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Seen: Norwalk Police Commission minutes; Heard: A Brooklyn accent –– Eww

Lisa Cotto Harry Rilling Norwalk Police

Norwalk Police Sgt. Lisa Cotto shares a document with then-Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling in 2012. Press briefings with Cotto are usually lively and informative.

NORWALK, Conn. – Apparently, not everyone in Norwalk is a fan of Norwalk Police Sgt. Lisa Cotto. And when a citizen voiced a complaint directed at the sergeant, Mayor Richard Moccia immediately went on the defensive.

For this week in Seen and Heard, we present to you the Feb. 25 Norwalk Police Commission minutes:

“A member of the public was in attendance and said he wanted to know how to express a concern. Deputy Chief (David) Wrinn stated that he could call his office at any time and gave he him the phone number. Commissioner (Pete) Torrano asked for him to state his name and address for the record:

“Mr. Peter Smith, 26 Hunters Lane, Norwalk asked who the press spokesperson was, and deputy chief replied that it was Sgt. Lisa Cotto. Smith stated that she does not come across very well, and her New York accent bothers him. He said he feels the Police Department could find someone without such an offensive accent as a press person – someone without a Brooklyn accent that makes a better image.

“Mayor Moccia stated that he finds this very offensive and that he takes exception to this personal attack of an officer and what should be important is the performance and dedication of the men and women that put their lives at risk every day in protecting our residents. Commissioner Torrano stated that he wanted to clarify Mr. Smith’s concern is with the presentation and not any behavior or actions on the part of the officer. Commissioner Torrano stated that he appreciated the comments and will make it a point to note this.

“Chairman (Daniel) O’Connor thanked Mr. Smith for his comments.”

Digging to the bottom of the BOE shortfall …

Part of the discussion of a BlumShapiro Consultants presentation of a focused operating review of the Board of Education finances at Thursday’s Common Council Finance Committee meeting revolved around the $632,324 that was transferred from part of the Board of Education budget to the special education department in 2012 to cover deficits.

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) asked, “Is a revision of over $630,000 excessive from an accounting pointing of view? Something that would raise a red flag?”

Dominic Barone of BlumShapiro, replied, “Six new families could have come in. Three new families could have come in, with a very high cost. There could be a lot of ways to explain it.”

Jeffery Ziplow of BlumShapiro said, “Special ed is an issue in many school districts today, in other communities outside of Norwalk. This is not solely an issue with Norwalk. There are many communities within Connecticut that are struggling to figure out the model. … Its’ a moving target and there are quite a few variables that you can’t account for. …”

Barrone said, “I would be more concerned with money not being transferred.”

Historical review

Kimmel: “A budget so large, without an official contingency, for a number of years I have wondered: Well, how on earth can you possibly do it without having contingency funds somewhere else?”

Apparently they could not. But, instead of setting up an official contingency fund, figures were moved from item to item to cover shortfalls.

“We did argue occasionally from the city side that a contingency was necessary,” Kimmel said. “But the folks from Board of Ed believed, well, it would be the first thing we would cut in the reconciliation process. We would just be going around in circles.

“The other possibility was going the special appropriation route. But there was hesitancy to go that direction because the relationship between the Board of Ed and the city wasn’t that good.

“We found ourselves, as a result, in a situation. No contingency. Expenses that could fluctuate so we needed money somewhere. We had to find it, whether it came from insurance or other accounts. The fact of the matter, what could be looked at as troubling, was that that money was there to be had.

“If not for the insurance issue, which we have gone through, if there were other accounts where there is money to be had — I guess you would call padded accounts — to deal with whatever emergencies were near.

“I guess that’s OK in a certain sense but the fact of the matter is it’s going to create problems every year if you are still operating the same away. I’m not surprised the special education ran shortfalls. … What is surprising is what the ease they were covered.”

Not in the mood to blame, but …

The budget review covered fiscal years from late 2009 to spring 2012.

Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A): “There are a lot of reasons why the superintendent might have reduced the budget by that number. We don’t know why the superintendent might have done that. It might have been done because the superintendent at that time had a good faith but wrong belief that that reduction was justified. They just made a mistake. … Or another reason the superintendent might have done that was because the superintendent was under pressure, the budget was being cut and they had to find some way to make the numbers work. Right?”

Barone: “Yes.”

Miklave: “And we have no idea which one that was.”

Dominic: “Correct. I mean – You’re right to a point, and I – yes, you’re right. We don’t know.”

None of these years is just like the other…

Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large): “I hope somebody is going back 10 years looking at the number of students, dollars per students, overall costs and saying what is the trend?”. Is the trend like snow removal in Norwalk? Two years ago we had record snow or over a year ago we had no snow, or this year it seems more of a normal winter. Kind of continual trending. … I’m just asking because it begs that question. If its a growing trend, it’s a growing trend.”

Ziplow: “The reality is it needs to be. We can’t just be budgeting for what we have. I think we need to be looking at what we have in the future.”

Regarding 2011

Miklave: “Do you have any evidence that the staff of the board of education was aware at the time that there was a $1 million deficit? Or was it undetected?”

Barone: “Thoughout the year or at the end of year?”

Miklave: “At the end of the year. Over a million bucks off. Do you have evidence that they knew it?”

Barone: “I think they would have had to know it, by looking at reports. The system would tell them. You would see a deficit.”

Miklave: “But do you have any evidence they ran the report?”

Barone: “No.”

 

8 comments

Suzanne March 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I think we should require all female City of Norwalk personnel spokeswomen to sound like Jessica Rabbit and, while we are at it, let’s ensure that no male spokesman is respected, trusted or believed unless they sound like Clint Eastwood.

Tim T March 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

First let me say I find it comical that someone is concerned with someone’s accent. With that said I find it very offensive and I take exception to this personal attack of a taxpayer by the mayor. This mayor seems to be under the misconception that the taxpayers work for him and not the other way around. The taxpayers are the mayor’s employer and how dare he speak to his employer as he did. In the real world as in the private sector if one spoke to their employer in this fashion they would be fired. Also I wonder if the mayor would go to the same lengths for a convenience store clerk, roofer or a cab driver as they are truly the ones that put their lives on the line every day for us, as police are not even in the top ten of most dangerous job.
Mr. Mayor you can stop sucking up to the police union for that coveted endorsement as I am sure you have it in the bag after promoting a chief from the old boys club with ZERO search for the best candidate. The funny thing is the endorsement is useless as most of the cops don’t live in town thus making it impossible for them to vote in Norwalk.

oldtimer March 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

If that is the worst complaint ever made against Sgt.Cotto, she must be doing something right, and should be commended.

LWitherspoon March 17, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Sgt. Cotto, reached for comment, said she had no eyedea what Mista Smith was tawking about.

LWitherspoon March 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

All kidding aside, I have spoken with Sgt. Cotto. I don’t have a clue as to why this guy is complaining. She speaks well, she is kind and helpful, and we are lucky to have her on the force.

Nancy Chapman March 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Inquiring minds must know so I sent Sgt. Cotto an email and asked where she is from.
She said, “Dad’s family from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Mom’s family from Rockaway, Queens.
“Lots of relatives at both locations – which is why I probably still have a slight accent!”
Unfortunately it’s in black and white so we are bereft the sound of her voice! For more information watch Channel 12. She’s sure to pop up eventually!

Don't Panic March 19, 2013 at 11:57 am

Seriously? Councilmen asking tough questions about a million dollar shortfall and everyone’s worried about the accent?

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.