At the beginning of Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, President Carl Goldfield took a minute to ask the aldermen to be like Peter Pan and “think happy thoughts.”
But by the end of the meeting, there were few happy thoughts as the Board finished up its debates over setting a pay range for the new police chief and creating a municipal waste-management authority. Ultimately, the aldermen settled on the originally proposed pay raise for the next New Haven Police Department chief and approved the creation of the New Haven Solid Waste Authority, independent of City Hall.
“Reasonable people can disagree from time to time,” Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said during the meeting.
The aldermen passed, 23-5 with one abstention, pay range E10, called “Market Competitive Range,” for the new police chief, who will take over current Chief Francisco Ortiz’s job in the coming months. Aldermen set the range at $100,000 to $160,000 per year because they felt a lower pay scale would fail to attract qualified candidates.
Later, the Board approved the creation of the NHSWA, 17-7 with one abstention.
But while the debate leading up to the approval of the two measures was fairly harmonious, two amendments proposed by Perez prompted much more heated discussion.
Perez raised two controversial amendments, one for each vote. The first would have lowered the upper cap of the police chief’s pay range from $160,000 to $150,000 a year. The second, which he called “the sunset clause,” sets an aldermanic meeting three years from now to review the effectiveness of the waste-management authority.
The pay amendment, which ultimately failed, 16-12 with one abstention, reflected community concerns voiced in previous community and aldermanic meetings.
Although Perez pitched the second amendment as uncontroversial, it produced a one-on-one battle between Perez and Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman over how it could affect the agency’s ability to remain solvent. The amendment passed by a razor-thin margin — 14-13 — and Sandman ultimately pushed through another amendment meant to clarify to the sunset clause.
When he announced the first amendment, Perez insisted that he supported the idea of increasing the pay range from its current levels, although he thought the proposed raise was excessive.
“But [it should] not prove a bigger tax burden to the city than we need to,” he said at the meeting.
In response, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, the chair of the aldermanic finance committee, emphasized that the range is just that, a range, and the salary the new chief ultimately ends up receiving may not be at the upper end of that range. A lower cap would discourage out-of-state candidates from applying, he said.
Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee shot back that aldermen could always repeal Perez’s proposed amendment if they thought the new pay raise was preventing the recruitment of the best candidates. The upper cap of the pay range should be lowered to around $125,000 a year, he said.
Lee added, “I don’t think even if we give [the chief] $250,000, it will shop the shootings.”
A search for a new police chief began last December, shortly after Ortiz announced his retirement following the release of a report by the Police Executive Research Forum, which City Hall commissioned in response to the arrests of several NHPD officers last March on various corruption charges.
Ortiz, who has agreed to take up a position as public-security director of Yale’s West Campus, has said he will stay on at the helm of the NHPD until a new chief is selected.
The debate over Perez’s second amendment ultimately lasted almost an hour. Perez said the addition of a sunset clause would create a “clear timeline to make a clear determination” of the board’s efficacy.
Sandman — and later Goldfield, who stepped down as moderator to talk at the meeting — shot back, arguing that the amendment would lead the authority to fail to fund itself. The authority, which would need to undergo “reauthorization,” according to the amendment, would appear to be too much of a financial risk to those who are interested in buying the bonds needed to fund the authority, Sandman said.
According to the ordinance, the authority would be able to raise up to $10.5 million through bonds.
“Let’s not kill this authority,” Goldfield said from his perch in his Ward 29 seat, where he will sit only a few times this year.
But Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro thought otherwise: “I don’t see harm,” he said, “I see accountability.”
Under Sandman’s proposal, which the Board ultimately passed, there will be an evaluation meeting in three years, but if the authority is shut down at that point, the city will pay back investors.
The two amendments were not the only agenda items that prompted spirited debate.
Other amendments the Board passed involved clarifications of the solid-management-authority proposal. Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, who also chairs the Board’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, pushed through an amendment that added encouraging recycling initiatives and educating residents on waste management to the NHSWA’s list of objectives.
Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo pushed through an amendment that laid out the requirements for members of the NHSWA Board of Directors.
At the end of the meeting, the Board approved the appointments of five members of the NHSWA Board of Directors, including Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes. The Paolillo amendment allowed for two more members, who will be chosen by the mayor before the authority is built in Ward 12.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting, which will focus on the downtown Shubert Theater, will be held today at 5 p.m.