Incoming CAO Vows To Rein In Overtime

Christopher Peak PhotoGrilled at a two-hour-long confirmation hearing, the returning City Hall official Mayor Toni Harp has tapped to oversee city services said his first priority will be reining in runaway police and fire overtime costs.

Sean Matteson, former chief of staff in John DeStefano’s administration, gave those answers during a job interview for the chief administrative officer’s (CAO) position. During his confirmation hearing at City Hall on Wednesday night, members of the Aldermanic Affairs Committee grilled Matteson on his qualifications, his management style, and his ideas for a role that will put him in charge of New Haven’s public safety and infrastructure.

Mayor Harp picked Matteson to replace Mike Carter, who resigned from the position a month ago. But Matteson still needs the alders’ approval before he officially gets the job on a permanent basis.

Often at the hearing, Matteson responded with non-answers, saying he didn’t want to get ahead of himself. But he said that he plans to devote most of his attention to staffing models.

Because the clock is ticking on a 30-day deadline by which the Board of Alders must act on a confirmation, alders on the committee did not vote on whether Matteson should get the job. That would have delayed the process beyond the deadline, as the full board would schedule multiple readings before a final decision. So the committee discharged the matter without a vote to the full board, which will meet on Monday, where they can take up the matter as a “committee” and vote on it.

While the votes are still being counted, at least one alder who’d asked the toughest questions of Matteson said she expects that he will get the job.

The CAO oversees nine of the city government’s nuts-and-bolts public services: police, fire, dispatch, emergency management, public works, engineering, parks and recreation, libraries, and human resources.

In a letter to the committee, Mayor Harp said the CAO’s job is among the most challenging at City Hall. She said she picked Matteson for the role because he has “the experience, the presence, and the New Haven-specific expertise” to step into the job without any disruptions in the city’s essential services.

“Most departments under the purview of the CAO are up-and-running, on-duty, and on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” Harp wrote. “There are no days off, there is no down time, there is no opportunity for Sean to be less than completely vigilant. … Thankfully, his prior experience in this building gave me every confidence he’d be up-to-speed in no time.”

Matteson is a familiar face downtown. He served as Mayor DeStefano’s chief of staff for seven years, earning a reputation for effectively taking care of business behind the scenes. He said that he shepherded through DeStefano’s big projects, like New Haven Promise, the School Change Initiative, the Prison Reentry Initiative, and the Elm City I.D. card.

He grew up in a dying town, Youngstown, Ohio, one of America’s fastest shrinking cities. As he worked his way through Kent State University, he said, he became enamored with politics and government, as he thought about both “the good [and] the bad it can do in how it impacts individuals.”

After graduation, unwilling to join George W. Bush’s administration, Matteson said he scoped out hotbeds of “progressive politics.” He wound up in New Haven working as a political lobbyist for the union now known as UNITE HERE, where he sometimes took shots at the mayor he’d later serve.

Most recently Matteson worked as chief operating officer for the statewide charter school advocacy group ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now).

Hill Alder Evelyn Rodriguez, the committee chair, asked Matteson about the similarities and differences with his prior city job, Matteson said he plans to take the same task-oriented approach, only this time he won’t let politics influence his decisions.

“It’s still public service, it’s still managing people; it’s still diving projects. Those things don’t change. It’s just different scale and some different departments. But the biggest difference absolutely is the politics, or lack thereof,” he said. “As chief of staff, I was responsible for the political relationships in the city and the administration. That is not the role of the CAO. In fact, I think when using your data to determine where trees are trimmed and where the streets get paved, being political is the worst thing you could be. The politics, we just can’t do them and then explain to people why this street got done and not that street.”

The top priority, he said, will be reining in police and fire overtime, which has already blown through 40 percent of their budgets in the first two months of the fiscal year. Other big issues will be figuring out how to deploy a small crew of tree-trimmers citywide, protect trash-collectors who are too often getting hurt on the job, and improve customer service on the police’s non-emergency phone line.

The alders budgeted $6.58 million for police and fire overtime this fiscal year. Based on spikes this summer, both departments are projected to run over by an extra $4.09 million. The chiefs say some of that overtime will be offset by savings on salaries from their reduced forces.

Alders Evette Hamilton of Edgewood and Hacibey Catalbasoglu of Yale pressed Matteson for specifics on how he’d get a handle on the budget. Matteson said he needed more information to figure out why the current staffing model isn’t working.

“Are these events in a particular time? Is it absences of officers due to illness and injury? Are there vacancies which may cause a problem? Within deployment, who’s back at 1 Union Ave.? Who’s sitting behind the desk? What are they doing? Are these people being asked to move out of one district to cover another? Do we have too many people in one particular district?” he asked.

“I think all of these are part of the conversation, in terms of understanding where some of the overtime is and who it’s being spent on.”

While he doesn’t have all the facts yet, Matteson said he isn’t afraid to ask for them and figure out how to adjust, even if the conversation turned “uncomfortable.” That could mean asking whether firehouses really need minimum staffing or how soon the police academy really needs another class, he suggested later in the hearing.

Matteson said he’ll also build on the work that Carter did. In particular, he said he’ll continue rolling out a new neighborhood sweep campaign, where multiple agencies enforce code violations and solve other problems in the city’s neglected areas. Matteson said it’s important to make sure departments follow through after the cleanup, “because it doesn’t do any good to walk through and point these things out, if you’re not going to get it done.”

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posted by: RealElmHavener on October 11, 2018  7:40am

“He said that he shepherded through DeStefano’s big projects, like New Haven Promise, the School Change Initiative, the Prison Reentry Initiative, and the Elm City I.D. card.”

Three Pinocchios for that misstatement. For the record, NH Promise and School Change were led by Emily Byrne; and the Prisoner Reentry and Elm City ID cards were led by the then CSA Kica Matos. #Trumpeffect

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on October 11, 2018  7:46am

Great. Matteson is very competent.

I almost miss DeStefano. At least the buck clearly stopped somewhere in his administration. Now it is a complete circus.

posted by: observer1 on October 11, 2018  7:50am

Absolutely phenomenal. Out with the old and in with the old. Also union friendly. We are absolutely getting the royal shaft without even a by your leave friendly kiss first. This whole crew needs to be replaced in November 2019. Please, somebody run against them.

posted by: falva3349 on October 11, 2018  9:04am

Sean Matteson is a well qualified and dedicated public servant with the necessary skill sets to effectively and efficiently oversee the departments of the CAO’s office, the BOA should approve his appointment.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 11, 2018  9:22am

Good luck. As for the overtime in the fire department -

1. Minimum Staffing requirement in union contract.

2. Alston got rid of capping how many dayshours top brass can be on the clock - which they use to run up the overtime before retirement. One fireman made almost $300K - and retired on a $180K a year pension for the rest of his life. He’s 51.

3. Harp’s chauffeur ran up $3500 in overtime - in just two weeks if I remember correctly.

4. The fire department has a guy I heard from a source who had spent more than two years on worker’s comp.

5. No risk assessment/mitigation plan.

6. There is virtually zero effort to investigate workers comp cases. This wastes legal fees since the city farms all these cases out - after milking the cases for fees, the lawyers recommend settling 99% of them.

7. And check out the Walker rink when you’re not scouring numbers and data. Not done - and word is, it won’t be done in time for the start of this season. Is it on budget?

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on October 11, 2018  12:57pm

@ Noteworthy — where do you get the idea a New Haven fireman made $300k in one year? And retired on $180k/year?

Neither of that is true, and I challenge you to provide credible proof or retract your statement.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 11, 2018  2:15pm

Avg Taxpayer:

I believe the salary was more like $270K - and yes, it was $180K a year in pension payments per my source. And there are several more who will be making well in excess of $100K a year in pension payments - who have retired in the last year.

posted by: Statestreeter on October 11, 2018  3:57pm

@Average taxpayer

It’s true alright. A friend of mine works in the payroll/pension department and they said there were actually a couple firemen, some type of lower level chiefs, that were making a quarter million and then some because of some deal with the union that changed who gets overtime or how they get overtime. They said a couple firemen that retired recently got of 150 thous a year. One was close to 180 and he only did a little over 20
years.

She said almost half of them walk out of there with atleast 100 thous. a year. For doing less than 25 years. Good for them bad for us.

posted by: Brendantibbets on October 11, 2018  4:27pm

@noteworthy there are many firemen that made over $300k one lieutenant made well over $300k and retired at $150k but at least he worked his full career. Many of the 6 figure firemen only worked 22 years and used various types of “incentives” to retire early. Almost everyone retiring is at over 6 figures now or at the very least 100% of their salary. Some will blame the minimum staffing model which is certainly part of the problem but so is the completely unchecked and unabated sick time and injury leave. The three combined create massive overtime bloating the pension calculation. The city would be wise to immediately go after the minimum staffing agreement while the contract is open while at the same time reign in the rampant sick time and injury leave abuse. Sure the union folks will be chicken little trying to scare city folk, but the facts speak for themselves, there’s a better way to do things and right now the fire department is grossly over staffed.

posted by: Guillermo798 on October 12, 2018  8:12am

“He has “the experience, the presence, and the New Haven-specific expertise”

“His prior experience in this building gave me every confidence he’d be up-to-speed in no time.”

“The top priority, he (Matteson) said, will be reining in police and fire overtime, which has already blown through 40 percent of their budgets in the first two months of the fiscal year.”

What did he accomplish to qualify him for the New Haven CAO position?

I unsuccessfully searched for Matteson’s resume/cv?

Found ConnCAN, December, 2014 to Present on LinkedIn.

No mention of Matteson as the COO on the ConnCAN website.  By his own statement, controlling costs will be his top priority.  I linked to the 2015 & 2016 financials for ConnCAN.  Found their most current IRS Tax Records.

In 2016 ConnCAN over spent their donations by 19%!
Revenue of $1,970,000, Expenses of $2,337,000, they spent $367,000 more than they took in - 19%!!!

In 2015 ConnCAN over spent their donations by 33%!
Revenue of $2,032,000, Expenses of $2,704,000, they spent $672,000 more than they took in - 33%!!!

“It’s still public service, it’s still managing people; it’s still diving projects. Those things don’t change. It’s just different scale and some different departments. But the biggest difference absolutely is the politics, or lack thereof,” he (Matteson) said

When I stopped laughing, I reminded myself of the definition of insanity.

posted by: Sabrina-in-NewHaven on October 12, 2018  1:17pm

May I suggest starting with police assigned to road detail. They don’t direct traffic. Stop paying them for standing around and social media. The money you save needs to go to traffic cams: on Broadway, on Whalley and Dixwell Avenue.

posted by: ShadowBoxer on October 13, 2018  11:58pm

Although a registered Dem, I have many friends who are Republicans.  Apparently, at almost every fundraiser, Bob Stefanowski is singling out New Haven - NOT Bridgeport. NOT Waterbury. NOT New London, as the CITY where “for cryin ’ out loud you can’t even yourself think with all the sirens.” Apparently New Haven is according to these stump speeches flirting with literal bankruptcy because of the over kill of first responders which are destroying the social fabric of the city with noise pollution.  Why is it now that New Haven is the city that is pointed to as a chaotic mess, while Bridgeport under Mayor Ganim is the paragon of prudent fiscal management?  For five years now the city has decided to send numerous firetrucks on calls when there are no fires. ambulances and cop cars.  Why does New Haven have a different model than any other municipality in the USA?  Why is Bob Stefanowski singling out New Haven as a city in CT where you cannot hear yourself think?  Apparently the noise is hurting downtown business owners because patrons do not want to sit and get their ears blown out on the sidewalks.  Something should be investigated and done ASAP.

posted by: hartman on October 15, 2018  9:54am

@ Sabrina-in-NewHaven,

Road Jobs for officers are paid for privately and the city gets a cut. You’re right in the budgets of mainly utility companies and paving companies rates are inflated because of such costs, but the officers are paid for out of those budgets.

posted by: observer1 on October 16, 2018  7:26am

Enough already with the police and fire department overtime and staffing. If you don’t like it change it at contract negotiation time. This money at least is being spent legally in accordance with labor contracts negotiated over a period of time with multiple administrations. 

How about while the fire and police contracts are renegotiated, we talk about all of the rest of the monies wasted by this administration and past administrations. I suggest that first we change defined pension plans for every city employee with less than 15 years of service to 401K type plans. People with more than 15 years finish out their careers on the old plans. This alone would save a ton of money. Secondly, freeze all non union negotiated salaries for 5 years. Freeze all out of state travel for all city employees, including elected officials. The city is in financial trouble and a business in financial trouble would institute very strict guidelines on salaries and travel. No city vehicles for use of personnel if they are not on city business up to and including the mayor. The only personnel that would have “take home vehicles” would be emergency personnel that are called to respond from their homes on a frequent basis. Let us get serious about budget cuts and stop talking about pie in the sky solutions that cannot be implemented without being negotiated. Take the low hanging fruit first, and then go after the negotiated stuff which is more difficult.

posted by: Sabrina-in-NewHaven on October 16, 2018  9:10am

@hartman In light of that then their time is best spent somewhere else. Any time I pass a traffic stop for roadwork, they are on their smartphones, video chatting or playing some inane game. Whatever cut the City gets is not enough to justify this use of their training. I passed the Broadway/Dixwell/Whalley junction yesterday and there were at least 20 police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. I don’t know what was going on at the Marriot/Yale whatever it’s called now but, every street was blocked, and basically immobilized New Haven at the start of the rush hour. Policing is no longer strategic and they seem to be in “putting out fire mode right”

I hear sirens every night now. It’s been weeks. What is going on?