Selectmen Appoint Two To Lead Emergency Management in New Canaan

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday appointed Russ Kimes and Phil Sheibley as the new volunteer director and deputy director of emergency management in New Canaan, respectively. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan thanked Fire Chief Jack Hennessy for stepping into the leadership role after longtime Emergency Management Director Mike Handler’s June 3 ouster during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Especially through Tropical Storm Isaias, Jack, I really appreciated and the town appreciated your service and leadership during the storm,” Moynihan said during the Board’s regular meeting, held via videoconference. “That was quite a ride for a week.” 

He referred to last month’s storm that knocked out power to more than three-quarters of the town, many for several days. Kimes is a lifelong town resident, U.S. Marine veteran and commander of VFW Post 653.

Moynihan: Former Emergency Management Director ‘Told Us He Didn’t Have’ Access to OEM Facebook Page

New Canaan’s highest elected official said Thursday that the town had asked its former emergency management director “for weeks” for access to a Facebook page dedicated to the Office of Emergency Management. Yet the former director—Mike Handler, who resigned June 3 at First Selectman Kevin Moynihan’s request—“told us he didn’t have it,” according to Moynihan. “And [Wednesday] night we learned that, in fact, his wife had it and has been operating Facebook for him,” Moynihan said during a press briefing held via videoconference. “So we finally had got the credentials to operate the Facebook page.”

Moynihan added, “He was asked for it early early weeks of July he said he didn’t have it.”

Reached by, Handler said in an email, “I have always done my best to help New Canaan in every way possible and always will.” The OEM Facebook page had been an effective tool in the past for communicating with residents in real-time during weather-related emergencies, as well as the first several weeks of COVID-19.

‘Respectful and Professional’: Longtime Colleagues on Ousted Emergency Management Director

Municipal officials who have worked closely with Mike Handler for years as members of the New Canaan Emergency Operations Center describe him as respectful, professional and skilled—a description that is at odds with a picture that has been painted by the town’s highest elected official. The widely popular emergency management director resigned from the volunteer position last week at the request of First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, setting off impassioned debate among New Canaan residents who long have been accustomed to Handler’s timely and reassuring updates during emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Moynihan has said Handler’s own “conduct” brought on the request for his resignation, offering no details other than that there was an issue of “respect” and that complaints regarding Handler had come in for an extended period of time, from health officials and others. Handler called those allegations “hurtful and baseless,” and town officials responded to a public records request for any emails Health Department staff complaining about him to Moynihan in the week prior to his dismissal by saying there weren’t any. Asked for an assessment of the job Handler did with the EOC, Fire Chief Jack Hennessey said he’s worked with Handler since coming to New Canaan in 2006 and he “never witnessed any harsh or mistreatment of any of the volunteer or town staff team members working in the EOC over the numerous activations we have had in the past 10 years.”

“Mike Handler and his team has always done an exemplary job for the town of New Canaan,” Hennessey said.

Petition Calls for Reinstatement of Emergency Management Director 

A petition seeking the reinstatement of New Canaan’s recently ousted emergency management director has garnered hundreds of digital signatures since its creation late Monday. Mike Handler’s dismissal from the volunteer role “was against the public will and without cause,” according to the petition, created by New Canaan resident Janet Fonss. “Mike has worked tirelessly and honorably during his 20+ years service to New Canaan and nine years service as volunteer Director of Emergency Management,” it said. “During Mike’s leadership, New Canaan has weathered several crises with ease. His calm, intelligent, and measured approach has steered our town through many emergencies, including hurricanes, power outages, and storms. During the current COVID-19 crisis, New Canaan has become a proactive leader and model in communication, testing, and reporting thanks to Mike.”

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan on June 3 advised members of the Emergency Operations Center, in an email obtained by, that he had asked for and received Handler’s resignation.