Update 9:45 p.m. Wednesday
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan late Wednesday issued a statement regarding his request that Mike Handler resign as director of emergency management. According to the statement (printed in full below), Handler’s “role as EMD was to coordinate and communicate as the ‘voice’ of the EOC [Emergency Operations Center], but not as the ultimate decision maker.”
“Throughout any crisis, and especially during this pandemic emergency, decisions must be made after thoughtful and respectful discussion and debate,” Moynihan said in the statement. “While all of this coordination may have appeared seamless to the greater community, regrettably, recent circumstances have required me to make this change in staffing.”
Update 12:45 p.m. Wednesday
Mike Handler issued the following statement via email: “There are so many reasons why I love to call New Canaan home, and why I have spent over 20 years volunteering for our town — the last 9 years as Emergency Management Director. I have always promised that I would only do what is in the best interest of the people of New Canaan. This promise is one that I am unable to keep under Mr. Moynihan. I am extremely proud of my service and I believe the town will be in wonderful hands under the leadership of my friend, Chief Jack Hennessey and our talented and dedicated team. I will certainly miss the honor of serving you all in this capacity and wish you all good health. With gratitude and respect, Mike Handler”
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said Wednesday that he asked for and received the resignation of of Emergency Management Director Mike Handler.
According to an email sent in the morning to 10 fire, police, EMS, health, school and other town officials, Moynihan said that “due to a disagreement over his handling of the Covid testing and his treatment of staff and other personnel I asked for and received Mike Handler’s resignation this morning as Emergency Management Director.”
“Until further notice, [Fire Chief] Jack [Hennessey] will be in charge of the EOC [Emergency Operations Center],” Moynihan said in the email, obtained by NewCanaanite.com.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the disagreement involved or what the first selectman meant about treatment of staff. Moynihan declined to comment when reached by NewCanaanite.com.
Handler could not immediately be reached for comment.
In his volunteer role as emergency management director and head of the EOC, Handler has been in regular contact through town-wide calls and emails with residents about the latest on COVID-19 virus-related cases, restrictions, closures and testing. As COVID-related restrictions took hold, a New Canaan woman created ‘I [Heart] Mike Handler’ mugs to benefit local COVID relief funds.
In the most recent town-wide communication, on Monday night, Handler noted that New Canaan has 214 positive cases and that 31 people had succumbed to coronavirus disease. He thanked those who have been tested for their patience in getting results and said that demand for testing was very high.
“This is good news in that the infection rate throughout our community appears quite low and this is reinforced by data we receive daily from our local hospitals,” he said. “It would be a huge mistake, however, to assume that this testing data in any way means that it is completely safe to move about New Canaan without basic protections like face coverings, hand-washing and social distancing.”
Handler added in Monday’s call that “very few people have developed antibodies.”
“While not surprising given our swift actions in March, this means that we have very little potential immunity within our community which makes us extremely susceptible to future hotspots or outbreaks. It also means we have very few potential therapeutic plasma donors. If you did test positive for IgG antibodies, please consider donating plasma at either Stamford or Norwalk Hospitals. I will post town-wide testing results just as soon as I am able, much like the case data that is posted and updated on the town website regularly.”
A popular local figure who ran for governor three years ago, Handler also is an EMT with New Canaan Emergency Medical Services.
Full text of First Selectman Kevin Moynihan’s statement:
“Earlier today, I asked for and received the resignation of Mike Handler as Director of the Office of Emergency Management. Mike was appointed and served as EOM Director as a volunteer for the past nine years and has served the Town well through many prior storms and other natural disaster emergencies.
“The clinical complexity and duration of the novel coronavirus emergency has been unprecedented and while Mike’s role was to head the Town’s Emergency Management Center (EOC), both Mike and I continuously relied upon our medical and public health experts to help establish policy and to provide the details of communications to the public. Our town is blessed to have a great team of highly experienced first responders, two distinguished medical directors in Dr. David Reed for the Town and Dr. Harrison Pierce for the Schools, and our Health Director Jenn Eielson. In this health emergency, our medical advisers and health director are our most critical assets, and Mike’s role as EMD was to coordinate and communicate as the “voice” of the EOC, but not as the ultimate decision maker. All decisions under our Emergency Operations Plan are made, after consultation with our medical and public health advisors, other EOC members and Town leaders, by myself as CEO.
“The COVID testing plan we commenced two weeks ago caused great strain on our Health Department and other Town staff. Our goal remains to provide community testing to meet the needs of our residents and to provide the critical data on the infection rate of our residents in order to move forward re-opening our local economy in a safe manner.
“Throughout any crisis, and especially during this pandemic emergency, decisions must be made after thoughtful and respectful discussion and debate. While all of this coordination may have appeared seamless to the greater community, regrettably, recent circumstances have required me to make this change in staffing.
“While I regret the circumstances that led to Mike’s departure, the team of medical advisers and other EOC professionals who have provided extraordinary service and advice have not changed with Mike’s departure and will continue to help us manage our way through the current pandemic as a leader in the State of Connecticut.
“We certainly appreciate Mike’s past service and wish him well.”