannot be returned to them.  In any case,  I have far more faith in an unelected group of luminaries than I do in the elected representatives elected by the people of New Haven.  Moreover, as a private group, the Proprietors have far more leeway in how to manage the Green than the city does, as illustrated by the Occupy case.

posted by: Dennis Serf on August 29, 2018  6:48pm

The NHI has done a great job covering the shortcomings of our elected and unelected city officials. This story is but one example. But the residents and taxpayers can’t expect the fourth estate to do all the work. We the people must act, not simply opine and complain. So, if you are interested in acting and organizing more than talking and complaining, then please visit https://newhaven.nationbuilder.com/ to see how you can help. There are plenty of places on https://newhaven.nationbuilder.com/ to share your thoughts on how to fix/save/take back/resurrect New Haven. If, on the other hand, you believe things are going just peachy in New Haven, then please disregard this message.