STAMFORD – A former pastor who Mayor Caroline Simmons hired as a special assistant to handle community relations for her office has resigned.
The Rev. Winton Hill, 74, quit the job about a week after the Board of Representatives rejected Simmons’ request for an ordinance that would make the position permanent.
Simmons’ chief of staff, Bridget Fox, notified board President Jeff Curtis Thursday that Hill had stepped down.
“As a follow up to last week’s vote by the Board of Representatives on the public safety community engagement liaison position, I want to inform you that Reverend Winton Hill has submitted his letter of resignation, effectively immediately,” Fox wrote in a letter. “The administration remains profoundly disappointed that the board chose to vote down the creation of this position via ordinance, as along with the mayor, our team felt it would be a valuable position for the residents of the city. However, the administration respects the legislative process and will abide by the decision of the Board of Representatives.”
Hill, who was the longtime pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Stamford, worked on Simmons’ election campaign in 2021 and was a political donor. He has held seats on the city’s police and fire commissions.
Connecticut Examiner asked Fox and Lauren Meyer, Simmons’ special assistant in charge of policy and legislative affairs, why Hill resigned and whether it was his decision or the mayor’s.
Meyer said in an email that the administration sought an ordinance establishing a permanent job and “intentionally did not take the path of making this role a special assistant because these positions are the target of cuts during budget season every year.”
Meyer said Hill quit because city representatives rejected Simmons’ proposed ordinance.
“We respect the legislative process and will abide by the decision of the Board of Representatives, which is why Reverend Hill submitted his resignation,” Meyer wrote.
The resignation cannot be blamed on the Board of Representatives, said city Rep. Anabel Figueroa, chair of the board’s Personnel Committee.
“We said no to an ordinance that would create a permanent job and become another increase for taxpayers,” Figueroa said. “We did not object to the position the mayor created for Hill in her office.”
Stamford’s city Charter allows the mayor to hire part-time assistants who are free of union rules, meaning they can be replaced by a subsequent administration.
Simmons wanted an ordinance designating the community engagement position as unclassified, meaning the mayor can choose the employee and job duties at will, without approval from elected boards and outside of civil-service rules, such as publicly posting the job and requiring competitive exams.
The unclassified designation must be created by ordinance, and only the Board of Representatives writes ordinances.
Figueroa was opposed to the idea from the start. But she said Thursday she was “really surprised” to learn that Hill had resigned.
“I thought the mayor would keep him. Many of the representatives said she could keep the position as a special assistant, as long as it wasn’t by ordinance,” Figueroa said. “I will take it as a personnel decision, for whatever reason, made by Reverend Hill or the administration.”
The position paid Hill $48 an hour, which would amount to just under $100,000 annually if he were full time. As a part-timer working 28 hours a week, his annual salary was $70,000, the human resources director has said.
Hill was eligible for medical benefits, which cost about $20,000 a year, but he waived them. He received life insurance and vacation and sick leave, but no pension.
Fox has said that the administration was paying Hill out of the police department’s budget using funds for unfilled positions.
The job of the public safety community engagement liaison was to develop outreach programs for education, media relations and volunteer activities, with a focus on public safety and targeting underrepresented communities, Fox has said.
Duties included representing Simmons at community gatherings; improving youth relations; working with police on crime-reduction efforts; collaborating with the health department on problems related to substance-abuse, behavioral health and homelessness; working with the fire department to teach safety protocols; and recruiting candidates for fire and police jobs.
Meyer Thursday did not say whether Simmons will hire another special assistant to fill the community engagement liaison role.
City representatives who supported her proposed ordinance said during the board’s November Personnel Committee meeting that the position would help reach communities that go unheard. Stamford’s public-safety needs have grown along with its population, they said, and a liaison could improve communications between underserved residents and the administration.
They said the board should respect the mayor’s judgment in selecting the staff that reports to her.
Opponents did not like that a permanent liaison would serve at the mayor’s pleasure, without opening the job to all candidates who might like to apply, and with oversight coming only from the mayor.
They also said the ordinance did not clearly define the position. A subsequent mayor could make it full time, and subjectively set qualifications and certain training requirements – or not, they said.
Several representatives said the liaison should speak Spanish, which Hill does not, since Hispanics comprise a large and growing segment of the city’s population.
Simmons’ proposed ordinance traveled a rocky road.
The Board of Representatives’ Personnel Committee approved it in October then sent it on to the full board.
In November the board kicked it back to the committee, where members had questions about the hours, pay, how the job would be filled and whether it is necessary. Fox asked the board to hold off so the administration could review it.
The Personnel Committee took it up again in December, narrowly approving it. But representatives voted to reject it when the full board met on Jan. 3.
Contact information for Hill was not available Thursday.