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Norwalk Council members consider Rilling’s proposed reorg

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, right, speaks to the Common Council Ad Hoc Committee tasked with considering his proposed city government reorganization, Wednesday in City Hall.

Updated, 2:07 p.m.: PDF and photo added.

NORWALK, Conn. — A majority of Common Council members support Mayor Harry Rilling’s goal of improving efficiencies in Norwalk City Hall and provided it can be done with little or no cost to the City, Council President John Kydes (D-District C) said Wednesday.

The Council Committee tasked with considering Mayor Harry Rilling’s proposed administrative reorganization then went on to query Rilling, Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King and Finance Director Bob Barron on a variety of topics, touching on the buzz phrase “span of control,” salary expenses for the proposed new chiefs and the Fair Housing Office controversy that has sprung up.

Options for the Recreation and Parks Department were also a focus. Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D), the lone Republican on the Council, questioned the fundamental concept of Rilling’s reorg – which aims to reduce the number of “direct reports” to the Mayor from 18 to nine – by saying that a Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) advisor pointed out that Bridgeport has a chief administrator to oversee departments, with that administrator stationed between the Mayor and 14 department heads.

“I am just asking that question, whether a thought process went in to establish instead of five different cabinet positions, per se, as one chief operating officer that everybody else reports to,” Hempstead said.

That’s a deterrent to effective communications, said Rilling, former Norwalk Police Chief.

“A one to one relationship at that level is not really advised,” Rilling said. “You can do a span of control at that level of anywhere from five to eight and that’s comfortable, but if you have the Mayor and one chief administrative officer under the Mayor and everybody reporting to that person, that is not an effective – we had that situation in the police department. It just didn’t work because the second in command seemed to take on the entire burden. It also didn’t lend itself to effective communications and information up and down the line.”

King pointed out that Bridgeport has departments that Norwalk does not, such as Weights and Measures.

Rilling and King presented organizational charts from other cities, with Rilling saying that most communities are group departments along functional lines, as the proposal would do, no matter what their size. Even cities like Boston and Philadelphia limit the direct reports to the Mayor to eight to 10, he said.

Kydes, Committee chairman, said the Committee in its last meeting had an extensive discussion about combining Parks and Recreation with the Department of Public Works.

The public discussion at the last meeting focused on Barron’s financial analysis and was followed by an executive session.

“I don’t know if we got a clear answer of costs associated with” eliminating the four DPW part time workers and having fulltime DPW employees picking up the work.

The four part-timers make about $10,000 a year and with the coordination of the two departments, “They’ll be able to make much more efficient use of the day workers who work on a regular basis, though assignments, through different things that need to be done,” Rilling said. “… it might in some cases result in an hour or two of overtime. It is still much more efficient than having four part-timers at $10,000 a piece.”

Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked for a walk through of the four proposals, and Rilling referred the group to the latest organizational chart presentation, walking them through the relevant pages.

reorg 18-0530 20180531_0001

King offered a high level summary:

Option one separates the recreation function from the parks operations and maintenance function and adds in the tree and grass work that used to be under DPW under public property

Option two keeps everything together under DPW and operations, in effect picking up the department and moving it, but also adding the tree responsibility to DPW

Option three keeps Recreation and Parks as it exists now, but putting it under Community Services; this would not provide efficiencies

Option four is a hybrid suggested by some Council members, combining the functions of a superintendent and a director and keeping it all under Public Works

Livingston asked about the economic development function, as the proposal would create a Chief of Community and Economic Development.

This would be hiring someone to oversee code enforcement, Planning and Zoning, business development and tourism and transportation, traffic and parking, Rilling said.

Former Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker was really doing business development and tourism work, and it’s important to keep those functions, King said, explaining that you could look at the reorg as upgrading the role – taking the old position and expanding it – or downgrading it.

Rilling said it’s pretty much the same idea as the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

“Is it too much for one person?” Livingston asked.

“Not if you have the right person,” Rilling replied.

There’s a draft job description, with the chief making $140,000 a year and the position Stocker had reduced from $108,000 a year to $75,000 a year, King and Barron said.

“To attract someone, increasing (the salary) for such an important position I think is important,” Kydes said.

“If you want to get somebody, you know, really good person with this portfolio, I think you really need responsible, I think you have to spend the money,” Livingston said.

“We find sometimes we are struggling to attract the right people because of the salary structure in the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said, explaining that former Personnel Director Emmet Hibson was making $130,000 in Norwalk but went to Fairfield, where he is eligible for a $50,000 bonus for negotiating contracts and, “He got courted by Fairfield and in essence is making over $200,000 a year when here he was making $130,000. Plus he has a car.”

Barron said he’s looking for a new comptroller as Fred Gilden is retiring, and while the $155,000 salary is competitive the retirement benefits are a deterrent.

 

Fair Housing

Livingston brought up Wednesday’s NancyOnNorwalk story about the Fair Housing Officer.

Jalin Sead on Tuesday called the proposal to merge the Fair Housing and Fair Rent deparments “appalling” and “outrageous.”

Although King on Tuesday wrote, “The court order does not address whether the position reports to the city or redevelopment nor whether it is a stand alone office or combined with other housing efforts,” paragraph three of the Second Amended Consent Decree, posted on the city’s website, states that the Fair Housing Officer is located in the Redevelopment Agency and the Fair Housing Officer “will be under only administrative supervision by the executive director of that agency.” Those conditions can be changed by agreement of the parties.

“My preference would be to leave the Fair Housing Office as it is,” Fair Housing Advisory Commission Chairman the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham said to NancyOnNorwalk on Wednesday. “I think the demand upon that office is just overwhelming, that to combine it with some other agency I think would dilute its effectiveness.”

Ingraham said he has been out of town and has not spoken to Rilling, but seen several proposals being circulated.

The conventional wisdom is to combine like functions, Rilling said to the Council Committee on Wednesday evening.

“In some conversations that I have had we have to take a look at that and see whether or not it is violative of the court decree, which would then have us rethink that. so, that is still under discussion right now,” Rilling said. “… One thing I want to make clear is, the function will not be diminished. There is still going to be a fair housing function, a fair rent function, a human relations function. It’s just how we best accomplish that.”

“Right now, there are people coming to City Hall, who are some of our most vulnerable residents, who need housing assistance and they don’t know where to go,” King said. “…this is an effort to improve the service, to provide more emphasis on it.”

With Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director Adam Bovilsky leaving to become Norwalk Housing Authority executive director, “there’s an opportunity to move people around and still reduce the budgetary impact and have all the functions out of one office,” King said. “I think that there is a concern that we are going to get rid of the current Fair Housing Officer and I just want to say that … that doesn’t necessarily happen.”

“It’s going to be like a one stop shop for people who have an issue with discrimination in housing, or alleged discrimination in housing. If they feel they are treated unfairly they’ll know where to go rather than two different separate offices,” Rilling said.

Some reorg issues are “cans of worms that we don’t want to open unless we know that we are going down that road,” King said, explaining that if the Council is inclined to go in that direction, “then we will speak to the NAACP as well as the Fair Housing Commission. We have had preliminary conversations with both of them. They are amenable.”

NancyOnNorwalk was not successful in catching up with Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams on Wednesday.

King said, “We are hoping that we are going to be able to go into the court together with the NAACP and request a modification of the consent decree, if it even needs to be changed.”

The City of Bridgeport’s organization chart.

17 comments

Sue Haynie May 31, 2018 at 6:21 am

“There’s a draft job description, with the chief (Loise King) making (w/ a $30K raise) $140,000 a year and the position Stocker had reduced from $108,000 a year to $75,000 a year, King and Barron said.”

So, Economic and Community Development Director’s salary gets reduced $30K to increase the salary of Mayor Rilling’s assistant by $30K? How does that help Norwalk and what does that have to do with ‘efficiency’?

Rilling needs to explain why Norwalkers will now be paying for Two Mayors? He was elected as Mayor. The self-serving Ms. King will be making $100,000 more a year (to repeat, $100,000 more) than her counterpart in Danbury, a town of equal size, demographics and growth as Norwalk. Why is this OK?

Only in a city where the Mayor and Common Council members have a disregard for taxpayers would ‘efficiency’ require more staffing, new titles and more money and where they would not demand solid accountability metrics.

PIBerman May 31, 2018 at 7:37 am

Only in Norwalk with a former Police Chief as Mayor and a Common Council similarly lacking major business experience could we imagine a “Reorganization” that doesn’t save major monies, is done in house rather than securing outside expertise and gives the Mayor’s assistant.a whopping salary increase with a fancy new title as “Chief of Staff”. With a Mayoral election coming up amidst our long stagnant Grand List no doubt the “Rorganization” will be considered “moving Norwalk forward”.

The Mayor’s Reorganization Plan just makes another argument for Professional Management to create an affordable City governance. As if we really need more arguments.

U.S. Blues May 31, 2018 at 9:15 am

Impeach rilling or fire king.

Redundancy of job description at its best.

Rilling,oops King, oops rilling, said it so.

Patrick Cooper May 31, 2018 at 9:33 am

U.S. Blues – and all Norwalk – we do indeed need charter revision. For we as the voters do not have the power – apparently – to recall this mayor for gross negligence. Only the council. Yes – this 14-1 rubber stamp council.

9Removal of Mayor for misconduct or neglect of duty. [1]
(Sp. Laws 1913, No. 352, § 87; Sp. Laws 1921, No. 400, § 5.)
At any meeting of the Council any member may give written notice, seconded in writing by a majority of all the members, of his intention to propose at the next meeting a resolution removing the Mayor from office for official misconduct or neglect of duty. Such notice shall specify particularly the acts of misconduct or the neglect of duty complained of and shall be entered in the records of the Council, and the Clerk shall serve a copy thereof upon the Mayor and mail a copy to each member of the Council. At the next meeting of the Council the Mayor shall have the right to be heard with his witnesses, and said meeting may be adjourned from time to time as said Council may direct. The vote on the resolution shall be by roll call. If the resolution fails to receive the votes of 2/3 of the members of the Council, if shall have no effect. If it receives the affirmative votes of 2/3 of the members of the Council, it shall become operative upon the service of a copy thereof upon the Mayor personally or by leaving the same at his residence, and the office of Mayor shall be vacant. The Council shall fill such vacancy as provided in § 1-174. Said Council meetings shall be public, and the journal of its proceedings shall be open to public inspection. The vote of the Council shall be taken by yeas and nays whenever the same is requested by any members. The Council may elect, appoint or discharge any officer, except the Mayor, in executive session, but no business other than that relating to appointments or removals from office shall be considered in executive session.

Lisa Brinton Thomson May 31, 2018 at 10:31 am

Here’s an ‘efficient’ idea – fund Laoise’s raise from Harry’s existing salary. She’s doing his job. Eventually, council members will be held accountable for rubber stamping the salary increases and additional costs… er um ‘efficiencies’ of this half baked Parks & Rec and DPW reorg. What they should be dealing with is land use and tax issues plaguing economic development, starting with Redevelopment, P&Z and the Parking Authority. Unfortunately, they won’t venture into that ‘gray area’ that costs residents millions. Sadly, this is the softball governance that comes with a 14-1 council. #charterrevision

Margaret K. Suib, Esq., Norwalk Fair Housing Officer May 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

On another thread, Commissioner Jalin Sead suggested that the long-empty office space, across the hall from the current Fair Housing Office (2nd floor of the Health Dept Building, next to City Hall), could be the new home of the Fair Rent and Human Relations Office. It is larger space than the present FR/HR Office over in City Hall.

I’d add that both Fair Rent and Fair Housing OFTEN have cases where someone coming in about an excessive rent increase (Fair Rent) or housing discrimination (Fair Housing) also have a housing code violation (health or safety) issue.

For example: landlord is asking for a $500 per month rent increase AND isn’t repairing the leaking upstairs toilet that’s coming through into the kitchen below, and there’s peeling paint, and standing water in the basement. That is Fair Rent (rent increase) and Health Dept Housing Inspector (toilet, peeling paint, standing water).

Or, a person reports that the landlord called them a racial slur and said they and their kids aren’t welcome, get out, won’t renew your lease, and refuses to deal with the backed up septic system that has nasty stuff coming up into the bathtub. That’s Fair Housing (housing discrimination) and Housing Inspector for the health and safety issues from a backed up septic system.

These kinds of issues result in frequent referrals to the Housing Inspectors. Where are the Housing Inspectors located? In the Health Dept building, 2nd floor (down the hall from Fair Housing and the potential future home of Fair Rent).

That way, the Mayor’s objective of getting rid of the confusion and making “one stop shopping” could really be accomplished — Human Relations, Fair Rent, Fair Housing and Housing Inspectors would all be on the same floor of a significantly smaller building with a shorter distance for residents to traverse from regular and handicap parking spaces to the help they need, be it Fair Rent, Fair Housing or Housing Inspectors, all just a few feet from each other in one building. It doesn’t get easier or more “one stop shopping” or less confusing than that!

For those worried about costs, there’d be absolutely no increase in costs, just a real solution to any confusion about what is where.

Ron Morris May 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Chapter 1. Charter and Related Laws ARTICLE IV. Common Council § 1-199.

Removal of Mayor for misconduct or neglect of duty.

(Sp. Laws 1913, No. 352, § 87; Sp. Laws 1921, No. 400, § 5.) At any meeting of the Council any member may give written notice, seconded in writing by a majority of all the members, of his intention to propose at the next meeting a resolution removing the Mayor from oce for ocial misconduct or neglect of duty. Such notice shall specify particularly the acts of misconduct or the neglect of duty complained of and shall be entered in the records of the Council, and the Clerk shall serve a copy thereof upon the Mayor and mail a copy to each member of the Council. At the next meeting of the Council the Mayor shall have the right to be heard with his witnesses, and said meeting may be adjourned from time to time as said Council may direct. The vote on the resolution shall be by roll call. If the resolution fails to receive the votes of 2/3 of the members of the Council, if shall have no eect. If it receives the armative votes of 2/3 of the members of the Council, it shall become operative upon the service of a copy thereof upon the Mayor personally or by leaving the same at his residence, and the oce of Mayor shall be vacant. The Council shall ll such vacancy as provided in § 1-174. Said Council meetings shall be public, and the journal of its proceedings shall be open to public inspection. The vote of the Council shall be taken by yeas and nays whenever the same is requested by any members. The Council may elect, appoint or discharge any ocer, except the Mayor, in executive session, but no business other than that relating to appointments or removals from oce shall be considered in executive session.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 31, 2018 at 12:32 pm

@Sue Haynie, If the mayor supported a $100,000 reduction in his own pay to cover the cost of Ms. King’s salary, the proposed “efficiency” re-organization might pass muster. As it stands, the entire charade is an outrage and an insult to the citizens of Norwalk. Laoise King wants a raise. She seems to think she deserves it based on the fact that she’s probably doing most of the mayor’s work for him, ribbon cutting aside. She even rolled out the reorganization. I’ve had lengthy exchanges with tne mayor’s office on matters of great import to the mayor. They’ve stopped copying him. Laoise King and other senior staff don’t even bother to keep the mayor in the loop anymore, best as I can tell from my personal experience. So pay Laoise more and pay the mayor less as a reflection of their respective workloads. That would be efficient.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 31, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Editor’s note: This commenter has been banned for countless instances of ascribing motives, harassing the writer, and insulting the writer, all violations of the comments policy, which also expressly forbids trolls.

carol May 31, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Donna,love your idea,less for rilling and more for king as she is doing his job and WE DID NOT ELECT HER TO BE MAYOR.
so sick of this charade and it always ends up costing the taxpayer more $$$$. we need a norwalk tea party. PEOPLE GET INVOLVED OR DO NOT COMPLAIN.

Norwalk native May 31, 2018 at 7:12 pm

Rilling running the City as he did the Police Department: finding others to do it for him.

This cozy government no show job is just another opportunity to add to his extensive collection of Public Pensions.

EnoPride June 1, 2018 at 11:14 pm

Agree with PIBerman’s post. Outside expertise consultation would be ideal here in the restructuring. A different set of eyes on all this is always a good idea for everyone involved, and guaranteed money would be saved rather than spent. I am not understanding Laoise King’s proposed new title and raise of $140,000. Seems unwarranted and excessive for what she does. Corporations bring in the experts when they go through restructuring, and it would behoove City Hall to do the same.

With all due respect, the Mayor’s comment, “We find sometimes we are struggling to attract the right people because of the salary structure”, is concerning to me. $130,000 for a Personnel Director is nothing to sneeze at. Plenty of people would be jumping through hoops for that salary. Just because the gentleman went to a neighboring town for more money doesn’t mean “we are struggling to attract the right people”.

When we tax paying residents look at the long list of public info city salaries, our heads want to explode viewing all the excessive $100,000 and $200,000 salaries which creep higher year after year after year, with seemingly no cap in sight. And at what cost? Well, sadly we all are seeing at what cost. We see it when we are fighting for the NPS budget only to learn how much of the budget goes to teacher contracts, of which many salaries are warranted, but to be honest, many are excessive when factoring the performance and track record of certain individuals. We see it when one of these very high policeman or fireman salaries which creeps up year after year could easily be three specialist teachers that we were desperately fighting for at BOE budget meetings. Are these annual increases across the board commensurate upon exceptional performance? Doesn’t always seem to be the case. People who work in the corporate world as we all know earn increases and salaries based upon accountability and exemplary, results driven, high performance. And if these employees don’t perform well…. Oh Well. Maybe next year… or next year…

Bob Welsh June 1, 2018 at 11:59 pm

U.S. Blues:

Yes, it is a shame that Donna’s comments will no longer appear here.

All comments must respect the comment policy, which you can read here:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Commenters who violate the policy multiple times are placed in moderation, regardless of political viewpoint. Commenters who repeatedly violate the policy may be banned.

There are multiple prominent critics of the current administration — including Lisa Brinton Thomson and Sue Haynie — whose comments do not go into moderation because they respect the comment policy. Their comments include frequent and blistering critiques of City Hall. All viewpoints are welcome, as long as the policy is respected.

A few who land in moderation declare themselves the victim of uneven treatment, even though the facts prove otherwise. The facts about Donna are that she violated the comment policy more than anybody in recent memory, with repeated instances of ascribing motives, harassing the writer, insulting the writer, and general trolling behavior. I’d prefer Nancy devote her limited time to reporting rather than to addressing comments from someone who is proud of serially violating the comment policy.

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