Ariela Lopez, Contributing Photographer

New Haven’s Chief Administrator’s Office might soon be hiring a Director of Emergency Management.

At a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, alders and city officials discussed an ordinance that would create an emergency management director position. State law mandates the position in each Connecticut municipality, and New Haven assigns the role to the Chief Administrative Officer — or CAO — a position currently held by Regina Rush-Kittle, a former state deputy commissioner for emergency management, who spoke at the meeting. 

Although the CAO bears the title of Director of Emergency Management, the day-to-day duties of the job were filled by a deputy director, Emergency Operations Director Rick Fontana, until Fontana stepped down in January. In lieu of hiring a new deputy director or requiring the CAO to work two jobs, Rush-Kittle and City Budget Director Michael Gormany urged the committee to create an appointed executive director position from the mayoral salary budget.

“It’s not really possible to be CAO and emergency management director,” Rush-Kittle said to the committee. “We really need to have a position where we can have someone appointed by the mayor as our charter and state says. I felt that if we’re going to do this, this is the right time to do this.”

Connecticut General Statutes Section 28-7(b) requires that each city or township in the state must have an emergency management director and an advisory council for civil preparedness. According to the statute, the emergency management director is responsible for the “organization, administration and operation” of the advisory council. Although the state government will not be involved in hiring New Haven’s director, the statute also specifies that the state’s chief executive officer may remove any local emergency management director for violations of policy or severe mistakes.

Because of this condition, the position will not be a union job, although Fontana’s position was. 

“They are appointed by the mayor, and can be removed at the leisure of the mayor and also the state emergency management director,” Rush-Kittle said. “It’s not really a compatible position to have someone in a union.” 

Fontana announced his plans to retire last month after directing the city’s emergency operations for sixteen years. Last week, he was sworn in as Director of Emergency Management in West Haven. Fontana previously worked in West Haven as a firefighter and paramedic. Rush-Kittle mentioned that Fontana is still helping her with some emergency management tasks during the transition period.

Rush-Kittle and Gormany told the committee that Fontana’s retirement presents an opportunity to transition the position to one that would attract better candidates.

“If we didn’t do this, didn’t make an executive management position, it would go through the civil service process,” Rush-Kittle said.

She noted that the process takes into consideration factors like residency and veteran status, which could alter the pool of candidates.

At the meeting, Ward 3 Alder Ron Hurt and Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa questioned the presenters about adding a New Haven residency requirement to the position. Although Rush-Kittle and Gormany did not directly oppose the idea, Rush-Kittle explained that residency requirements could push out qualified candidates unable to commit to living in New Haven for extended periods of time.

Hurt, Festa and Ward 30 Alder Honda Smith continued to push for a residency requirement. At the conclusion of the meeting, they urged their colleagues to keep the idea in mind as the ordinance moved forward.

“It just baffles my mind that out of 139,000 residents and a department already in place that we can’t find someone to fill it,” Festa said.

New Haven is not alone in having combined the emergency management director position with a different city official role. East Haven, Hartford, Milford, Fairfield and Hamden all employ their city fire chiefs as emergency management directors. Meanwhile, Bridgeport and West Haven have established separate positions. According to Joseph Soto, who served as West Haven’s emergency management director before Fontana, the position in West Haven is part-time and stipended.

Fontana did not respond to the News’ request for comment on whether the position is still part-time.

At the meeting, alders questioned the presenters about the proposed salary. The ordinance presented by Rush-Kittle and Gormany asks for funds “estimated not to exceed an amount of $140,000” to be transferred from the expenditure reserve to the mayor’s salary account for the maximum annual salary of the position. However, they said that the position will be posted with a salary of $128,000, and mentioned that the salary may even drop closer to that of the current deputy director Fontana. According to GovSalaries, Fontana’s salary in 2022 was $106,338.

When discussing the motion at the end of the meeting, Ward 13 Alder Rosa Ferraro-Santana proposed an amendment to the motion which would lower the maximum salary from $140,000 to a figure closer to $128,000. Festa responded that the resolution should retain a higher budget with more “wiggle room.” Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker-Meyers agreed with Festa.

“140 is a ceiling. The amount of money we offer for a position isn’t enough,” Walker-Meyers said. “I hope it gets filled that fast, but in my experience, it takes a bit to get the positions filled.”

Ferraro-Santana’s amendment unanimously failed.

According to GovSalaries, Bridgeport’s Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Scott Appleby earned $149,775 in 2022

Soto told the News that a salary of $128,000 sounded more than reasonable.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the eight alders in attendance unanimously voted for the ordinance to be brought to the full Board of Alders, where it will be discussed and voted on in a month. 

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.