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New Haven official Michael Carter leaving post for Haiti work

New Haven Register - 9/10/2018

Sept. 10--NEW HAVEN -- Moved by personal loss, Michael Carter will be trading city policy meetings for some vital work in a third-world country.

Carter, who caught everyone by surprise when he submitted his resignation two weeks ago as the chief administrative officer for New Haven, said it was no reflection on the job or any particular issue.

One of the most respected leaders in the city, Carter said the recent death of his father back in Kentucky "put me in a different state of mind."

"He lived a good life. He was 93 years old. World War II Navy veteran. Fought cancer three times. Beat it twice. He was a good man," Carter said.

In hindsight, he wishes he had gone back home in June and July to be with him.

"I decided I had to take some time for myself," he said in an interview in his office at City Hall with a view of the Green.

It is where he has worked for the past four and half years overseeing public safety, parks, engineering, the libraries, public works and human resources, where the department heads all have good things to say about him and he reciprocates in kind.

"I feel like I'm getting my priorities in order. I feel a lot better," Carter said.

As for that new work, Carter, 64, has been a board member and more recently has made the field trips himself to Haiti under the aegis of the

Community Coalition for Haiti

.

It is a group of churches in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, where Carter worked for years, with volunteers who build schools, dig wells, supply a medical center, send teachers and nurses to train Haitians and sponsor youth groups to help with the mission.

He will be there from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6 this year, but would have opted for a months-long stay if he hadn't already committed his weekends to referee Division II and III college football teams in New England through November. Prior to moving here, Carter officiated at Division I college level football from 1995 to 2012.

He and another board member at the coalition are putting together a trash-to-energy project so the neighbors in Jacmel, a port town on the south coast of Haiti, can heat water to take showers and clean their clothes to keep down the pathogens and cut the the cases of malaria and cholera.

Carter said the equipment has been shipped, the foundation has been laid and they have a water source.

He said he has already been down there three to four times since January. Carter said when it is finished, "it will clean up the city and give people an opportunity to make money by working there," in addition to the health benefits. He would like to commit longer periods of time to the work in Haiti.

Carter, who has a long resume of leading departments in the District of Columbia, and before that in Indianapolis, prior to coming to New Haven, said ultimately he would like to teach part-time and work full-time for a nonprofit.

Before any of that however, Carter said a mentor of his, who has a construction company in the D.C. area, would like him to run it for awhile so the man can be with his gravely ill son.

"They have a $50 million contract to supply concrete to a facility. I could go down there for three to six months and come back to Connecticut," Carter said, who is weighing the request.

He clearly enjoys the projects in Haiti, recalling his first field experience where he was essentially a nurse's aide, as well as other times leading the youth work groups and working alongside Mother's Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

"They do awesome work in Haiti taking in folks who have been abandoned or who are suffering," he said. On one of his trips he and one of the sisters found a baby that had been left to die. The child is now doing well, he said.

The volunteers live in an old French hotel, sleeping in bunk beds. "It's like summer camp," Carter said. They are looking for bigger quarters and a new place for the medical clinic.

Hospitals in Haiti don't have nurses or staff to change the sheets or feed and bath the patients, which is left up to the family.

Carter recalled one work session where he was on a "hot tin roof," not exactly a Tennessee Williams scene, wearing knee pads and replacing the tin so the rain wouldn't leak into the clinic.

From that vantage point, he could hear the singing from a nearby church at midday and in the early evening.

"They would sing songs and while they were in Creole, they were the spirituals sung in American churches. It was just a very uplifting experience," Carter said.

The administrator said he had been thinking of transitioning out of New Haven for well over a year, "but I felt it would have been been unfair to the mayor and city to do it at that time," when there was a budget crisis.

Carter will keep his house here as he goes back and forth to Washington and out of the country. All this week he is still meeting with city officials on his transition.

Going forward he would like to see the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program, which was championed by former Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor, put into place. Its mission is to reduce incarceration and criminal justice involvement for persons living with substance abuse disorders.

"It's a very effective model," said Carter, who hopes it is implemented in conjunction with the Cornell Scott Hill Community Health Clinic.

His most challenging day was late August when some 47 people overdosed more than 100 times on the Green over several days on the K2, a synthetic cannabis.

"I think is was an aberration, but it may be indicative of the opioid crisis and we can take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity to identify and mitigate those problems going forward," Carter said.

He said they have had a researcher look at the city's response, which showed that it may have to restructure on how it responds to such a crisis.

Carter recommends more officers being assigned to the Green but that is months away as they are short positions and more retirements are coming.

The big public safety issues facing the city involve the right number of police and firefighters for a municipality this size as it faces tough budgets.

"We can talk about how many we need versus other cities, but we are a community policing model and it has been very effective," Carter said.

He said the numbers will be decided by the community, alders, police and Mayor Toni Harp, "but I would not want to compromise public safety and destroy a model that works," he said.

On the fire department, he said the manning numbers have to be based upon "our response times to keep it at the level it is now. Also, over 20 years ago we had more fires. Now we have less fires" but more medical calls.

"We probably don't need to reduce the number of our engines in the firehouses, but we may have to have an ambulance at every one," since 80 percent of the calls are medical.

"I wouldn't be closing firehouses, but maybe it is like baseball. Instead of having a pitcher hit, you get a designated hitter," Carter said.

Carter also is leaving with some other advice. He said the city should revise its policy that requires contributions from organizations running events here, something that is widely ignored. There should be some minimum cost-sharing from at least the larger ones and department budgets that plan for these expenses.

As he gets ready to leave, Carter said he found the experience here "very enjoyable. I have met great people.

"I think I have done all I can here in New Haven. We have people in place who can do the heavy lifting. I'm still going to have my house here. You will probably see me walking my dog, Booker, through Newhallville and at night at the Green," Carter said.

mary.oleary

@hearstmediact.com; 203-641-2577

___

(c)2018 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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