Local hiring a charter reform priority

New Haven’s charter may give a higher preference to city residents for civil service positions if the Board of Aldermen votes in favor of such a proposed revision this May.

One of three committees within the charter revision commission — responsible for drafting revisions to the city charter, which is updated once a decade — decided on the change at a meeting Thursday evening following testimony from local firefighter and community leader Darryl Brooks. In his testimony, Brooks argued that extending civil service hiring preference to New Haven residents who apply for emergency services and law enforcement positions is critical to New Haven’s stability.

Currently, residents of New Haven receive five additional points on a 100-point index designed to help quantify hiring decisions. The committee decided that they should instead receive 10 additional points for being residents, a point boost equal to that of veterans.

“People in minority communities often have a mistrust of police officers, but a police officer who grew up in city is [better equipped because he or she is] familiar with the challenges of the neighborhood, and … knows the community networks,” he said

The charter commission is divided into three committees, each of which is composed of five people and assigned by the board five proposed revisions to consider. The committee that met on Thursday also includes Helen Martin Dawson, Kevin Arnold, Ward 20 Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn and Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart, who was excused absent from the meeting.

Fishman said the committee’s goal is to begin actively finding ways to recruit unemployed residents who want to contribute to the community. Brooks added the measure involving civil service positions would strengthen New Haven’s tax base.

“When people are gainfully employed, they are more likely to spend money where they live on businesses and in the form of property taxes,” he said.

City Hall legal counselor Victor Bolden offered the committee advice on how to define residency and how charter revision could improve city hiring practices. He proposed that the committee avoid the word “resident” in the charter because, legally, people can be residents of several cities at once. Instead, the committee opted to determine preference based on whether or not applicants are New Haven “electors,” meaning they vote in local elections.

The board also tasked the committee with discussing potential charter reform related to the Democracy Fund, a relatively new program currently not included in the charter that provides public campaign financing for mayoral candidates. Fishman said that the fund, which is similar to programs that have been successful in several other states including Maine and Arizona, is still in its experimental phase and going through changes. While the members agreed that it is effective in encouraging more people to run for office, they thought it was not ingrained enough to be incorporated into the charter just yet.

“It’s important, but putting things in the charter as a specific detail forces the city and Board to do it,” Arnold said. “Putting it in in a broader sense reflects what we’d like to do. … That’s more of a statement.”

The committee that met Thursday will also discuss how to include the Civilian Review Board in the charter, an independent board that addresses citizens’ complaints of the New Haven Police Department, at next week’s meeting.

After the commission finishes its draft in May, the Board of Aldermen will vote on whether to approve it and send it to voters in November.

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