Fair Haveners Debate Democracy’s Details

Allan Appel PhotoShould all city employees be prevented from serving on boards of the community management teams? Would that include, for example, both a clerk-typist eager to be part of her community as well as the head of a city department who makes policy and decisions?

Those suggestions for bylaw changes were duly noted by the corresponding secretary of the Fair Haven Community Management Team (FHCMT)  ... who is a city teacher.

Oh, and is a teacher a city employee?

Such gnarly democratic issues and the bylaws that address them were engaged in a spirited conversation at the the Fair Haven Community Management Team.

The regular monthly meeting drew about 35 people last Thursday evening to the brightly lit community room of the Fair Haven Branch Library on Grand Avenue.

Cach of the city’s 12 community management teams writes and revises its own bylaws. Over recent years Fair Haven’s core group of about two dozen faithful attenders have developed more tightly run meetings through paying attention to Robert’s Rules of Order.

They have also been determining, for example, who among attenders has the right to vote. By Fair Haven’s bylaws you must attend five of 12 annual meetings before you can vote on issues small or large, such as a proposed letter in support of a local organization or the disposition of the annual $10,000 the city gives to each team for local improvement projects.

So the elected board members of the teams, who formulate each month’s agendas and run the meetings, do have power to direct and guide.

Their capacity for objectivity came into question Thursday night as the board’s new corresponding secretary, David Weinreb, led the group through a half dozen suggested bylaws changes.

They were all fairly nuts-and-bolt, like for example eliminating old language that had mandated meetings be held in the Blatchley Avenue police substation. This year’s gatherings are taking place in the much more commodious Fair Haven Library community room.

Weinreb’s recitation came at the tail end of a two-hour meeting, and it was pretty much pro forma. Neighbors might be forgiven for having occasionally looked down at their phones as Weinreb checked off the dry, minor language changes, all largely designed to increase attendance and participation.

Then   he came to a prposed revision to Article Three, Section G, pertaining to the board’s elected officers. He read aloud the current text: “No officer of the New Haven Police Department or Livable City representative [regular attendees and presenters] will be eligible to hold elected office of the Fair Haven Management Team.”

A voice rose in objection.

It belonged to former FHCMT board Chair David Steinhardt

“It should say ‘No employee of the city of New Haven,’” Steinhardt suggested.

“What about a clerk-typist?” asked the board Vice-Chair Mishele Elizabeth Rodriguez.

“A lot of hard-working city employees would be deprived of serving,” added Chatham activist Lee Cruz.

“I agree,” said Rodriguez.

“It’s still a conflict,” Steinhardt reiterated.

Weinreb provided some context in saying almost all of the two two dozen plus regular attendees with voting rights have a particular interest or agenda in the community.

Still, Steinhardt, parried, a person on the board has the power, unlike merely a voting member, to push an agenda.

“Where do you draw the line?” said Laurie Lopez-Anastasio, the long-serving LCI specialist for Fair Haven. Over the years both she and the police district manager, by the FHCMT rules of qualifying attendance, have had the right to vote on issues. But they both have always abstained, she reported.

“It’s a conflict,” she said simply.

“The distinction between those who serve as board officers and voting members is important,” said Weinreb.

“Does the Board of Education include ‘city employee’?” asked Fair Havener and Deputy Director of Urban Resources Initiative Chris Ozyck.

“Yes. I’m aware,” Weinreb (a teacher) said, with a wink of acknowledgement.

“We should vote,” said Cruz.

But Weinreb thought the discussion had not reached its end point. “Remember, what if a leader of a non-profit served on the board?”

“It’s happened,” said current Co-Chair Michelle Rodriguez.

“We all have interests,” Weinreb said.

In a summing up mode, activist Mary Ann Moran said, “We want [more] Fair Haven people to be part of the management team. A city department head is not appropriate [to serve as board member]. But if they live in the neighborhood, they should participate. A department head should not be prevented from voting].”

“LCI’s Laurie and the lieutenant district manager] historically could be part of a quorum, but they refrained from voting,” said another former board officer, Sally Esposito.

“What about the alders?” Moran replied. “They vote.”

“I don’t vote here and I never voted downtown,” said Fair Haven District Manager Lt. Mark O’Neill, who previous ran the downtown district. “I support the decisions made.”

“This is your 30-day window,” said Weinreb. “You’ll vote next month.”

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posted by: 1644 on March 14, 2019  3:04pm

These Fair Havener’s might want to consult with city counsel.

https://www.leagle.com/decision/1984591192conn3991556

posted by: CityYankee on March 14, 2019  5:25pm

You also want to keep that requirement of attendance , so folks can’t pack a meeting for an issue they are pushing or opposing.
If an employee is a resident of the area,  I think there is some legal ground to be reviewed before deciding to remove their ability to vote in a body like this.

posted by: darnell on March 14, 2019  7:52pm

Wow.

“The rules should apply to everyone but me.” Ban all city employees except the teacher. OK!

Why all the debate. It seems fairly simple to me. Maybe because I believed in fairness and transparency. Either BAN ALL city employees, or ALLOW ALL to participate. It’s that simple.