The Rev. Winton Hill is already working as a special assistant to Mayor Caroline Simmons, with a desk in the Stamford Government Center, a salary, and business cards.
The cards, imprinted with the city logo, show Hill’s name under the words “Office of Public Safety, Health & Welfare.”
Though Hill is doing work Simmons wants, the job she sees for him, “public safety community engagement liaison,” doesn’t exist.
The Personnel Commission approved a job description two months ago, but Simmons is seeking for it to be designated as unclassified. It would mean she can decide the person and the job duties at will, without approval from city boards and outside of civil services rules, such as competitive exams.
That creates a wrinkle – the unclassified designation must be created by ordinance, and only the Board of Representatives writes ordinances.
So the mayor proposed an ordinance. The board’s Personnel Committee Okayed it last month. The committee then sent it to the full board for final approval.
But at its November meeting the full board kicked it back to the Personnel Committee, which took it up again Monday night.
This time the committee raised questions about every aspect of the “public safety community engagement liaison” job – the “public safety” part, the “community engagement” part, the “liaison” characterization, the hours, the pay, the manner of filling the position and whether it’s needed at all.
There were so many questions that Simmons’ chief of staff, Bridget Fox, asked city representatives to hold off on the ordinance for now.
“We have heard the concerns of this committee and we can discuss ways to amend the ordinance to address the issues you raised tonight,” Fox told the committee following a two-hour discussion. “The intent is not to review (Hill’s) qualifications, but to review the position.”
Hill, 74, former pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Stamford, has sat on the city’s police and fire commissions and has military experience, Fox said during the meeting.
As a longtime member of the clergy in Stamford, Hill is qualified for the job, said Fox, which is to develop outreach programs for community engagement, education, media relations and volunteer activities, with a focus on public safety.
“The goal is to provide trusted access to traditionally underrepresented communities,” Fox said. “In a city as diverse as ours, we want an increased level of access that hadn’t existed before … that’s the gap we are trying to fill with this role.”
Hill would, for example, represent Simmons at community gatherings; work to improve youth relations; collaborate with the police department on crime-reduction measures; collaborate with the health department and non-profit organizations to help those suffering from substance abuse, behavioral health problems and homelessness; work with the fire department to teach residents about safety protocols; work with the health department to spread word of vaccination and other programs; and recruit candidates for fire and police department jobs.
Hill has been speaking on Simmons’ behalf since before she was elected a year ago.
In 2021 he was in the community supporting her run for mayor, including writing a $1,000 check to her campaign, according to State Elections Enforcement Commission filings.
In the last two months Hill has appeared with Simmons and her staff at meetings in Glenbrook and Springdale that drew crowds of residents concerned about administration plans to sell two historic city-owned buildings to housing developers.
Fox told the Personnel Committee that Hill’s main job is to hear “directly from residents about the concerns and issues they are having” so “feedback is coming back into the mayor’s office so our team is aware of issues taking place on a community level.”
Human Resources Director Al Cava said Hill is being paid $48 an hour, which would amount to just under $100,000 annually if he were full time. But Hill’s work week is 28 hours, not 40 hours, so his annual part-time salary is $70,000, Cava said.
Hill is eligible for medical benefits, which cost, roughly, another $20,000 a year, Cava said, but Hill has waived those benefits. The position provides life insurance but no pension, Cava said, and Hill gets vacation and sick leave.
Hill now is being paid out of the police department’s budget, Fox told the committee.
“The police department has unfilled positions and we received permission (from police) to access funds for unfilled positions,” Fox said.
She said that if the unclassified position is created under an ordinance, Hill’s job would be included in the budget of Lou DeRubeis, who became director of public safety, health and welfare two months ago, about the same time Simmons hired Hill as a special assistant.
DeRubeis said during the meeting that “community outreach and engagement is one of the biggest things we need to improve under the public safety umbrella.” The police, fire and health departments all do outreach, but “the goal is to have outreach entities from each department meet regularly” to “make sure everybody is not operating in their own silos.”
But that’s why the city years ago created the cabinet position of director of public safety, health and welfare, city Rep. Jeff Stella said.
“That’s your job,” Stella said to DeRubeis. “To say we need this position because the person will fill in the blanks … I don’t see it … you are the one who puts the police department, the fire department, the health department together … you have a staff that works for you. The part where the liaison comes in – that’s your job.”
City Rep. Kindrea Walston said she also wonders about the position.
“How many other people were tapped for this position? Who was the other talent? How did we arrive here with this person?” Walston asked. “It seems like this is overlapping with another job … that this is another layer we are adding.”
City Rep. Don Mays said the person in the position should speak Spanish, since that is the city’s fastest-growing population. Fox said Hill does not speak Spanish but other city employees help with translation.
City Rep. Phil Berns said the city does not need a liaison to the mayor’s office as much as an ombudsman – someone to speak up for residents who feel they are not heard.
Members of the Board of Representatives who support the new job designation said it’s needed to reach segments of the population that have been difficult to reach.
“This is the person on the ground,” city Rep. Terry Adams said. “It’s good for people who feel they don’t have someone who hears them downtown.”
“It’s a tremendous step forward. It’s someone in the community who is a direct contact,” city Rep. Eric Morson said.
“I recognize the need, but what is bothering me is this is a position that should be classified,” said city Rep. Anabel Figueroa, chair of the Personnel Committee. “The Board of Representatives should have the authority to interview candidates to make sure they have the right qualifications. Making it unclassified takes away that transparency. How many others were given the opportunity to take this position? I am sure we could find many qualified people.”
City Rep. Nina Sherwood said she is concerned that the ordinance, as proposed by the administration, sets up an ill-defined position that will be on the books “in perpetuity.”
“The way the ordinance is written, it doesn’t say part time. We are being asked to approve it as a full time position but the administration is coming to us and saying we will handle it as a part time position” for now, Sherwood said.
The liaison will be presented to the community “as an authority on public safety issues … but the person does not have to have any training on that at all,” Sherwood said. “I would want as a minimum qualification – for a job that has no oversight and no application process – to see the person trained before we give them a voice in public safety … especially at $70,000 part time that could expand to full time. I disagree with the way this is being done.”
Fox did not specify when the administration will return to the board with revised ideas for the ordinance.