NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk mayoral hopeful is using the mayor’s plan to hire three police officers for Norwalk’s schools as an example of budget fallacies. He also points to a recent audit of the school department to illustrate the need for more oversight.
Common Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A), who has formed an exploratory committee for mayor, said Thursday he is interested in running because the budget process is frustrating.
“I am tired of this nonsense. This is the eighth year I have been through this yearly nonsense and it doesn’t get any better,” he said.
Among other problems, Miklave said the process is flawed because it creates a dichotomy between the Board of Education and the city and lacks performance standards.
But there is no dichotomy, he said, using this year’s operating budget as an example: Mayor Richard Moccia and Finance Director Thomas Hamilton have budgeted for three additional police officers; Moccia says they will provide additional security at the schools.
“That shows me that when there is a need identified by the administration they will find a way to fund that need,” Miklave said. “I think that’s important. I don’t have a problem with that. But it is a false choice to say it is either the Board of Education or everything else in the city of Norwalk.”
The candidate then sent out another press release attacking the budget.
“About a week ago, while studying the city budget, we discovered an entry called ‘GASB Offset’ that no one on the City Council or anyone involved in Norwalk’s city government had ever heard of before,” Miklave said in the release. “It’s strange, because someone involved in our budget process had to have made it up.”
“This entry, which has gone undetected by the Moccia Administration for four years, is one that nobody examining the budget — not the auditor, not the current Board of Education staff, not the BOE members themselves, nor Norwalk’s City Finance staff has ever questioned. The audit revealed that the city has been paying millions of dollars in health claims that should have been charged to the Board of Education,” he continued. “How is it that a Board of Education misappropriation of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 per year had gone unnoticed by the Moccia Administration?”
Moccia did not return a request for comment.
BlumShapiro, an auditor hired by the city, attributed the problem to accounting practices currently used by both the city and the Board of Education, his press release said, explaining, “Neither City Hall nor the BOE can detect problems because they cannot track budget items vs. actual expenses.”
The lack of accountability extends to other areas of the budget, the press release continued.
“During this week’s City Council budget meeting, I found performance standards for various city departments also contained made up, arbitrary numbers,” he said in the release. “These assessments of individual department performance were automatically carried over from year to year, which could not have occurred if we were undertaking a regular, rigorous review, as I have been recommending.”
At Thursday night’s Finance Committee meeting, Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) agreed with Miklave that some of the performance standards they had found made no sense.
Miklave expounded at length about his problems with the budget process.
“Every year when this has come up I have said I would like the Common Council to have the authority and the responsibility to vote on line-item budget issues, he said. “I think it’s appropriate – we are directly elected by the people.”
He said the ultimate budget decisions are made by the Board of Estimate, and cited his issues with the false dichotomy and the council’s inability to oversee departments.
“Much of what Matt says is true,” Kimmel responded. “We should never forget, this pertains particularly to Board of Education. We are governed by state law. There is only so much anyone can do regarding the board of ed. We are governed by charter which cannot be changed willy-nilly.”
“I’m not talking about imposing our will on anybody,” Miklave said afterward. “I’m talking about having a common consensus negotiation and discussion about shared priorities, shared vision, shared future. It’s one city. We have to stop this nonsense that says we’re going to pit the Board of Education against everybody else.”
Miklave said he is still exploring his potential candidacy.
“I’m very enthusiastically receiving information,” he said. “We’re going to be making a decision pretty soon about what we’re going to be doing.”
Later, he said on Facebook that he hoped to have his exploratory committee website live by the end of the weekend, with a lot of content devoted to the budget. “If you are looking to the Cliff Notes version, talk to another candidate.”