Mackenzie Hawkins

On Monday, the Board of Alders confirmed Mayor Justin Elicker’s appointments for the city’s top three coordinator jobs: economic development administrator, community services administrator and chief administrative officer.

The three positions are presently occupied by City Hall veteran Michael Piscitelli, physician and former Chronic Disease Director for Connecticut’s Department of Public Health Dr. Mehul Dalal and former Hamden Mayor, Connecticut Labor Commissioner and Revenue Services Commissioner Scott Jackson. The three have been serving in their respective roles since Elicker entered office in January and, with Monday’s vote, have now moved from acting to permanent status. Piscitelli’s confirmation went on without a hitch and he received a unanimous vote in support of his appointment. While Dalal and Jackson also ultimately received overwhelming support, several alders questioned their past decision-making and aptitude for their current positions.

“I believe [Dalal’s] appointment is not in the best interests of my community,” Ward 20 Alder Delphine Clyburn said on Monday. “Nor is it in the best interests of human need for the most vulnerable groups of people who are simply trying to survive in our city.”

Her concerns centered around Dalal’s recent decision to cut off city funding from New Haven’s only women’s warming center, located in the Newhallville neighborhood — which Clyburn represents on the Board. The center, called Total Mankind Ministry, was originally intended to serve as a temporary resource, with funding through Jan. 2, according to the New Haven Independent.

But center leaders approached then-Mayor Toni Harp at the end of the year asking for increased funds, and she promised enough to keep the center open until April 19 — an amount totaling $60,000. When Elicker entered office, his administration reevaluated that decision and reduced Total Mankind Ministry’s funding to $25,000, which was only enough to stay open until Tuesday.

Dalal said on Monday that he reduced funding for the center in order to better fund other centers that serve more residents. Total Mankind Ministry founder Deborah Conyers estimated that the center housed around four or five women per night in December, according to the New Haven Independent. Dalal’s figure for that time period was three women per night.

Given comparatively low demand for this center, Dalal said on Monday, it made more sense to redirect funds elsewhere. While the city has not yet decided how to spend the remaining $35,000, Dalal anticipates that this money will go towards family-oriented housing.

Conyers in late December set up a Go Fund Me to keep the center’s doors open for women who “do not feel safe at traditional centers that are open to both men and women.” She has raised over $2,000 towards her $10,000 goal.

While Clyburn criticized Dalal’s decision making at Monday’s confirmation hearing, Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94 and Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa testified on Dalal’s behalf. Roth said that she attended a Homeless Advisory Commission meeting in January and agreed that the warming center’s low numbers indicated that a shift in funding was necessary.

Dalal said after his confirmation that he hopes to win back Clyburn’s trust over the coming months.

“I really do feel that I have a career of helping those who are underserved,” he told the News in an interview. “My focus on that is to strategize around how we can lift up everybody, especially those who are most affected by poor outcomes.”

For his part, Jackson faced strong opposition from Ward 30 Alder Honda Smith for a decision he made as the commissioner for the state’s Department of Revenue Services. As commissioner, Jackson interpreted a “grocery tax” provision of state law to include a range of common food products like salt, lettuce and hot dogs, drawing a harsh rebuke from Connecticut’s Democratic Caucus.

Prior to final budget negotiations, the state’s meals tax had applied only to restaurant meals. But the word “grocery” was added at the last hour — upending 40 years of precedent, according to Jackson. While he would have recommended against this addition if given the opportunity, his job as commissioner was to enforce the letter of the law, Jackson told the New Haven Independent.

But Smith had a different interpretation and characterized Jackson’s interpretation of the grocery tax as a move that “blindsided” state legislators and hurt working families.

Ultimately, Jackson was able to delay the implementation of the tax by talking to state legislators and the governor’s office, according to CT News Junkie.

Piscatelli’s nomination received no opposition, with Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth describing him as a “pragmatic idealist” fit for the job.

Dalal and Jackson were confirmed by votes of 22 to three, with one abstention and 24 to two, respectively.

 

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu