New Haven’s Chief Administrative Officer, Michael Carter, has avoided harsh punishment for lashing out at Local 3144 union Vice President Harold Brooks at a March 30 meeting, provoking the ire of multiple union leaders.
At a meeting to discuss the termination of Local 3144 Chief Steward Alan Bush, Carter verbally berated Brooks and, according to union members present, threatened him physically. Eyewitnesses and the police report of the incident both attest that Carter leaned over the table and yelled at Brooks, “Let’s take this outside.” According to Local 3144 President Cherlyn Poindexter, who was present at the meeting, Carter exited the room and came back shortly thereafter to apologize to Brooks but not before Poindexter called the police to report Carter’s actions.
In an interview with WNHH radio on April 3, Mayor Toni Harp said Carter would face ramifications for his actions at the meeting. That same day, Harp issued a letter — provided to the News by Larry Dorman, spokesman of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — to Carter reprimanding him for acting unprofessionally.
“As I verbally explained to you last week, I am following up with this written warning to make clear that I do not condone your actions, and they will not be tolerated,” Harp wrote in the letter. “As the city’s chief administrator, I expect you to maintain a high level of professionalism and decorum at all times, particularly in the more challenging situations.”
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the mayor does not plan to take any additional actions against Carter and that she considers the matter closed. He called Carter’s outburst “uncharacteristic” and said Carter “accepts the responsibility for his part in what happened,” which the mayor considers sufficient.
Carter could not be reached for comment on his actions.
New Haven Police Department Media Liaison David Hartman said there was no case pending concerning the altercation and that the incident had been “overblown.”
But Harp’s letter did not satisfy union leaders. Sal Luciano, the executive director of Council 4 AFSCME — the parent union of Local 3144 — delivered a scathing statement in response to Harp’s decision not to punish Carter further.
“Mr. Carter’s actions were clearly a violation of the city’s zero tolerance policy for workplace violence,” Luciano wrote. “I can only imagine what the consequences might have looked [like] had the roles been reversed, with a front-line employee acting as the aggressor, and issuing threats to an administrator.”
New Haven’s charter contains a clause stating that acts or threats of violence in the workplace by city employees may result in disciplinary actions up to and including suspension and termination, and that the city has a zero tolerance policy for such actions. The city’s chief administrative officer, the position that Carter now holds, is responsible for enforcing this policy.
Poindexter said Carter began to yell at Brooks after Brooks accused Carter of calling Bush “handicapped” at a prior meeting. Carter denies ever having called Bush handicapped, according to Poindexter.
According to Poindexter, Carter’s words and actions — leaning over the table and exiting the room after challenging Brooks to face him outside — represented physical threats. Carter told police that he did tell Brooks to come outside, but that he did not intend for that statement to be interpreted as a direct threat to Brooks’ well-being, according to the report. Instead, Carter said he wanted to speak to Brooks outside to settle their disagreement “man to man.”
According to union sources, Brooks was not the only victim of Carter’s outburst. Poindexter said that Bush, the subject of the meeting, was sent into a “fit” by Carter’s actions. Poindexter said that Bush had trouble breathing and opening his eyes due to the combined stress of being terminated and being present during the argument, and that he spent two days in the hospital recovering.
She also claimed that the police report misrepresented the event. She noted that Brooks did say he felt threatened, even though the police report states that Brooks admitted that Carter never directly threatened to cause him bodily injury. She also lamented the fact that Carter’s testimony occupied such a prominent place in the report, whereas the testimonies of several union-affiliated eyewitnesses, including her own, were left out.
Carter has been New Haven’s chief administrative officer since 2014.