New Haven mayor gets his marching orders
Will he abolish library late fees by April 12? Will he open the “checkbook” by 2022?
New Haven now has a report card by which to measure newly sworn-in Mayor Justin Elicker’s performance in office — based on 52 pages of recommendations like these assembled by a diverse group of the city’s most engaged minds.
Elicker tapped those minds to form his 25-member transition team, which worked two months on a blueprint for action that it released Monday.
Elicker joined the transition team for a press conference Monday morning on the second floor of City Hall to give a sneak peak into some of the many policy priorities, both concrete and squishy, both immediately realizable and long-term stretches, included in that report.
The team’s co-chairs, State Rep. Robyn Porter, public school parent advocate Sarah Miller, and national immigrant rights activist Kica Matos, stood alongside the nearly two dozen other transition team members to outline with pride just how democratically sourced these recommendations are.
They emerged from two public meetings that brought together 497 different participants at High School in the Community, 112 emailed suggestions, 353 survey responses, and 68 meetings with city staff, elected officials, community leaders, and other city residents.
The report itself covers topics ranging from budget and finance, city operations, and economic development to education, climate change, housing, and public safety.
“I’m hoping and trusting that as we present this to our mayor,” Porter said, “that he will take it into consideration and that we will hold his feet to the fire to make sure that what the city is asking to be done gets done.”
“The transition process we feel created not just a report, but many community conversations around central topics of our shared existence here in New Haven,” Miller continued, “which we hope will continue to guide and maybe nudge and maybe push the administration as a reminder to stay grounded in and responsive to the collective wisdom of our community.”
Elicker said that he’s already shared some of the recommendations from the report with his department heads. This report will not be formally adopted as some sort of legally binding document, he said, but will rather serve to inform which policies his administration will prioritize in the immediate, short, and long terms.
“The report is intended for everyone to read,” he said. “People should take a look at the report.”
Each category of recommendations in the report is broken down into three timelines: First 100 Days, Two Years (the length of a mayoral term), and Long Term.
So he has closer to 94 days to realize those shortest-term goals laid out by the transition team in the “First 100 Days” section of the report.
Below is a sampling of both the very specific as well as the broadly ambitious goals laid out by the transition report that all New Haveners can now use to evaluate the success of the Elicker administration over the next 100 days, two years, and indeterminate future.
Specific goals to be achieved by April 12, 2020, or Dec. 31, 2022
1. Abolish library late fees and launch a policy review of late fees. In the “First 100 Days” section of “Arts, Culture, and Library,” the report recommends that the city consider scrapping late fees New Haveners incur when they return a book or a movie to the library after its respective due date. “People with unpaid fines often fail to pay them because they do not have the disposable income to do so,” the report reads. “Unpaid fines mean they cannot check out additional books.”
2. Establish an online “check register.” In the “Two Years” section of “Budget and Finance,” the report calls on the mayor to create an online check register that provides a publicly accessible list of all city spending. That section of the report also recommends that the city “publish the City budget in an easily shared and sorted electronic format” and that the city further break out department-by-department healthcare costs in the regular monthly financial reports and annual budget.
3. Establish a uniform ticket-tracking system for resident requests. Elicker singled this idea out during Tuesday’s press conference as a workflow he and his departments are already working on implementing at City Hall. In the “Two Years” section of “City Operations and Public Works,” the report recommends that the city come up with a ticket-tracking system that allows residents to better understand when their concerns will be addressed by City Hall. The recommendations also calls on the mayor to “[d]eploy a callback system for departments with call queues, and impose a uniform voicemail policy so that City voicemail identifies the recipients and uses out-of-office notifications.”
4. Establish the Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force and appoint members to the Lead Paint Advisory Committee. Within the “First 100 Days” sections of “Environment and Climate Change” and “Health and Housing” respectively, the transition report recommends that Elicker prioritize filling and impaneling a task force created by the climate emergency resolution passed last year by the alders, as well as a lead paint advisory committee charged with providing expert policy recommendations around the city’s lead paint poisoning protocols.
The report also calls on the mayor to “establish that New Haven will respond with urgency to the climate emergency by charting a path to a 55% reduction of 1999 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.”
5. Support a Sanctuary City ordinance. In the “First 100 Days” section of “Human Services and Immigration,” the report recommends that Elicker follow through on his campaign pledge to not only retain the sanctuary city executive order first issued by then-Mayor Toni Harp, but also to push for the Board of Alders to adopt a more permanent law describing municipal protections for undocumented immigrants.
6. Establish guiding principles for appointments to the Board of Education. While this recommendation in the “First 100 Days” section of “Education” may not specify exactly what those guiding principles should be, the report does says that they should be in line with recommendations of the National Association of School Boards and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.
Considering how much debate there has been in recent years over who is qualified to serve on the school board, this set of guiding principles could provide a tangible framework for that often-contentious nomination process going forward.
Broader goals to be achieved sometime soon. Or not so soon
Not every recommendation in the report includes a specific action item to be achieved by a set date. Here are a few examples of some of the broader, more ambitious, and harder-to-measure recommendations included in the report.
1. Nurture a collaborative working relationship between the Mayor and the Interim Superintendent. How to get to that closer alliance between the city school system and City Hall, the report foregrounds in the “First 100 Days” section of “Education” the importance of having the mayor and the superintendent get along and work closely together for the benefit of the city’s 22,000-plus public school students.
“A well-functioning school system relies on key decision-makers developing positive relationships that are grounded in understanding of and respect
for one another’s distinct statutory roles and responsibilities,” the report reads. “Although the City Charter provides for the Mayor to be a member of the Board of Education, this dynamic is an outlier in school boards around the country and for good reason: because it leads to hyperpoliticization. Our new Mayor can avoid this trap by maintaining an overall focus on children and by recognizing that district educators are charged with educating and that the role of the City is to bring resources to support education.”
The “Education” section also calls on the mayor to declare 2020 “the Year of the Whole Child in New Haven,” and to develop strategies around teaching in alignment with children’s developmental needs, understanding of racism and implicit bias among students and educators, culturally affirming and historically truthful curriculum and teaching, and supporting students navigating trauma and mental health challenges.
2. Announce an Inclusive Growth Initiative. The first recommendation listed in the “First 100 Days” section of “Economic Development, Workforce, and Transportation” calls on the mayor to “initiate a community-led plan for shared economic growth.”
That plan should start with recommendations on how to “close the revenue gap with Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital,” the report reads.
“The process should include residents, institutions, businesses, and community organizations—everyone invested in the economic success of the City and its residents. The single most important thing the City can do for economic development is create a common, unifying narrative that residents and institutions can come together to plan and work together to achieve. The plan should specify what sectors the growth efforts should focus on, and it should define goals, including what a “good job” entails, how institutions can help provide good jobs for City residents, how to facilitate tangible opportunities for certain vulnerable (e.g., formerly incarcerated) and underrepresented (e.g., persons with disabilities) groups, how to grow green jobs, and how to ensure that New Haven contractors are preferred for construction work.”
3. Establish new city-generated revenue. Not taking into account the city’s pushing out of debt payment costs through the Aug. 2018 $160 million bond refunding, the city’s actual annual deficit could be as high as $50 million, the report’s “Budget and Finance” section reads. The city must find ways to secure new revenue, both from the state and from within the bounds of New Haven.
The first recommendation in the “Long Term” section of “Budget and Finance” calls on the city to consider new fees and taxes such as a stormwater fee, hospital bed tax, a local sales tax, and a commuter tax.
The report also recommends that the city host regular challenge competitions for students, urban planners, and other interested locals to come up with ideas on how to resolve the city’s most vexing structural financial issues. “Questions that would be appropriate for a challenge competition are how to lower utility costs and how to rationalize the City’s fleet.”
4. Work towards achieving a comprehensive multimodal transportation network. Spanning the “First 100 Days,” “Two Years,” and “Longer Term” sections of “Economic Development, Workforce, and Transportation,” the report calls on the city to rethink and reconfigure its public transit system.
That includes making all city streets “Complete Streets” that are safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists; encouraging transit-oriented development; pursuing coordination between all bus and private shuttle transit systems in the region “to create an efficient and attractive transportation alternative to driving,” and facilitating “safe, convenient access to and from Union Station and Long Wharf via multiple transportation modes.”
Some of the slightly more specific transportation recommendations include installing more traffic-calming devices like curb extensions, intersection bump-outs, and neckdowns with paint, delineator tubes, and planters; promote Yale University’s free shuttle service to non-Yale affiliates; explore creating a “Tweed Airport Impact Zone to make investments in Complete Street, housing soundproofing, noise barriers, and other community benefits.”
5. Hire locally for city jobs. In the “Two Year” section of “Economic Development, Workforce, and Transportation,” the report calls on the city to “reestablish municipal government as a leader in exemplifying and promoting local hiring and living wages.”
The city should be “an anchor employer committed to New Haven hiring,” the report reads. The mayoral administration should “embrace the principle that ‘One Job Should Be Enough,’ and expect all employers to provide living wages, benefits, and a fair process for workers who want to unionize.”
6. Reorganize LCI to focus on code enforcement. In the “Longer Term” section of “Health and Housing,” the report calls on the city to shift the focus of the Livable City Initiative almost entirely onto its anti-blight, property owner support, and code enforcement work and away from housing development.
“Support a housing code enforcement unit that is staffed and resourced to support property owners and to inspect housing units and enforce codes in the City,” that section of the report continues. “Improve the coordination of inspections across departments and consider consolidation of code enforcement. Develop clarity in addressing complaints about housing conditions.”
This story was first published Jan. 7, 2020, in the New Haven Independent.
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