Daniel Zhao

After a spirited discussion at Monday’s monthly Finance Committee meeting, alders on the Finance Committee approved a $7,600 transfer to the police chief’s salary — an increase that, if passed by the full board, would put the chief’s salary at the top of the city’s permitted range and above that of salaries in comparable Connecticut cities.

The $7,600 transfer would bring Police Chief Otoniel Reyes’ salary from the budgeted $162,000 to the $169,600 he negotiated when he was tapped for the position in July. The money would come from the New Haven Office of Management and Budget, which has leftover funds reserved for a position that was vacant until November and would be written into the budget for future years, Acting Budget Director Michael Gormany said.

“I have mixed feelings about this,” Ward 25 Alder and Finance Vice Chair Adam Marchand said, referencing the salary transfer. “At the end of the day, I think we would all want to have really high-quality staff at bargain prices … I’m not enthusiastic or excited because I think the prior amount [$162,000] seemed like plenty of money, but out of an abundance of caution more than anything else, I’m hesitatingly offering my support.”

Reyes’ new salary was negotiated under former Mayor Toni Harp’s administration. At the meeting, several alders noted that Reyes has been operating under the assumption that the new administration would honor the agreement he negotiated with the Harp administration. When asked about the consequences should the Finance Committee not move the item forward, Mayor Justin Elicker’s Chief of Staff Sean Matteson said that — while he cannot make explicit legal predictions — the situation could constitute a breach of contract or make the contract null and void. Matteson also said that Elicker affirmatively agrees with the transfer, and is not just simply honoring his predecessor’s actions.

Ward 23 Alder and Board President Tyisha Walker-Myers later said that she is not convinced of that legal risk, given that the contract requires the approval of the Board of Alders.

“The mayor cannot make a promise to anyone if we have to approve,” she said. “If you don’t get the vote behind it, it’s not binding yet.”

Beyond the potential legal ramifications, several alders expressed concerns about the amount and source of money in question. Marchand noted that Reyes was appointed acting chief in July 2019 in the middle of former Chief Anthony Campbell’s term, meaning that Reyes will not have served a full fiscal year under the $169,900 contract. This, Marchand suggested, calls into question whether a transfer should meet the entire difference between the budgeted salary of $162,000 and the negotiated salary, or whether the transfer should reflect the proportion of the year that Reyes actually served.

Others questioned the prudence of such a transfer given the city’s fiscal woes. Walker-Myers said that she would have liked Reyes to be present at the meeting to explain the negotiation process and justification for the increase. NHPD representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment on Monday night.

Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa questioned whether money exists in the police budget itself, which would avert the need for a transfer. Gormany responded that such a situation would manifest, but that the transfer is necessary should the police budget not end up having the requisite remaining funds.

While this transfer solves the salary issue for the current fiscal year, Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison pressed Gormany on future funding. The once-vacant Office of Management and Budget position that left $7,600 available is no longer vacant, meaning that the money will have to come from another source in the future.

Gormany explained that the increased salary will be written into the upcoming budget, but Morrison remained concerned that any increase in one area will result in a decrease in another — namely, in essential programming that meets the needs of those in her ward and others. Morrison went on to express her frustration with the negotiation process, lamenting the Finance Committee’s lack of participation in the original salary conversations.

“We have been thrown into a decision to agree with something that we never had the opportunity to negotiate ourselves,” she said.

Several other alders noted that a great deal of time elapsed between the salary negotiations and Monday’s vote, but that the committee received the transfer request several months before it was able to put it on the agenda.

Ultimately, albeit with reservations, all of the Finance Committee alders voted to approve the measure and send the item to the full Board. If passed, Reyes’ salary would be at the top end of the city’s prescribed range and greater than those of police chiefs in comparable cities in Connecticut, according to Matteson. Still, it would be less than the police chief’s earnings in cities like Springfield, which has a larger municipal budget.

Reyes transitioned from interim to full-time police chief on Sept. 3.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu