Less than two months away from taking the oath of office, New Haven Mayor-elect Toni Harp ARC ’78 has her work cut out for her — but she will not have to start from scratch.
Harp began the process of transitioning into the mayor’s office last week armed with a how-to manual for city governance, prepared by none other than her soon-to-be predecessor, outgoing 10-term mayor John DeStefano Jr. As Harp campaigned to replace him, DeStefano directed the city’s department heads to outline the condition of their agencies and the crucial decisions facing the new mayor during her first 90 days in office. DeStefano presented that report to Harp on Thursday — and posted it to the city’s website on Friday — in advance of the mayor-elect’s announcement of a transition team to help prepare for the changing of the guard.
Jason Bartlett, Harp’s campaign manager, said the two binders full of administrative information will be a valuable resource in jumpstarting the transition, adding that Harp will announce the members of that team on Tuesday.
The transition team will be headed by Ed Joyner, a retired education professor at Yale and Sacred Heart University, and Mark Sklarz, an attorney and former president of the Greater New Haven Jewish Federation, will head the transition team, the New Haven Independent reported Friday. The transition documents DeStefano prepared leading up to last Tuesday’s election will simplify one of the advisers’ chief tasks: examining departmental protocol, responsibilities and budgetary constraints to determine where efficiency can be improved.
“I have asked the Directors to assemble a report that is frank and that identifies deficiencies as well as those efforts that are going well,” DeStefano wrote to his successor. “I have also asked that any issues requiring attention in the first 90 days of the new Administration be called out.”
For the mayor’s office, the early tasks range from ceremonial events, including the inauguration on Jan. 1, to substantive policy requirements — chief among them the preparation of the city’s budget by March. Many of the early priorities involve administrative appointments, which form the second major task of the transition team: identifying candidates for top city jobs.
Yale School of Management professor Douglas Rae, who served as chief administrative officer from 1990 to 1991 under New Haven Mayor John C. Daniels, speculated that Harp would make vast changes in the city administration.
“I’ve heard Toni say that she would clean house right away,” Rae said. “That’s not scandalous, but I think it would be a mistake because I think DeStefano has some very good people, including [Public Works Director] Douglas Arndt.”
Harp is likely to seek out leaders with deep roots in New Haven, Rae said, warning that ideal candidates should be disentangled from “local loyalties.” He added that recruitment will be Harp’s first test as the city’s leader, a view echoed by DeStefano.
“The challenge is attracting talent to the government,” DeStefano told the News. “I think that’s a challenge everyday that you’re [in office.]”
Among other challenges DeStefano emphasized in the report are public safety, education and the city’s finances. To begin coping with the city’s troubled fiscal state, DeStefano recommended a five-year projection of revenue and expenses that he said should be used to inform labor negotiations and policy planning.
Updating the assumed rate of return on pension investments could further help prevent shortfalls in presumed funding, according to the finance department’s assessment. Other challenges include replenishing the drained rainy day fund and moving away from one-time revenue collection as a way to allay long-term budget gaps.
School reform, DeStefano wrote, “is the most critical effort underway to positively affect the future of the people of New Haven.” An immediate challenge before Harp is closing the $3.5 million school budget deficit outlined in the Board of Education’s report.
Engaging institutional partners, including Yale University, is to be another task of the new mayor. One of Harp’s principal roles in the school reform process will be sitting on the board of New Haven Promise, a scholarship program primarily funded by Yale that guarantees New Haven public school students who meet performance standards a full ride to any state college or university in Connecticut. Yale President Peter Salovey currently chairs the board.
By March 31, New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman wrote, the new mayor should see to the hiring of 45 new officers and the acquisition of body cameras for patrol officers, among other security-related priorities. Harp will also have to decide whether to seek funding for a new police shooting range at the former military armory on Wintergreen Ave.
The report includes both internal audits of each department as well as external assessments by the Financial Review and Audit Commission, in addition to other groups. Though the documents present a fairly good picture of the state of the city, New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said, they also honestly divulge where further work is needed.
One particular area Smuts said merits attention is the city’s information technology setup. On the whole, he added, the outgoing administration will leave Harp to set her own priorities.
“The goal here was not to tell the incoming administration what they should focus on. That’s something they’ll figure out for themselves,” Smuts said. “The goal was to give them all the information we have and help the new administration hit the ground running.”
The transition team will operate on a budget of $28,104.