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Norwalk’s new communications manager begins work

Josh Morgan. (Contributed)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s new communications manager, Josh Morgan, started work Thursday, Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King said.

More than 50 people applied for the job created recently by the Common Council by rejiggering the grants coordinator position, according to Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney. To be considered, finalists created a press release from a “hypothetical fact pattern” concerning controversy over the Board of Education’s budget.

Burney declined to turn over the sample press release written by Morgan.

The Council on Feb. 28 approved the proposal to merge the grants coordinator position with communications duties on a 12-1 vote. The job was advertised two days later, with the window of opportunity ending the following Monday.

Burney had been telling Council members that time was of the essence, that Mayor Harry Rilling wanted the change to happen “yesterday.”

Rilling on Tuesday wrote to NancyOnNorwalk:

“During the application process, we received more than 50 resumes. Had we not received a sufficient number of qualified candidates the application process would have been extended. However that was not the case.

“The process took longer than expected because of the number of resumes received. My staff reviewed them, and picked out six of the most qualified applicants. They then had to schedule interviews with each of those applicants and identified the two most qualified. They then scheduled an interview of those two candidates with me.

“Scheduling those interviews took quite a bit of time in order to find dates convenient to everyone. Once an offer of employment was made, we had to discuss the terms of employment, and the candidate was allowed to provide his current employer with sufficient notice that he was leaving.

“There were many rumors circulating claiming that one individual had been offered the position and was going to be the candidate selected. No person was offered the position and it was always our intention to interview interested candidates.

“Mr. Morgan was selected based on his qualifications which most closely met the requirements of the position.”

 

Morgan received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Connecticut in 2005 and has been Brand and Communications Manager for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England since 2013, according to his resume, which called him a “High-impact public relations and communications professional with 10+ years of experience” with a “Diversified skill set includes writing, editing, media training, graphic design, digital communications and project management.”

Morgan lives in Beacon Falls and was a newspaper reporter for the Chesire Herald from 2007 to 2013, according to his resume, which does not mention experience in grant writing.

“I am excited to join the City of Norwalk as the new Communications Manager/Grant Coordinator on Thursday, May 17,” Morgan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk on Tuesday. “Norwalk is a community rich with different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences and its diversity is what drew me to this position. I am eager to communicate the exciting and important happenings within the City to the public through the media and various online platforms. I plan to use my professional writing skills and project management experience to identify additional grant opportunities and manage what is currently allocated to the City. I hope to enhance communication processes to ensure information reaches the public. Norwalk is a beautiful community with a lot to offer. It is a privilege to be given this opportunity – I cannot wait to get started!”

A Council member speaking off the record mentioned that Morgan has been close to the grant writing process in his role at Planned Parenthood.

The annual salary range for the communications manager was set at $56,315 to $81,344; Morgan will be paid $68,830 a year.

NancyOnNorwalk put in a Freedom of Information request for the test given to candidates.

“It is inconsistent with good HR practices to provide samples of test given or answers provided during an application process.  In fact, the FOI provides that tests and exams are exceptions to required disclosures,” Burney replied, promising to check with Corporation Counsel. “… Let me be clear that there is nothing in the responses that I think would reflect poorly on the candidate or the City.  In fact, the response was excellent and represents the type of work we expect from the candidate. I am just not comfortable with the prospect of publicizing test questions and answers used in the employment application process.”

Burney provided the test:

 

HYPOTHETICAL FACT PATTERN

Its budget season in the City and there is much controversy over the budget request from the Board of Education for the upcoming fiscal year. The following circumstances exist:

–       The Board of Education budget is funded almost entirely by local taxes collected by the City

–       The Board of Education has requested $200 million, which is 10% higher than last year’s budget of $180 million

–       The addition $20 million is for improving the overall quality of the school system and to fund some specific new projects that will advance the entire school system

–       Approving the $20 million increase in the Board of Education budget would result in an  increase tax burden for each City resident of an average of $500, the largest tax increase ever in City history

–       The mayor and his staff have recommended a Board of Education budget increase of $10 million, which will increase taxes $250 on the average

–       There are loud voices in the community on both sides of this issue; parents who want the money spent on schools and support the large increase, and seniors and others who object to such a large increase in taxes to support schools and want the smaller increase

–       This Mayor and his administration have for 3 prior years approved Board of Education budget increases at a much higher rate than prior Mayors did

–       The Board of Education has said they will have to lay off some teacher aids and defund some after school programs if they don’t get all the money they requested

At last night’s public meeting on the Board of Education budget demands, the Mayor and his staff were accused by members of the public and by some Board of Education members of not caring about the school system, of not living up to his campaign promises to fund the school system adequately, not caring if employees get laid off or if after school programs are cut, and of not knowing what is best for the City.

The Mayor knows these are emotional issues but is not happy with these attacks on him that he thinks are unfounded.  He has recommended a budget that he thinks is a prudent, all things considered. He does think there is the possibility of some middle ground settlement of this budget matter, but does not want to be perceived as caving in to the pressure from last night. He also wants to set the record straight as to his history of providing unprecedented funded levels to the City school system.

Please produce a brief press release for the Mayor that gets his message across, and opens the door to the potential for further discussions with the Board of Education members regarding the budget stalemate.

 

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D), the lone no vote on the job description change, did not reply to an email asking for an opinion about Morgan’s appointment.

Former Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton wrote:

“I believe Ms. King and Mr. Morgan are New Haven acquaintances …so this cake was already baked.

“The mayor’s office can hire whomever they want.  What is at issue is the incredulous and disingenuous attempts to try and pretend to taxpayers that there is any sort of open process on anything coming out of the mayors office, be it new hires, promotions or appointments.”

On Thursday, King wrote in an email:

“Josh is a fantastic candidate and we are happy to have him aboard. As I believe you know, the City received over 50 applications for this mid level staff position. We interviewed 6 candidates and Josh immediately stood out as the perfect fit for this position. I had never heard of or met him prior to his coming in for the interview. Josh started today, and I am sure folks will soon see what a great addition he is to the city.”

18 comments

Sue Haynie May 18, 2018 at 7:33 am

I am at a loss to understand why the Rilling administration, under the obvious direction of Laoise King, feels that Norwalk’s sorely over-taxed property taxpayers will benefit more from a spin doctor than a grant writer. This position is about changing perceptions, not improving reality.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 18, 2018 at 8:14 am

@Sue Haynie, I am not at a loss to understand why. The answers are obvious. The Rilling administration is struggling to hold any semblance of leadership together in spite of a 14-1 Common Council majority that favors the mayor. Spinning the word salad is the only thing they’ve got. A key to understanding the necessity is reading the mayor’s quotes above. He needs this guy.

Look at the Hypothetical Fact Pattern. The mayor in this scenario is unhappy with public criticism. That’s it. The role of the comms guy is to boost the mayor’s fragile ego in the public arena through press releases. Based on what I’ve been reading, even among his own party members on the CC, Rilling needs it.

Bob Welsh May 18, 2018 at 9:07 am

Kudos to Nancy for uncovering the “hypothetical” fact pattern which uncannily resembles recent events.

The Board of Ed has their own PR person in Brenda Wilcox Williams. I could have missed it but I don’t recall Brenda crafting and publicizing the BoE’s talking points on funding. Will Josh Morgan’s role be different from Brenda’s?

Next budget cycle, will there be dueling press releases funded by taxpayers?

Jlightfield May 18, 2018 at 9:28 am

Glad to see Norwalk get into the 21st century and have a dedicated communications manager. It is a small step in addressing the challenges of communication in a fragmented media market.

Diane Lauricella May 18, 2018 at 10:21 am

While clear, user-friendly communication is key to any organizational structure, the way the City created the position, by in essence cannibalizing a needed fulltime grant writer/manager position, is not wise. The previous grants position may have been badly managed, but that does not mean that a City of this size does not need it.

As the City proposes reorg, consider placing a fulltime grant writer under Finance where data and measurement take place…much more accountability and strategic thinking, one hopes.

As stated during the protracted Personnel meetings about this “new” position, many, included myself, stated that several departments already had Communications staff assigned, at least on a part-time basis. In the spirit of efficiency and reorg, why not combine all those individual department staff into one office, save taxpayers $$$, and put money recently taken from Grants position back into a fulltime position?

The same thinking goes with grants…yes many departments have handled due to frustration with Grant position support over the years, but if handled properly and concentrated in Finance Dept. could still tap individual department expertise when needed but free up staff to do the original job they were hired for…And avoid additional political influence.

Debora Goldstein May 18, 2018 at 10:58 am

A Council member speaking off the record mentioned that Morgan has been close to the grant writing process in his role at Planned Parenthood.

It is interesting that NON’s comment policy will not let elected officials comment anonymously, but she will take anonymous quotes from an elected official in a story.

Rick May 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

125 freight cars went thru east Norwalk this morning, they seriously need a full time fire station this country club setting has to end.

If east Norwalk wants help in building a new station then maybe some work is needed grants can be won by second graders why not Norwalk?

https://www.dhs.gov/how-do-i/find-and-apply-grants

A few years back the brothers at the rowyaton and even the Norwalk dept thru just own guys got grants

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 18, 2018 at 1:29 pm

For his first act, Mr. Morgan should consider taking a page out of the ASPCA playbook and really tug at the people’s heartstrings. The mayor doesn’t need to worry about how to grow the local economy, the impact of the Walk Bridge project on lives and businesses, or how to achieve the Planning & Zoning realignments he campaigned on 5 years ago. He can forget about Wall Street Place too. Massage the message, and the citizens will reach for their checkbooks and Kleenex instead of putting up the for sale signs.

Cue in Sarah McLachlan singing, “in the arms of the angels,” while the voice over reads,” for just $2.75 a day, YOU, residential property owner, can make this poor, beleaguered mayor feel better about himself. Operators are standing by.”

Patrick Cooper May 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm

A well-known guy once wrote about the role Mr. Morgan now occupies:

“Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side. (…) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas”.

This is Harry’s 3rd term – makes sense….

Rusty Guardrail May 18, 2018 at 5:33 pm

In a desperate effort to defend himself from accusations of mis-using tax revenue, Rilling mis-uses more tax revenue.

Bob Welsh May 18, 2018 at 6:02 pm

@Deb Goldstein

Some time ago you requested a change to the policy requiring elected officials to post under their real names. I told you the board would discuss it. We did, and the overwhelming majority were in favor of keeping the policy as-is. We also considered the possibility of allowing electeds to be anons with certain restrictions, but it was unwieldy and moderating comments is already too big a job.

You find it interesting that electeds can be anonymous in stories but not in comments. The time-honored practice of giving a source anonymity to gain more information is obviously different from giving elected officials carte blanche to anonymously praise themselves, trash opponents, or pursue other agendas. You might not engage in any of that behavior if the policy changed, but plenty of others have in the past, hence the policy.

Debora Goldstein May 18, 2018 at 7:51 pm

Bob,

Journalistic practice limits anonymous quotes from official sources to:

– information that adds substantially to the story
– information that is not available any other way
– information that could potentially harm the source if they are identified
– information that is independently sourced from at least two, unrelated sources

The fact herein protected by anonymity is not only mundane, but there does not appear to be any harm that could be had from attribution. It could have easily been sourced to Mr. Morgan himself, with a quick fact-checking call.

I keep pointing out the inconsistency of the practice and the policy, because I am seeing more and more single-source anonymous quotes from this administration these days…a practice that Nancy used to studiously avoid.

Bryan Meek May 18, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Norwalk Public Schools have had to trim 61 positions in the last 4+ years while the mayor has added 8 positions and counting. More layoffs are coming for NPS. More spin doctors can’t fix this trend.

Claire Schoen May 19, 2018 at 12:19 pm

@Deb Goldstein – I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the anonymous statement as ‘mundane.’ It demonstrates that Morgan might have some grant-writing skills that would benefit Norwalk; to have sourced this back to Morgan would lose the third-party confirmation.

I am getting increasingly frustrated by the number of comments that focus on second-guessing or de-constructing the NoN articles themselves when we are lucky to be getting this news from such a trusted source. Did the Hour even cover this? (If it did, I missed it.)

Bob Welsh May 19, 2018 at 1:31 pm

@Deb Goldstein

Nancy’s practice with respect to anonymous sources remains the same as it has been for years.

Yes, the fact in question could have “easily been sourced to Mr. Morgan himself”, if NON had a full-time editor, a large staff of writers, and no time pressure. Nancy is on her own, covering multiple subjects at the same time, and writing during the wee hours when most of us are sleeping. In my opinion she performs admirably under the circumstances, delivering valuable public-interest reporting such as this story.

You would like NON to provide even more value than it already does. Doing so requires more funding. When I invited you to attend a NON fundraiser, you said you would attend if NON allowed elected officials to be anonymous in the comments section. For reasons explained above, we won’t be changing the policy, even if it means you’ll never donate. We are grateful for the support of those who recognize that NON, while imperfect, delivers tremendous value.

PIBerman May 20, 2018 at 11:22 am

An obvious staff addition ahead of re-election campaign. With a 4% tax hike. And falling property values.

Another example of avoiding Prof. Search to secure Top Talent. Raising the City Hall competence issue.

Maybe the New PR Director will help explain why Norwalk’s Budget is 37% higher than Danbury’s with about the same population.

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