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.
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.
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.”