Last night’s Board of Alderman meeting lasted seven minutes — perhaps for the last time in the near future.
Up until now, most of the new and pressing concerns have been winding their way through committees and hearings, but beginning with the board’s next meeting, the body as a whole will finally have to tackle these same issues — whether setting the limit on the new police chief’s salary or addressing community outcry over the school lunch program.
In mid-February, the Finance Committee approved a bill that would allow the city to offer a new police chief — a search is ongoing to replace retiring Chief Francisco Ortiz — a salary of up to $160,000. That is a raise from the current $127,000 maximum, and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said he is considering offering an amendment once the bill reaches the full board later this month that would lower that new cap to $150,000.
That proposal is the same as the one he offered — and was barely voted down — during the committee meeting. He said the same basic questions, especially with respect to how the proposed salary cap compares to that of other towns, remain unanswered.
“The $160,000 [figure] was the highest by a lot,” Perez noted after Monday’s meeting, adding that he also wants to see how salary levels correlate with length of tenure of police chiefs in other cities.
According to data Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts provided the aldermen at the committee meeting in February, Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut, currently pays its chief $118,000. The chief of police in Hartford, which has approximately the same population as New Haven, earns $145,000.
Across the border, in Springfield, Mass., which is slightly larger than New Haven, the top police officer takes in $155,000 a year, according to that same data.
Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee, who is not a member of the finance committee, added his thoughts Monday: “We need to also understand how … crime in cities where the chiefs are making more [has changed].”
Lee said he is not convinced that money would attract the right candidate for the job. The salary might induce “better” people he said, but not “smarter” ones.
All the aldermen in the Finance Committee, including Perez, agreed in February with city administrators that the city needs the “market-competitive” salary scale in order to attract the top police chiefs from around the country.
The resolution passed 8-1 out of committee, with only Perez dissenting.
Meanwhile, a resolution from board President Carl Goldfield, Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez and Perez submitted Monday night will bring the issue of lunches in public schools to the full board likely sometime in early April, after making its way through committee.
The bill comes in response to concerns from parents, unions and community members about poor quality food in the lunch program and poor treatment of workers by the school system’s food provider Aramark — charges that the company denies. The opposition issue spurred a protest Feb. 1, which was attended by about 300 people.
The resolution calls for a public hearing, which Rodriguez noted Aramark would be welcome to attend, and would make contracts for food and facilities maintenance awardable to “the lowest responsible bidder where responsible includes a track record of community, parent, worker and student satisfaction.”
Also on the table for the next meeting is the ordinance to create the New Haven Solid Waste Authority, which was approved in committee last month.