Former City Hall chief of staff Sean Matteson is back at City Hall to take on a new challenge — the chief administrator’s office.
In September, Mayor Toni Harp tapped Matteson, who previously worked under former Mayor John DeStefano from 2006 to 2013, to return to City Hall on Sept. 24 as acting chief administrative officer. After spending the last few years working as the director of government relations and community engagement for education advocacy group ConnCAN, Matteson will continue in the position in an acting capacity until he receives confirmation from the Board of Alders.
“I’m looking forward to being on the operational side of things and being less political,” Matteson said. “The best thing about local government is that you can see the impact you have. Your successes are greater, but your failures are also greater.”
As acting chief administrative officer, Matteson oversees the Engineering, Fire, Human Resources, Library, Parks and Recreation, Police and Public Works Departments, and provides support to the Civilian Review Board — which handles public complaints from of police misconduct. He also acts as a liaison between the mayor and the Board of Alders, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
At a press conference at City Hall on Sept. 24, Harp praised Matteson for his work ethic and knowledge of city politics. Harp said the position is very demanding but believes that Matteson is up for the challenge.
“His prior experience in this building gives me every confidence that he’ll get up to speed in no time,” Harp said.
During his tenure as chief of staff, Matteson oversaw the creation of Elm City Resident Cards — a form of identification available to New Haven residents irrespective of immigration status — as well as school reform measures and changes to the prison reentry system. Before coming to City Hall in 2006, Matteson worked on DeStefano’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign and acted as the political director for labor union UNITE HERE.
Matteson will meet with the Aldermanic Affairs Committee of the Board of Alders on Oct. 10, after which he must pass a confirmation vote by the full board.
Matteson’s appointment comes at a critical point in union negotiations. The city police union voted overwhelmingly to go into arbitration in July after more than two years of negotiations, citing an impasse on wages and medical benefits. Similarly, formal talks with the Fire Department are set to begin soon as well, according to Grotheer.
In an interview with the News, Matteson praised recent advocacy efforts of the firefighters union, adding that a dispute would only arise if union demands come into conflict with the interests of the city as a whole and the limits of the city budget.
“[Fire Department union is] doing a great job with advocating for their members and protecting their rights,” Matteson said.
Matteson is concerned with the district’s financial issues, which has seen a decline in state aid in recent months, prompting Harp to propose an 11 percent tax hike. He said that “no matter who wins” the governor’s race in November, New Haven cannot expect additional financial assistance from Hartford.
If approved, Matteson will replace Michael Carter — who left his post on Sept. 7, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Carter drew criticism in 2017 after he physically threatened Local 3144 vice president Harold Brooks during a meeting, which led to the police being summoned. Many union officials called for Carter to be fired, and Harp sent him a written rebuke.
Carter resigned soon after the death of his father and is now doing service work in Haiti through the Community Coalition for Haiti. He will return to New England on Oct. 6, where he has committed to referee Division II and Division III football games through November.
“[Carter] is a seasoned professional,” Harp told the News in 2014. “He’s set up a system of metrics within his departments … with that he can bring New Haven to the next level in its delivery of services.”
According to Grotheer, some of Carter’s major accomplishments during his tenure as chief administrative officer included updating the library system technology, adding body cameras to the police department to address accountability issues, reducing overtime costs in the Fire Department and investing in new snow removal equipment for the Public Works Department.
The annual salary for the chief administrative officer is $125,000.
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