City’s Top Managers “Evaluated”

Melissa Bailey PhotosFill a cultural affairs vacancy, pronto. Work harder on curbing violence and connecting kids to social services.

Those were two concrete suggestions Mayor John DeStefano made in the latest round of supervisory evaluations for top City Hall managers, department heads and mayoral aides.

The annual evaluations, completed in December and January, were released to the Independent Friday. The mayor evaluated seven top coordinators; those staff in turn evaluated their supervisees.

Some mayoral appointees, like economic development chief Kelly Murphy and social services czar Chisara Asomugha, received concrete feedback. But amid a simultaneous theme of encouraging more administration “transparency,” many of the evaluations were devoid of concrete, forthcoming feedback that the public can view.

The evaluations used to remain out of the public eye. Then the city lost a Freedom of Information Commission case filed in 2004, and now must release the forms to the public by request. As a result, Mayor DeStefano revised the evaluations to include less information. Workers are now graded as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” and must simply initial that they have discussed their performance across 11 categories, which range from from “job knowledge” and “self-management” to “customer service” and “ethics and government.”

Based on who’s doing the evaluations, some of the documents offer detailed, specific insight into how public servants are serving the public and how they can do better, in their bosses’ eyes; while others leave out any specific information or reflection of what the bosses are really thinking.

In light of the FOI decision, Chief Administrator Rob Smuts does not leave written comments on the evaluations he performs for his supervisees. He gave a satisfactory rating to all—including the fire chief, head librarian, city engineer, and the directors of parks, human resources, public safety communication, public works, and sustainability—without leaving any written mark of their strengths or weaknesses. (He explained last year, in this story, that he doesn’t feel bound by the spirit of the state Freedom of Information Commission’s “ridiculous” decision forcing the evaluations to be available to the public.) DeStefano, on the other hand, has taken the process more to heart the past few years (examples here and here).

Click here to read the evaluations. (Some, such as in the Economic Development Administration and Corporation Counsel’s office, were not available as of press time.)

Police Chief Dean Esserman was not evaluated because he just started his job in November, according to mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton. The evaluation for Superintendent Reggie Mayo was not available as of press time.


As an evaluator, DeStefano offered the most concrete recommendations for his staff.

“I know you feel stressed, you point that out,” he wrote to Murphy, who’s been the economic development administrator for six years.

He recommended she “fill vacancies ASAP.”

The only current vacancy under Murphy is the director of the cultural affairs department. The job was posted online after Barbara Lamb left.

DeStefano told Asomugha, who has led the city’s Community Services Administration for two and a half years, that the success of her department’s initiatives over the past year has been “mixed.”

“I think areas in which you feel comfortable such as public health and homelessness advance more aggressively,” the mayor wrote. “Co[n]versely other areas—violence and BOOST seem more uneven.”

Boost! is the city’s initiative to build so-called “wraparound services” at schools to tend to kids’ social-emotional needs.

To City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden, DeStefano noted: “Sometimes the work load seems a bit much.” He said Bolden needs to manage having “too much on your plate.”


Several other evaluations focused on a need to communicate better—with the public, and with a new coalition of aldermen who just took office in January.

“You are going to have to spend considerable time re-educating and talking to lots of new actors,” DeStefano advised Murphy.

“We all need to focus on how we can better communicate,” he told Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. “To other elected officials, to the public. And what strategies and tactics we employ to do this.”

DeStefano gave “very good” marks to his chief of staff, Sean Matteson. “Related to our 2012 Agenda, we need to do much better in the execution of communicating our message,” he added.

Matteson in turn dispatched Elizabeth Benton, the mayor’s new spokesperson, to help do that in three ways: through “social media messaging,” “proactive messaging,” and “effective use of the mayor in message delivery.”

“Advance planning is critical,” Matteson advised, “so take the time to clearly think things through about the timing and delivery of the message at the moment and how it fits in with the overall themes we are trying to communicate.”

He told Benton she’s off to a good start: “Your first few months in the position have suited you well. You have a good eye for detail and enjoy the debate of substantive issues as well as those issues of process.”

Advice For Newcomers

Communication will be key for Joe Clerkin as he steps into the new role of budget director, DeStefano wrote. As the city braces for a difficult financial year, he advised Clerkin to find ways to adopt more transparency.

“Your work is good,” DeStefano told Clerkin. “That said, think about how it’s read by the public. How do we make the product readable and transparent?”

He suggested Clerkin take a look at the city’s budget reports and how well they convey information.

He said Clerkin is starting off well. “Being a self-starter—always open to new ideas and approaches is key,” he said. “That was a strength of [longtime budget director] Frank [Altieri]‘s.”

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoMatt Smith (pictured) will be another key player as City Hall navigates a new relationship with a the supermajority on the Board of Aldermen. Smith, a former East Rock alderman, joined City Hall last fall after losing a primary battle for his seat. His job is to serve as a liaison between the mayor’s office and the board.

Matteson urged him to “seek out and build relationships with new board members” and “engage the board at every level in everything we do.”

Caprice Taylor-Mendez, who took over the youth department last fall, “appears on the right track and is motivated,” reported her boss, Asomugha.

Under the topic “self-management,” she left the following comments: “Have discussed punctuality and resources available to support professional development. Clearly motivated leader who capitalizes on her strengths in order to get the job done.”

Taylor-Mendez has “put effort into identifying gaps and strengths of department,” Asomugha wrote. She said Taylor-Mendez must now craft an “overall vision” for youth services in the city, a process which is “currently in its infancy.”

Marjan Mashhadi, who’s been the director of labor relations for less than one year, has her work cut out for her, Matteson wrote.

She dived into the job at a time when the city is negotiating new contracts with most of its 13 unions. Matteson instructed her to put special focus on three of those: fire, police, and AFSCME Council 4 Locals 884 and 3144.

“You are handling your baptism by fire well to this point,” Matteson told her. “Juggling tasks and maintaining sanity with multiple labor contracts under negotiation and/or arbitration is a hefty task for a person with several years in the position let alone an individual new to the job. To date the position agrees with you and I like what I see in the way you approach the work.”

“Lost Without You”

Melinda Tuhus File PhotoMatteson had high praise for the behind-the-scenes women who make the mayor’s office run.

“I also understand that the position, as the entry point to government and the Mayor, puts you in the direct line of fire for some angry individuals from across the country—especially when the Mayor talks about immigration,” he wrote to receptionist Maria Cruz. “You do your job well and stay cool under trying situations that would frazzle a lesser person.”

“My appreciation for you work cannot be expressed easily,” Matteson wrote to Patricia Lawlor, who’s been an executive administrative assistant for 32 years.

“Just continue to do what you have done so well for the Mayor these past years,” he instructed Rosemarie Lemley (pictured), who has served as the executive administrative assistant to DeStefano for all 18 years of his term, and worked for the city another 10 before that.

“The Mayor, as everyone else, would be lost without you.”


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posted by: anon on February 6, 2012  9:35am

“overall vision” for youth services in the city, a process which is “currently in its infancy.”

Haven’t we had this youth position filled (by other people) for years? Why is the process in its infancy?  If you add up salary and benefits we’ve spent a half million dollars for a vision in its infancy?


Every other city has a concrete plan to stop the violence. Where is New Haven’s? I remember the Mayor had a plan in 2001 - where is the follow up on it.

“social media”

How much will be spent on this and what are the returns? Why is this more valuable than say jobs for the 50% unemployed men in Newhallville?

These kinds of questions are why evaluations are done. Rob Smuts and Mayor should take notice. Because Rob doesn’t participate, these public questions can’t be asked as effectively. 

That creates not just a breakdown of communication, but also a breakdown of the public policy process.

posted by: Curious on February 6, 2012  9:42am

Vacant jobs at City Hall?  I thought they always had plenty of buddies on-hand to get a $100k-plus job to, with little done to warrant it.

posted by: observor1 on February 6, 2012  9:43am

Very interesting that ethics in government is one item of grading.If reviews are true I dont expect to read any good comments for the administration,the board of ed and eventually Esserman. That is of course if they are rated by their underlings.Mayo’s review is conspicuously unavailable???

[Editor: Officials’ annual evaluations take place over the course of the year. Mayo’s annual time hadn’t come yet. You can read the details of his 2010 evaluation here: ]

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 6, 2012  9:45am

I know you feel stressed, you point that out,” he wrote to Murphy, who’s been the economic development administrator for six years.

He recommended she “fill vacancies ASAP.”

The problem is who will fill the vacancies when king john get rid of most of them.

posted by: Nurse on February 6, 2012  11:41am

Last yr, Destefano encouraged Asomugha to take a more active role in BOOST. One yr. Later he is stating her dedication to BOOST is “uneven”. Why does this render a satisfactory rating. And in regards to Murphy who is ” stressed” because of one vacancy..try working like the rest of us after facing lay off after layofff with more than one vacancy. Rob Smuts ... doesn’t believe in transparency at all and needs to be fired!

posted by: Pedro Soto on February 6, 2012  11:44am

I’ve always had a problem with the fact that these performance reviews are forced to be made public. These are not elected officials, they are government employees.

What if any one of these employees were having personal issues such as a depression, discrimination or substance abuse? Those would almost certainly be left out of a document such as this due to privacy concern. Are they being tracked somewhere? Is THAT document then subject to a FOIA request?

What if that employee is then dismissed from his or her position illegally due to one of those issues? Is there now no paper trail of reviews to document this?

With public reviews, these basically turn into tidy little publicity pieces, since every single review is basically positive and glowing. I just don’t see how the public is better served by this.

posted by: anon on February 6, 2012  12:26pm


There may be exceptions that could be codified in the legal department, but in general, when it comes to government, what is wrong with publicity?

Even though the Cabinet is not elected, the public is able to track how well people like Hillary Clinton or Hilda Solis are doing on advancing various policy issues. If Hilda isn’t speaking to Barack, the public should know.

Similarly, the public should be allowed to track the job performance of top employees, who are essentially public figures.

posted by: Observer on February 6, 2012  12:51pm

How many years has the Mayor been promising a youth plan for the City? ... don’t hold your breath.

posted by: Lynda Faye Wilson on February 6, 2012  1:18pm

...The bottom-line is to hold feet to the fire until charred burn if necessary for needs to be met. Unknown, the public does not have a chance to do so. Observation and awareness will allow better leverage to do so. After all is said and done, administrator and city officials are as well as the Mayor himself,  employees and/or workers for a better living conditions for ALL RESIDENTS OF THE CITY OF NEW HAVEN. “A L L”  RESIDENTS, from the cradle to the grave(aged).

posted by: Pedro Soto on February 6, 2012  3:18pm

I think my big issue is mostly the fact that the publicity of these documents essentially invalidates their usefulness as a management tool.

Only the most tin-eared of managers would publish negative performance reviews of their subordinated in full view of the public, since that would reflect on their management of them.

With the documents public, their value is nil, and hence their value as public documents is nil.

posted by: ignoranceisbliss on February 6, 2012  4:46pm

Could someone please explain the comments editorial standards on the NHI?  How do the comments of Josephined which appear to me to be a potentially scurrilous attack on a retired police officer, an ad hominem attack on Ms. Murphy and borderline obscene make it on to the site (while my suggestion with regard to another story that a tattooed chest might engender second thoughts at age 45 was apparently deemed to personal for publication)?

[Editor: That was a horrible comment by Josephined. I thought I had zapped it. I was wrong. I made a terrible mistake, and it got through. I apologize to everyone affected. We wade through comments all day, and they seem to have gotten nastier and nastier since the height of the election last fall; trying to weed out all the harshness has become a prime part of the day requiring intense focuse. That’s not an excuse—we still can’t allow comments like that through. It’s just an explanation of what’s been going on.]

posted by: robn on February 6, 2012  9:52pm


It might make your job easier if you allow users to flag inappropriate comments.