NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling’s “basic 101 of reorganization” was scrutinized Monday by skeptical Norwalk Common Council members, with some Democratic pushback added to resistance from 100 percent of the Council Republican contingent.
“I guess I am looking for more meat on the bone,” Minority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-District D) – the only Republican on the 15-member Council – said as a member of the Ad Hoc Council Committee, suggesting that a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is in order.
“Is there a list somewhere of what was identified as inefficiencies that can explain why under certain circumstances efficiencies are being created?” Hempstead asked.
“The most glaring one is 19 direct reports to the CEO. That’s not a very easily managed span of control,” Rilling replied, repeating the pitch that’s been made since his proposed reorganization of city administrative positions was unveiled early last month.
Rilling has proposed four options for Council consideration, with hopes of a speedy implementation in time for the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Each seeks to reduce the 19 direct reports to nine, with seven “chiefs,” combining aspects of different departments and possibly splitting the Recreation and Parks Department.
The meeting in the Council chambers drew a larger audience than previous Committee discussions, with Republican Charlie Yost watching from a catbird seat in the uppermost row, and former Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton, Donna Smirniotopoulos, Diane Lauricella, Darius Williams, David Watts and members of the Norwalk Branch NAACP (see separate story) closer to the action.
Hempstead and Council member Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) spoke of practices used in the business world, with Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney backing up Rilling’s thoughts.
Like functions should be grouped together and right now there are “19 departments pretty much operating in a silo,” Rilling said, explaining that the goal is to increase communications and reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.
This would reduce 19 budget proposals to nine, “and we can look at them, we can more easily identify the redundancies that exist,” he said.
“I like a lot of what we have been discussing but I think there might be some other level of review that is necessary,” Sacchinelli said, speculating that rearranging departments might mean “removing a wall” and physically moving them and suggesting that Council members might be too close to the situation, that a third level review might help.
“Without the fundamental figures of tracking over the years, labor in labor out, it’s hard to make a conscientious decision for any of us,” Sacchinelli said. “So, where we stand, I think we should look at other levels of asset allocation. We have been looking at this strictly on a personnel level, and our concern being maybe we will be defeating the purpose, maybe we will lose efficiencies that we currently have if we strictly look at it through that lens.”
“I don’t want to throw a wrench in things but it is, to Mr. Hempstead’s point, it’s hard to make a decision based on anecdote alone,” Sacchinelli said.
In the “basic 101 of reorganization,” you look to group like functions together, Rilling said, explaining that his team studied the structure of other cities, larger and smaller, and didn’t find any that had 19 direct reports to the Mayor.
“This has been discussed for many years. It’s time to look at it and do something about it,” Rilling said, adding that this would be “obviously implemented with view towards evaluation.”
“You are not going to make a perfect reorganization right way,” Rilling said. “There’s going to be some bumps in the road, perhaps some hiccups. But we have to make sure that we evaluate it… This should not be a static process. This should be a dynamic process, a living breathing thing that changes as our city changes. If you look back, this has been the way the city has been operating for decades. Nothing has changed.”
Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) asked if a formal method of evaluating the reorganization had been planned.
Rilling clarified that he didn’t mean that there would be a formal evaluation at say, a six month mark, but “this is something that is going to be constantly evaluated.”
“I don’t disagree with the thought process,” Hempstead said. “Big picture, I would agree with the rest of my caucus.”
The city’s organization “probably needs to be modernized,” but, “I am troubled from the business side of me,” Hempstead said, calling the reorg “more in theory, we’ll see what happens.”
Organizational structure is a theory, Rilling said, with Hempstead replying, “I am not disagreeing with the fact that some of these make sense,” and suggesting that more background information is needed.
“Who believes that the current system is fine and should be left alone?” Rilling asked. “Or who believes that we should look for improving upon the system and moving forward with a reorganization?… We have provided you with our expert opinion as to what we need to do. If you look at the current organizational structure I think you would pretty much agree that its very inefficient.”
“I agree with a lot of what you’re saying,” Sacchinelli replied, then suggesting that there is “no way around it,” there will be disruption of services and “potential negative aspects to the internal workings” of the city, with possible employee departures.
In the corporate world, different lenses are used to study such ideas, Sacchinelli said.
“I think it’s great that you brought it forward,” Sacchinelli said. “I commend you, it’s just a little difficult being on the Council with the resources that we have in front of us, making the decision, knowing that we are going to be impacting people, we are going to be impacting services with no recourse in place and nothing to go on except, “we’ll fix it, this is done.’”
“There should be no disruption of services, everybody will know exactly what their function is,” Rilling said, asserting that no department heads will lose their authority.
“The idea is to implement what we believe to be the most effective reorganization,” Rilling said. “Again, I think we all agree that we are not going to be able to consider everything all at once. There may be some hiccups, there may be some bumps in the road. That’s when we do that process… You can’t identify how effective something is 100 percent until you implement it. That’s what the evaluation process is all about.”
“I think this is much needed but I think one of the things we are struggling with is not knowing what we don’t know,” Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said, asking how success would be defined.
First, the city would improve upon its delivery of services, and second there would be cost savings, Rilling said, explaining that measurables don’t just include calls to customer service but that the Mayor’s Dashboard, which would allow the public to keep track of issues, is almost ready to go online.
“I agree that we need to reorganize. It is long overdue,” Council Majority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) said, asking how the reorganization would be implemented.
The Council needs to decide upon a direction for the reorg, Rilling said.
“Once we understand what model the Council wants, then we implement it,” Rilling said. “Ideally, we implement it all at once but there’s going to be some things that we need to roll out, and get it done, not piecemeal but get it done, whatever we can do immediately and whatever we need to follow up.”
Rilling said that Burney had been senior vice president at Metro North and has been in this process.
“I have been through many reorganizations,” Burney said, listing experiences of working with consultants that included McKinsey and Price Waterhouse.
“That’s not the exercise that we are suggesting to the Common Council,” Burney said.
“What we are looking at is the low hanging fruit.”
“We are not even there,” Burney said of a process that would require a consultant. “We haven’t aligned the resources that the city functions in a way that is rational, that is functionally parallel. Once we do that… maybe then the city finds some money for someone to come in and walk you through a more detailed SWOT. Or you bring in someone with a six sigma background… we are nowhere near that level yet, which is why I think some of you are frustrated.”
“We have to take the first step to get to the end product,” Burney said. “That first step is simply taking the resources that we have and then lining them up so it makes sense.”
“This is just such a basic reorganization,” Corsello said. “The more I look at it that’s all it sounds like it is. This is just a start.”
“I guess we’re going to disagree on some methodologies,” Hempstead said. “That’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. I am not trying to be an adversary, I am trying to say in my mind, in my experience, 37 years out in the business world… I disagree, a SWOT is usually one of the first things.”
It’s a difference of public versus private, Rilling said.
“Your goal is the bottom line, looking to increase revenue,” Rilling said. “When we are reorganizing in the public sector, it’s to increase the delivery of services or make it more efficient. And also, to find the efficiencies that we have not identified yet…. right now the way we measure through outcomes and inputs on the annual budget and unfortunately when you look at them, every year they are the same.”