A dispute between members of the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee and Mayor Toni Harp’s administration over the compensation package offered to recently hired New Haven Fire Department Chief John Alston has raised concerns about transparency in City Hall.
According to Adam Marchand GRD ’99, the Ward 25 alder and vice chair of the Finance Committee, multiple alders voiced concerns about the stipend included in Alston’s contract at a hearing three weeks ago. Many alders were upset that Harp did not ask alders for their input before offering Alston a compensation package. Marchand added that some alders were also concerned that the city could not afford the proposed stipend.
Harp agreed to pay Alston $158,500 — more than the $125,000 salary the alders originally budgeted for him — according to the New Haven Independent. The package proposed by Harp included a $2,000 monthly housing allowance, generous retirement and vacation terms, up to four weeks of paid training time and the use of a city-owned vehicle, according to the Independent.
“The concerns that I have are following the process of the law set out in the city charter, and not being put in the position of having to approve things that are already agreed, fait accompli,” Marchand said.
Harp presented Alston with the terms of his contract prior to having gone before the alders, which Marchand said “put us in a tough position.” He added that there have been similar situations in past years in which outside grants were already received by the time they reached the Board of Alders.
Chief Administrative Officer Mike Carter declined to comment on the issue, referring all questions to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
According to Grotheer, the compensation package Harp offered to Alston was what Harp felt was necessary to bring him to New Haven. Prior to becoming chief on Oct. 10, Alston worked for the Jersey City Fire Department, and his salary in that position “was such that the mayor felt it necessary to make the offer she did to hire him,” Grotheer said.
He added that Alston may use the housing allowance outlined in his contract “however he likes,” but that Harp’s offer was made on the understanding that Alston would have to maintain two homes as he begins his term — one in New Jersey and one in New Haven — until he can fully move his family to New Haven.
“What I know is that everyone I talked to thinks we have the best candidate,” Marchand said. “The concerns that my colleagues had were about the process.”
Despite his fellow alders’ issues, Marchand said he was still undecided about the housing stipend, and explained that while it may have seemed unusual and generous, fire chiefs in many other districts are paid just as much.
The Finance Committee ultimately voted to recommend the approval of the contract and the associated budget transfers, according to Marchand.
Additionally, Marchand said that in the hearing, Carter acknowledged that Alston’s hiring process could have been more transparent.
“The mayor and members of her administration work with members of the Board of Alders constantly, so there are always open lines of communication,” Grotheer said. “With that said, certainly the mayor and members of her administration are always working to improve communication when there’s breakdown.”
According to Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, also a member of the Finance Committee, Alston’s contract will go before the Board of Alders for approval at the next meeting on Nov. 21.