For the first time in recent memory, legislative codes of conduct were invoked on Monday to censure the conduct of an alder whose spirited disagreement some say has crossed a line.
One week after a Board of Alders finance committee meeting ended in verbal confrontation, Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison is calling on Ward 19 Alder Mike Stratton to make a formal apology for “personal attacks, demeaning remarks and threats to colleagues.” Stratton vehemently objected to last Monday’s vote approving three new City Hall staff positions at the request of Mayor Toni Harp.
“You have been living in the middle of core government your entire life,” Stratton told committee chair Andrea Jackson-Brooks, with whom he had been quietly sparring the entire evening over his manner of questioning.
Jackson-Brooks fired back, “You don’t know what I’ve been doing my entire life … and buddy you better be careful; I will have my lawyer on your case, and you can deal with him.”
Stratton stormed out of the chambers with the promise to “see you in 2015,” vowing an electoral showdown between the increasingly divided factions on the Board — with Jackson-Brooks and the majority of union-backed alders who supported Harp last fall on one side and Stratton and the dissenting People’s Caucus critical of the Democratic majority on the other.
In a letter addressed to Board President Jorge Perez, Morrison called on Stratton to issue a written apology to Jackson-Brooks and the entire finance committee. She also asked that Stratton sign an agreement saying he will abide by codes of conduct enshrined in the city charter. If he breaks those, he should be removed from the committee, Morrison suggested.
Morrison called Stratton’s accusation about “core government” an “abhorrent personal slur with racial overtones.” Her concern was echoed by a letter sent by Reverend James Newman, president of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association, to Perez.
“He was attempting to insinuate that Ms. Jackson-Brooks was some sort of ‘welfare queen,’” Newman wrote.
Stratton responded to Morrison’s concerns in a Monday letter. He apologized for his outburst while denying accusations of racism and leveling a complaint of his own against Jackson-Brooks and other members of the committee.
Transcripts of Monday’s meeting will reveal Jackson-Brooks’ repeated abuse, he said: violating his right to ask questions, cutting him off during debate and allowing “mob style rulings where she is joined by other alders in attacking me.”
He responded to allegations of racism by calling them baseless and harmful to the city’s multicultural fabric.
“Charges of racism should not be tolerated without real evidence. In a city as diverse as ours, alders should never feed the fire with this sort of talk,” Stratton wrote. Rather than labeling her a “welfare mom,” Stratton said, he was saying she “lacked the objectivity” to make cuts to the city’s bureaucracy.
He said any investigation into the behavior of alders should be performed by an outside citizen commission. He concluded by saying he will not “back down” or be “bullied.”
Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, who joined Stratton last Monday in dissenting from the committee’s approval of the staff additions, said her colleague’s outburst was inappropriate. Still, she added, he had been treated unfairly by Jackson-Brooks throughout the committee meeting.
In response to the series of letters, Jackson-Brooks said Monday evening she was taken aback by Stratton’s conduct last week.
“I gave him a lot more credit as a man of intelligence,” she said. “What he did was outrageous.”
Perez, another one of the voices in last week’s tussle, declined to pass judgment on the various accusations. He said the charter sets out means of holding individual alders in contempt — and expelling members by a three-fourths vote.
Disputes are first handled by the president and then go to the aldermanic affairs committee if need be, he added.
“We’re not near that point,” Perez said of expulsion. “We’ll see if this can be settled amicably.”
Perez said the last time such objections were made against an alder was more than 15 years ago, concerning then-Fair Haven Alder Raul Avila.
The charter’s guidelines for aldermanic conduct require that legislators “refrain from speaking or acting, by oneself or in concert with others, in a manner which disturbs, obstructs or interferes in any way with the performance of another member’s sworn legislative duties.