After Bilingual Plea, Bilingual City Hall Post OK’d

Thomas MacMIllan Photo¿Como le gustaría entrar en un salón y no poder comprender lo que le han dicho?” Alder Dolores Colon asked, turning to face her colleagues in City Hall.

“Now tell me what I said,” Colon continued. “if you can’t tell me what I said, now you know how Spanish-speaking residents feel when they come to City Hall.”

The Hill alder (pictured) was making a point about the need for a bilingual receptionist in the mayor’s office, one of three new city government positions that alders voted to create Wednesday night, effective this fiscal year.

In addition to the new $40,000-per-year receptionist job, alders approved a new director of minority and small business initiatives ($80,000) and a new director of development and policy ($116,000) — someone who will seek out new sources of grant funding for the city.

The new positions are budget-neutral, paid for through leftover grant money and obsolete loan funds.

The vote represents the partial fulfillment of new Mayor Toni Harp’s first big “ask” of the Board of Alders. She didn’t get all she wanted.

Harp initially proposed the creation of seven new positions — the three approved Wednesday, plus a legislative director, and three more for a grant-writing department under the new development director. Alders in the Finance Committee cut the number down to three.

Some alders tried to cut it down to zero Wednesday night.

The vote to create the new jobs came after contentious debate, featuring some last-minute amendment attempts from People’s Caucus Alders Michael Stratton and Anna Festa of East Rock, who sought to block the new positions and cut a proposed salary.

Bilingual Website?

Before the voting, several alders spoke in favor of having a bilingual receptionist in the mayor’s office. Alders Adam Marchand of Westville and Tyisha Walker of West River noted that nearly a third of the city’s population is Latino, and the city seeks to be welcoming to immigrants.

“This is not a ‘want,’” Walker said. “It’s a necessity.”

Stratton (pictured), Festa, and Downtown Alderwoman Roth said that while it’s important to make City Hall accessible to all, but the city can’t afford it right now.

Stratton proposed an amendment: The city must look for a way to transfer an existing bilingual employee into the mayor’s office to avoid creating a new position; if that can be done, the city should put the savings — $40,000 — toward making the city’s phone system and website fully bilingual.

Stratton said he didn’t know how far $40,000 would go toward that goal, but that it would be a start.

The amendment failed.

Base + Bonuses?

The debate over the development director position followed similar lines.

“We have grant writers all over the city,” Stratton said. Lots of city employees are already writing grants, he argued; why do we need another one?

He noted that the Board of Ed has a grant manager who earns far less than the $116,000 the new development director would get. The Board of Ed’s grant manager earns $74,062 in the current fiscal year, according to the school board’s proposed budget for next year.

“If you have people writing grants here, people writing grants there, what you have is a mess,” said Fair Haven Alder Santiago Berrios-Bones, one of several alders who spoke for the new position. The city needs a “coordinated effort” overseen by the new director, he said. 

Stratton offered an amendment that would have reduced the development director’s salary from $116,000 to $70,000 and used the difference to hire a bilingual community liaison for the library, a position the library requested but the mayor didn’t include in her budget.

That amendment also failed.

Alder Festa (pictured) proposed another amendment, an idea she said had just occurred to her: Give the development director a “base” salary of $70,000 and allow him or her to earn bonuses for landing grants. Winning a $100,000 to $250,000 grant would earn a $1,000 bonus. Grants over $250,000 would be worth a $1,500 bonus.


Alder Colon said she opposed the amendment. The city wants to attract the best candidate. “They will not come to us if they’re going to be nickel-and-dimed to make a living,” Colon argued.

The development director should be not just a grant writer, but “the best in the field,” someone who “knows a good grant when she sees it” and can make all the city’s grants better, Colon said.

Festa’s amendment failed.

Three alders — Stratton, Festa, and Roth — voted against creating the small and minority business director position. Twenty-three alders voted for it.

Five alders — Stratton, Festa, Roth, Richard Spears, and Carlton Staggers — voted against creating the bilingual receptionist and development director positions. Twenty-one alders voted for them.

Next Year

The three positions approved Wednesday are for only the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Harp administration sought to put them in place as soon as possible so that the new grants director could take advantage of funding opportunities coming from the new federal budget, said Michael Harris, the mayor’s liaison to the Board of Alders.

For the remainder of this fiscal year, the small and minority business director job will be paid for by leftover money from a “revolving loan fund” for small businesses.

The development director and the bilingual receptionist will be paid out of unused grant money.

The three new positions — plus the four others the mayor originally requested — are included in the mayor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Alders are likely to eliminate the same four they did in Finance Committee, and approve the ones they created Wednesday night, perhaps amid another contentious debate.

Next year, the small and minority business director job would still be paid for by revolving loan fund money. The other positions would be be funded by eliminating unfilled jobs elsewhere in city government.

Board of Alders President Jorge Perez said he supports continuing the three positions that were created Wednesday night into the coming fiscal year. “Considering that it’s budget neutral, that would be what I would want to have happen.”


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posted by: robn on April 24, 2014  8:45am

Inventing positions as payback for campaign “volunteers” is not “budget neutral.” Using money that would have reduced the budget so that redundant positions can be invented is not “budget neutral”.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 24, 2014  9:58am

“¿Como le gustaría entrar en un salón y no poder comprender lo que le han dicho?” Alder Dolores Colon asked, turning to face her colleagues in City Hall.
“Now tell me what I said,” Colon continued. “if you can’t tell me what I said, now you know how Spanish-speaking residents feel when they come to City Hall.”

Jida kabrit politisyen yo te vann pèp la soti kite.

This is haitian creole.Can you tell me what I said.All you have to do is get some one to translate who is already working in the office.

My Bad.Jida kabrit politisyen yo te vann pèp la soti kite means.

Judas Goat politicians have sold the people out.

posted by: beaverhillsnewhaven on April 24, 2014  10:23am

One high level grant writer to secure millions in funds for city projects makes sense to me.

posted by: FacChec on April 24, 2014  10:27am

There is no stone the BOA will not uncover to satisfy its blind urge to create more debt for itself and the taxpayers of New Haven.
The city is currently in serious debt in the following accounts:

1. Health benefits 2. Pension fund 3.Workmens comp. 4.Overtime, 5. Debt service, 6. Rainey day fund, 7. A general fund balance deficit.

The hiring of three new positions exacerbating these debt accounts, while at the same time the BOA is maintaining over 250 vacant positions costing additional millions of tax payer dollars.

It is amazing how the previous administration successfully administered the ID card program, without a Bi-lingual person especially assigned in the Mayor’s office. In fact, most Bi-lingual persons don’t go to the mayor’s office for assistance with assessments, tax collections, pay tickets, obtain marriage license or, to the building dept.

There is no justification for paying a salary of $116,000 for a part time grants person to perform the same task as others who share the function with their regular responsibilities, or, to the embarrassment of the BOE grants manager who only earns $75K and supervises others.

There is no justification for creating a small business person when the economic development dept. has incorporated that function years ago. If the EC dept. is not performing, the Mayor should fire people.

In view of all the above consideration there is no budget neutrality possible, Perez.

posted by: Kevin on April 24, 2014  11:19am

3/5ths, according to the Census Bureau, there are approximately 100 city residents who speak Creole and who do not speak English very well ( In contrast, there are thousands of residents who speak Spanish and who don’t speak English well.

posted by: TaxBreak on April 24, 2014  12:11pm

I want to talk about small businesses. They are the engine of the economy in most places. I agree a little bit with fact check that the city has huge financial challenges. But all cities do. Mayor Harp and the new Board inherited that from years of DeStefano and from a national trend to defund government led by the right wing.

Not having a dedicated person who has the single goal of developing and supporting our small businesses is completely short sighted. Small businesses employ people, especially local people, pay taxes, stabilize communities. This was one of the main initiatives many of is found compelling in mayor harps platform and I thank the board of aldermen for supporting it.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 24, 2014  12:50pm

¿Tiene notas de sentido común?

1. Do you know what I said? Now you know how I feel when I testify to the finance committee or watch the BOR do their usual rubber-stamping routine. It means “Do you have any common sense notes?” Answer: No. Once again, we are bulldozed.

2. If we had voted in Elicker - we would have had a mayor who spoke Spanish, rode his bike to work not needing a new, luxury full sized SUV, and would have required no body guards. Just saying…

3. Stratton-Festa are correct - somebody could have been re-assigned who already works for us. Just like the body guards…

4. We do not need to search for a high priced grants writer - she is already working in HR. The new alders need to get informed (Santiago Berrios-Bones) Department heads have been successfully writing grants for years, and when necessary, employing a contract writer. It has not been a mess.

5. Note to Perez: These expenditures in the next fiscal year are coming from the general fund and are not budget neutral when you are taxing the public more to pay for them. By the way, the receptionist and grant writer will cost $62K and 179,800K respectively with benefits.

6. Note to the whole BOR: Got any common sense? When your city is running a deficit; when you have accounts deep in the red, you have to borrow money to fake a rainy day fund and you’re paying $200K a week in overtime to your police and fire departments while your BOE has zero cost controls or financial innovation not to mention damn sorry results - it’s time to get creative with the money and look for ways to pay for things rather than just running up the bill and kicking taxpayers with faux necessities.

posted by: HewNaven on April 24, 2014  1:48pm

If we had voted in Elicker - we would have had a mayor who spoke Spanish, rode his bike to work not needing a new, luxury full sized SUV, and would have required no body guards. Just saying…

As much a I’ve come to accept the new administration, I don’t mind reminding Harp about these 3 points. They alone could save hundreds of thousands, not to mention the potential value of having a leader with tangible progressive values.

posted by: robn on April 24, 2014  1:54pm


New Haven has one of the highest proportion of employees per citizen in the United States and still can’t succeed in lifting a significant part of its population out of poverty. That’s not a failure of underfunding, its a failure of policy and implementation.

By the way…irony alert. Reagan, Bush I and Bush II grew the federal government after recessions. Obama contracted it.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 24, 2014  1:57pm

posted by: Kevin on April 24, 2014 11:19am

3/5ths, according to the Census Bureau, there are approximately 100 city residents who speak Creole and who do not speak English very well ( In contrast, there are thousands of residents who speak Spanish and who don’t speak English well.

There are a lot of people in city hall who speak Spanish.

posted by: LookOut on April 24, 2014  2:59pm

Two emotions;

1. Sadness:  That machine politicians blindly allow Harp to expand payroll which will increase taxes which will hurt residents and businesses.  This is just more of the same ol’ song and dance. 

2. Appreciation:  For Stratton, Festa, et al.  By offering options to address the issues without adding head count (transferring rather than hiring to place a Spanish speaker in the reception area), they forced the machine alders to show their true colors.  All of these amendments failed.  This makes clear that the machine crew are interested in trading favors for votes more than they are interested in making City government work better for the people. 

If only more people would pay attention and vote with their true interests, most of these alders (and Harp) would not be in office.

posted by: Eddie on April 24, 2014  5:59pm

These are good hires. 

A bilingual receptionist will make city hall more accessible for a many of its residents.

I also really like the idea of a grants director.  A common theme in the NHI’s reporting and the comments is that New Haven is being squeezed.  On one hand, there are many needs in the city that are going unmet.  On the other hand, Yale’s limited contribution to New Haven and the lack of reimbursements from the state, places severe limitations on the city’s ability to collect revenue.  Clearly, New Haven is deserving of more federal and state help, and securing grants provides a means to address needs without further increases in taxes. 

Finally, Harp is advancing one of her most important campaign promises with the creation of a minority and small business initiatives director.  A major reason for supporting Harp in the last election is that she has a strong track record of supporting small businesses, such as those in Westville.  Another major reason for supporting Harp was that she promised to make development more equitable across the city.  While many of the same commenters on this thread, were disparaging business development on Dixwell, Harp was at the Dixwell Plaza talking to business owners to understand the support that the would need.  It seems that hiring this director is a step in that direction. 

This vision of inclusiveness and equitable development under challenging circumstances could not be more at odds with Stratton.  In contrast, his exclusive vision entails cutting vital services such as an entire high school and half of the fire department.  These cuts are only offset by half-heartened commitments to providing consolation prizes, such as $40,000 allocated to a non-existant bilingual website that lacks the actual funds to be developed.

posted by: ChrisTheContractor on April 24, 2014  6:24pm

I live in New Haven and I have rental property in New Haven. The property taxes that we pay are too high. The idea of creating more positions (unless you are putting a new cop on the street) is adding fuel to the fire. STOP. I have to pay my bills based on how much my business can produce. In lean times thing get cut. My customers certainly are not going to pay more.
!Puedo hablar espanol tambien!

posted by: mstratton on April 25, 2014  2:53pm

I have seen this Eddie misrepresent the peoples caucus budget and my comments one to many times. The PC budget cuts no service providers at all. No reductions to staff in fire, police, teachers, paraprofessionals, parks, public works, or libraries. Instead the reductions come entirely from the highly paid mostly suburban bureaucracy on meadow street at boe, and at city hall in such incredibly bloated areas as finance. There are well over 350 people in these bureaucracies making over 100k a year plus benefits. They perform no direct services and suck our budget dry.  Eddie, Why are you so anxious to distract people from the real cuts? These are the winners under the mayors budget. The mayor cuts where we add. She cuts 6 youth librarians from the library request, she cuts police- we add, she denied our request for 2m in funds for more youth jobs, she has no plan for community policing, no plan to give kids something to do this summer, she fought against pilot because it took away Toni walkers legislative slush fund. We add a 10m rec dept for all kids around the city, we add 2m to develop neighborhood planning across city, and we gave a vision that expands services by eliminating fat. The mayor focuses on fattening and already morbidly obese bureaucracy. It’s quite sickening in many ways. So Eddie let’s talk actual facts not propaganda from the college street city hall offices.

posted by: HewNaven on April 25, 2014  3:48pm

I’ve said it before, I like Stratton’s enthusiasm for New Haven, but those of us who prefer a more nuanced approach to political discourse might appreciate the following analysis more than another shouting match between polarized positions.

Do you think PILOT reform is a panacea? Think again!

posted by: Eddie on April 25, 2014  4:11pm


In my last comment, I was criticizing you and your positions.  It is, however, interesting that you automatically assume the People’s Caucus shares every policy that you have suggested.  So much for consensus and democracy within the Stratton Caucus.

Please note that I am not misrepresenting anything. 

You were the one who made cutting the fire department in half a centerpiece in your recent campaign.  You stated,  “There is no expert in the country who would suggest we need more than 150 firemen.”  Despite, espousing such certainty in this campaign, you later wrote that this fundamental piece of your policy platform would “jeopardize” the “health or very life” of those with “severe medical problems.”  So, in your own words, you very recently campaigned on a policy that would risk the lives and health of people who are already at risk.  This seems like an exclusive policy vision to me. 

You floated the idea of eliminating high schools.  The NHI quotes you, “The city has ‘underpopulated’ schools and too many high schools, Stratton said. ‘Do some consolidation.’”  Again this strikes me as a cut in vital services, and a policy that the vast majority of people who live in New Haven would oppose.  Despite this opposition, your budget still flirts with this idea, as it states, “Consider alternatives to very expensive and low populated schools.”

Moreover, you have also already admitted that your original budget cut library funds, even when you didn’t know the purpose of the funds!!  How many more cuts have you suggested without even taking the time to understand the purpose of the funding?

Far from propaganda, recalling campaign platforms, promises, and policy proposals seems like basic accountability to me.  With a record of so many major inconsistencies and truly harmful policy proposals, how can we trust that you mean anything you state?

posted by: robn on April 28, 2014  10:13am


It may be the case that legislators have pled PILOT underfunding when asking for other sources of funds but resetting PILOT corrects a major anachronistic affect of a good colonial intention. Connecticut’s founders did not anticipate New Haven’s transition from agriculture/aquaculture to modern industry, the latters subsequent decline and the later rise of Universities and other non-profits as major industries. Although the good intention of “benefit to society” may still exist, the legislature needs to recognize that those benefits aren’t proportionately shared with the host localities. The state needs to put its money where its mouth is and assume the cost of tax credits for non-profits.

At a fundamental level, CT should not penalize New Haven for being home to that which it sees as a benefit to others. Let negotiation of funding for schools and other things take place in legislative debate as it should.