Updated, 10:09 a.m.: Copy edits; 8:45 a.m.: Copy edits, added statement from Steven Adamowski
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron has resigned, as the City works to establish budgets for 2019-20 and Norwalk property owners complain about the latest reval.
Mayor Harry Rilling in a statement attributed Barron’s sudden departure to workplace issues and said Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton, former Norwalk Finance Director, and NPS Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit have stepped up to help the City.
Barron could not be reached late Wednesday for a response to Rilling’s statements.
The news of Barron’s departure came to NoN via former Common Council member David McCarthy, who at 9:27 p.m. Wednesday left a comment on the story about Rilling running for reelection. “I hear Bob Barron quit in a huff. Without him, Rilling literally has nothing…not even the ability to run day to day operations,” McCarthy wrote.
A City Hall source speaking not for attribution confirmed that Barron had left, and said that the “in a huff” description was accurate.
Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King, reached by telephone at 11:30 p.m., provided a statement from Rilling, that she said had been prepared and approved for release:
“Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron submitted his resignation on January 17, effective immediately. In the interim Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton and Budget Finance Director Kristin Karczmit, will be stepping in to assist.
“Over the last year, we have been working closely with Mr. Barron regarding his leadership, management style, and treatment of city employees. This has been an ongoing and coordinated effort through the Mayor’s Office and Personnel Department to improve morale across the six departments that reported directly to Mr. Barron. While I cannot comment specifically on these matters, I can share that recent accounts provided to me by Mr. Barron’s staff raised significant red flags and caused alarm. When we attempted to discuss our concerns with Mr. Barron, he lashed out in anger and chose to resign rather than work through the issues he alone had caused.
“Let me be clear: a hostile work environment has no place in the City of Norwalk.
“We are working to fill the Chief Financial Officer role immediately. I am thankful to Dr. Adamowski, Tom, and Kristin for stepping up at this critical point in time as the city finishes its mandated property revaluation and is about to present its draft Capital and Operating Budgets to the to the Common Council and BET. Tom had served as Chief Financial Officer for the City of Norwalk for 12 years and is intimately familiar with government operations. I am confident in Tom’s and Kristin’s ability to help guide the city through budget season.”
Asked if the concerns involved #metoo issues, King said they didn’t.
Barron has been with the City for nine years: as Director of Management and Budgets until August 2015, when he became Norwalk’s Finance Director following Hamilton’s departure to the Board of Ed, which he currently serves as Chief Financial Officer. Under the recent City reorganization, Barron became Norwalk Chief Financial Officer, with a $9,389 boost in pay, according to the packet for the Sept. 11 Common Council meeting.
“I think it’s important to recognize the job that Mr. Barron has done for the city in the last couple of years,” then-Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said in August 2016. “It’s been incredible.”
Hamilton has guided the Board of Education in formulating a 2019-20 operating budget request that is $11.7 million more than last year’s approved budget.
Historically, the City’s top finance official — who reports to the Mayor — reviews the Board of Education’s budget request, and makes a recommendation regarding how much of the request should be granted. The Common Council then considers the recommendation and decides on the maximum allowable amount of spending. Last year, in a departure from tradition, Barron did not issue a recommendation regarding education funding. Asked at midnight if there was a conflict in utilizing the Board of Education’s Chief Financial Officer as the City’s Chief Financial Officer, King replied: “We don’t think there is a conflict. The numbers are the numbers – the decision about how much of the city budget to allot to the Board of Education is a policy issue. As always it will be decided by the Mayor and Council in consultation with the members of the Board of Education.”
“We are pleased to work as a team with the City of Norwalk to ensure a successful 2019-20 budget process for Norwalk. Tom Hamilton, Chief Financial Officer for Norwalk Public Schools, as well as NPS Budget Director Kristin Karczmit, will both be available over the next few weeks to assist the City’s Finance Department in meeting deadlines for operating and capital budget submissions. The Board of Education and City of Norwalk have a mutually supportive relationship, and we’re happy to offer our support during this time of transition,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said in a statement issued Thursday morning.
“Tom and Kristen have been helping the city for several years now within NPS, successfully managing the single largest line item in the city’s budget,” BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek wrote in a midnight email. “Tom, many years before Kristin running our city finances. I can’t think of a better consultant to the city’s needs.”
Meek, at 11:41 p.m., indicated that he did not know Barron had left.
“I did get an undeliverable email message from Mr. Barron earlier today, so it would seem so. If he is no longer in our employment, I wish him well on his future endeavors,” he wrote.
Barron had been working to deliver a recommended 2019-20 operating budget to the Board of Estimate and Taxation on Feb. 11, a deadline set by the City Charter.
A recommended capital budget is due Jan. 31.
The Finance Department has a new Director of Management and Budgets; Angela Foley started about three months ago, King said. Foley replaced Lunda Asmani, who held the job for less than a year before leaving to become New Canaan Budget Director in June. Chitsamay Lam was hired to be the City’s new comptroller in August, replacing longtime comptroller Fred Gilden, who has retired.
Barron on Jan. 10 told the Council Finance Committee that City department heads submit their budget requests in December.
“I am meeting through January with all the departments and I am scrubbing their requests,” he said. “You may have wondered, ‘Bob they gave you the requests in December, why don’t you publish what they’re asking for?’ It’s because the Finance Department meets with every department head and goes through all 3,000, it’s like 3,300, account numbers with each of them so we have an understanding of what they are asking for. That’s that bottom up budgeting that everybody says we don’t do, but we do it. We not only do it once but we do it twice because I firm up their requests, make sure it’s what they want to have represented as what they are requesting for the upcoming year, then I formulate my recommendation based on the guidance and the goals that the Mayor wants to accomplish, and then I present both of them to the BET and you.”