‘Hurtful and Baseless Allegations’: Handler Says Moynihan Is Lying [UPDATED]

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A sign posted along South Avenue in New Canaan on June 4, 2020. Credit: Laura Ault

Former New Canaan Emergency Management Director Mike Handler, ousted by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan this week, on Friday morning issued a statement saying the latter has lied about the circumstances of his dismissal.

Mike Handler. Credit: Michael Dinan

While “saddened” by Moynihan’s “hurtful and baseless allegations,” Handler said in a written statement, “I trust that my 20 years of public service to our Town stand on their own and speak louder than his lies.”

“I cannot thank you all enough for your support, but I will not engage at Mr. Moynihan’s level,” Handler said in the statement. “The good of the Town must come first. We must not forget that we are in the midst of a monumental human rights movement, a pandemic, and unprecedented unemployment.”

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan. Contributed

The popular and widely respected emergency management director resigned Wednesday at Moynihan’s request. The first selectman has hinted that Handler somehow mistreated town employees while helping guide New Canaan through the COVID-19 public health emergency, though it hasn’t been made clear what happened that would merit dismissal.

New Canaanites have reacted strongly on social media and local news comments threads, saying they’re shocked by Handler’s ouster and seeking a way to have the volunteer reinstated. Many in New Canaan came to know and trust Handler through what had been nightly town-wide updates on COVID-related cases, deaths, closures, public policy and testing.

Moynihan said during a press briefing Thursday that he had received complaints over time regarding Handler, from Health Department staff “among others.” After NewCanaanite.com filed a public records request to review the complaints, Moynihan responded by email Friday morning saying such complaints are “rarely made by email” and that they rather are “made verbally by phone and in person and with tears.” On Friday afternoon, town officials said a search showed there were no emails from health officials to Moynihan for the week prior to Handler’s dismissal that complained about him.

[Note: This article has been updated with information regarding New Canaanite’s public records request to view the complaints referred to by the first selectman.]

21 thoughts on “‘Hurtful and Baseless Allegations’: Handler Says Moynihan Is Lying [UPDATED]

  1. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to New Canaan Selectmen Moynihan, Devereaux, and Williams that said, “As a resident of New Canaan since 1997, I am publicly calling for an independent investigation into Kevin Moynihan’s firing of Mike Handler – our Town’s respected emergency management director – during the gravest public health emergency in modern times.” I repeat that call today here in these comments as well as on social media. Let us not forget that our elected officials work FOR the people.

    • Thank you for doing that and for advocating for transparency. I agree that we do not seem to have adequate information about why this happened, and I agree as well that it’s a terrible move.

    • Agree. And why have we not received an update on the virus since June 1st? This leaves the town feeling vulnerable and uninformed. Certainly not a step forward in running the town and keeping residents informed.

  2. I am an RN and although I no longer live in New Canaan, I still volunteer there (since 1983) 60 + hours a month in addition to grad school and a clinical job – the responses from official sources seem quite nebulous and concerning. The very first time I have EVER heard that the Heath department is insufficiently staffed and the director is being required to work 16 hours a day 7 days a week was in yesterdays article. If the Health Department needed (needs) assistance with organizing clinics, result dissemination and contact tracing there are many health professionals living in town that understand and are covered under federal privacy laws (HIPAA) that would GLADLY help and possibly even volunteer a few hours a week. MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK. I have heard that offers of this nature were made and not responded to. I personally offered to help in any way needed in the beginning of this pandemic and never received a reply. After yesterdays emotional, positive and collaborative walk I continue to love and be so proud of NC – this is just shameful and sad. we go from one extreme to the next –

    • For context, here’s part of what the health director herself said during Thursday’s meeting of the Health & Human Services Commission: “You can’t just pull anyone off the street. [New Canaan Human Resources Director] Cheryl [Pickering Jones] and I worked on a job description that we are putting out and hopefully we can find someone. But there is also a big public health sanitarian lack of staff to begin with. So we will try to do what we can, but some of these other nonsensical things, other people need to start taking off the plate. I can’t do this any more. I cannot do 16, 17 hours a day, seven days a week. I have been doing it for four months. I’m exhausted. So I do need other people to help out. I’ve been fortunate. Jill [Stayman] from the Fire Marshal’s office has been here every night until 8 o’clock at night helping out. And Cheryl has been great … We are doing the best we can. But with the testing, Rome is not burning. You don’t need to get tested tomorrow. We have an ongoing contract for weeks, so as long as we can continue to go on, there is no need to do five-day-a-week testing. There just isn’t. And the amount of work involved with that, of getting all the forms, getting them all to Stamford Hospital, doing all the reporting out. It’s not feasible. I cannot give medical records to any volunteer or Joe Schmoe off the street. That is HIPAA-protected for people’s personal information. And people do not want Joe Schmoe off the street calling them with results.”

      • Michael, I know there were concerns about the pace of testing. But the decision on how to proceed could have happened in a collaborative, deliberate manner that took all inputs and determined what was best for the town. Listening to different expert advisors is how an implementation plan becomes robust and as trouble-free as possible.
        It appears here that personal/political/petty disagreements got in the way of our leadership.

    • Thank you for posting your response. Thank you also for volunteering in New Canaan. 60 hours a month is a lot!

      The news of your experience, your unanswered offer of educated, experienced & licensed support to the Health Office, is troubling. Why no response to your or others’ offers of skilled experienced help? Aside from being inconsiderate, their silence reflects an absence of good management.

      I assumed that New Canaan is chock full of medically-educated, experienced & licensed professionals who would gladly volunteer to help, if they knew the Health Office needed help. Thank you for confirming they exist. Given this, why would our Health Office director willingly subject herself to work overload/stress, instead of recruiting staff or delegating work?

      The ability to delegate is an important & necessary skill for any effective manager. So too, is asking for help, when help is needed. Why wait until one is past one’s boiling point to decry the situation? It is possible that her pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears, or worse, were denied.

      Any needed support staff should be recruited now, whether by skilled volunteers or skilled employees. However, one overworked employee should NOT determine the testing rates for 20,000 residents. The demand for tests & results is extremely high & un-met. New Canaan should do all it can to meet its citizens’ demand for testing.

      In the meantime, our government’s management style needs review.

  3. Is it possible to mediate any disagreements, misperceptions or sources of tension with the goal of reinstating Mike Handler who knows this town so amazingly well. Much of the burden of community lockdown has fallen on the moms and women caretakers in this community and Mike is a trusted communicator who has led us part of the way through. If there a second wave coming, Mike is the best person to help the town.

  4. It seems to me that a public apology by Kevin Moynihan to Mike Handler, is warranted. None of us is privy to what went on behind closed doors, but no one deserves the extremely unprofessional public commentary of Mr. Moynihan on a 20-year volunteer’s character, especially if not accurate.

    • Spot on. Without that Moynihan should resign or they both should agree to share the detailed facts behind the dismissal. Mike Handler deserves better.

  5. First of all you dont fire a volunteer as he is paid zero.I have spoke to mike handler one time since i moved to new canaan and he was a gentleman.I guess the current administration will hire someone with our tax money as no sane person would perform his duties gratis.Nice job.

  6. WE WANT MIKE. Talk about working endless hours with no pay! He never lost his cool but was firm and knowledgeable.
    That’s what we need during a crisis.

  7. New Canaan is outraged by the firing of our respected, revered, and loyal Mike Handler as our Emergency Director. He was ousted by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan over a minor disagreement about the town testing schedule.

    For shame, Mr. Moynihan, bad timing and a black mark. New Canaan won’t forget –Mary Cross

  8. I was shocked to read about Mile Handler and a request for his resignation. This reminded me of some other life long resident volunteers that have been treated unfairly by this administration. Mike Handler joins Sperry Decew, a former Police Commissioner, and Judy Dunn, serving with Health and Human Services Is this the “new normal ” for how we treat our volunteers in the community ? If the Health Dept is overwhelmed, hire part time temporary help and give them some non- medical tasks to complete. I am also a life long resident and an unaffiliated voter.

  9. I very recently left New Canaan after almost 40 wonderful years One of the things I thought I would miss most was the reassurance of Mike Handler’s reassuring calls in times of emergencies and uncertainty. I am so saddened and applauded by the news of his release. Any and every town should be so fortunate to have a Mike Handler and yet New Canaam has let him go? Horrible decision!

  10. Maybe Mr Moynihan should look at his management style. If the Health Dept is that short handed and overwhelmed, then the “CEO” is to blame. Why did Carol MacDonald, Health and Human Services Director leave in November (a little transparency please!)? Why is there only an Acting-Director in that department after 7 months? Why has he not hired a permanent replacement? He got rid of the long-standing Chair of the Health and Human Services Commission and, once again, berated a long-time well respected volunteer and put “his people” in. There are at least eight school nurses that are highly trained and are being paid by the Town that have and would pitch in. The Acting Director of Human Services is also a nurse. I will conclude with saying I do not believe Mike Handler was the problem, it is Mr. Moynihan, the “CEO”, who has failed New Canaan with his management.

  11. Checked my phone. There have been no updates from NC Office of Emergency Management since June 1. So I guess coronavirus is all done! Mission accomplished! Seriously, please bring back Mike Handler. His forced resignation seems like a terrible mistake, and one that should be corrected ASAP.

  12. My family took enormous comfort in Mr Handler’s matter-of-fact updates on COVID19 and NC. And now at a critical time for NC he’s out? No COVID19 / testing / re-opening update from the Town in a week? In my opinion that either shows an imbalance by Mr Moynihan in his focus of the few vs the broader community or inefficient problem solving skills at such a critical time. Or both. Mr Moynihan: please apologize to NC, to Mr Handler and reinstate him.

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