Updated, 11:43 a.m., 9:07 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – City officials will soon hold interviews to fill key top Norwalk administrative positions, Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney said Wednesday.
Until those hires are made – and gain some experience – it’s impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of the reorganization of the City governmental structure, Burney said to the Common Council Personnel Committee.
Burney’s update also included mention of reorganizing City Hall office locations. Minority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-District D) suggested that the building needs updating and other Council members indicated agreement.
The reorg requested by Mayor Harry Rilling was approved by the Council in April, creating two new department head positions, and a chief of staff. Then-Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King took on new responsibilities and the title of Chief of Staff, which Rilling said was more appropriate to her existing role.
The changes were a “realignment of city resources and employees into a more rational and efficient organizational structure that represents the needs and functions of a modern city,” according to a handout from Burney.
The handout lists the reorg’s goals as increased accountability and improved operational performance in:
- Neighborhoods and code enforcement
- Permitting process
- Transportation, mobility and parking
- Public property maintenance
Rilling’s span of control was tightened from 18 to nine direct reports, and almost all of the position titles under Rilling include the word “chief.”
There’s been no movement on creating the contemplated Chief of Community Services position, Burney said Wednesday.
That change was delayed after the Norwalk Branch NAACP objected to merging the Fair Rent, Fair Housing and Human Relations director position with the Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director position.
The Norwalk Branch NAACP is party to a 1986 federal consent decree that created Norwalk’s Fair Housing Office. Adam Bovilsky vacated the Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director position in May to become Norwalk Housing Authority Executive Director. Attorney Anna Keegan has two titles: Civil Rights / Fair Rent Investigator and “Fair Rent Commission.”
Burney told Council members Wednesday that he wasn’t sure what the timing would be on creating the Chief of Community Services position and would ask Rilling and King and get back to them.
The only new position that has been filled is the Chief of Economic and Community Development, he pointed out: Jessica Casey has been in the role for 15 days and is getting her feet wet, he said.
The City was set to hire a good candidate for Chief of Operations and Public Works in November but he “decided to take job in private sector and make some money,” Burney said.
Hempstead asked if the salary is the issue.
“We think in our discussion with the candidates in October-November, that didn’t seem to be the hurdle,” Burney said. He explained that the job could pay $160,000 a year but he expects it to be closer to $155,000.
He took the job listing down for the holidays but it’s back up now and new candidates will probably be interviewed in early February, he said. Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento retired in September. DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns and DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre are sharing the director’s responsibilities, according to Burney.
Ken Hughes has filled the Superintendent of Recreation job and is performing some of the director’s budgeting responsibilities until that slot is filled, Burney said. He added that the City decided not to hire a Superintendent of Public Property and Parks until a director is found.
There are good candidates for a new director and interviews will be held this month, he said.
The Transportation, Mobility and Parking Department, which is under the Chief of Economic and Community Development, has been created and is being led by Kathryn Hebert, formerly Administrative Services Manager, Burney said.
Three finalists for transportation planner, a new Planning and Zoning position, were interviewed and the top candidate will be interviewed by Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin, Burney said. He noted that the new hire will work closely with Hebert.
Much of what’s being done “behind the scenes” is driven by the budgetary process, with paperwork to reconfigure departments positions “reporting-wise in the budget structure to conform with what was approved,” he said.
Burney said that the location of some City Hall offices could also change. He noted the awkward location of the customer service department, on the second floor and down a hallway, next to the Department of Public Works.
“Whether or not that changes is dependent upon a whole bunch of dominoes that may or may not fall into place regarding space and who sits where, and how close bosses are to their direct reports,” Burney said. “Obviously, the best possible scenario is to have bosses and chiefs to sit relatively or proximate to their departments that they are responsible for. That’s not going to be completely possible but we may end up as the year goes on reshuffling some of the offices and locations of departments.”
The Personnel Department, which is on the first floor, may move so that the Chief of Economic and Community Development could be next to the Code Enforcement Department, and maybe the Transportation, Mobility and Parking Department would be in the space now used by Recreation and Parks, down the same hallway, he said.
“That’s all drawing board stuff for now,” he said. “… There’s a whole bunch of potential moves that need to be made but we have to figure out, if we can really do that and if we have the money to do that. Moving is never cheap.”
Hempstead asked, “Has there been any consideration to take a look at the entire building?”
“Yes,” Burney said.
“This is not the mid-80s. Things change,” Hempstead said, referring to the work done 30 years ago to transform the former Norwalk High School into City Hall.
Fair Rent might move across the hall, Burney said.
“You literally have to lay out the whole building and look at your space,” Personnel Committee Chairwoman Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) observed.
Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo and King are working on it, Burney said — in his opinion, no one disagrees with Hempstead.
“Long term, after 30 years, is it time to take a look at the way the building is laid out and bring it up to date? I know it’s very expensive but at the same time,” Hempstead said.
There’s been on grievance filed due to the reorg, from a person in Recreation and Parks, “that has not gone beyond anything other than the filing of a grievance and a discussion,” Burney said, in response to an inquiry from Hempstead.
Council Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) asked when the Council would be able to measure the effectiveness of the reorganization.
“The Mayor will have to weigh in to give you definitive answer,” Burney said. “My answer would be we are still trying to get all our ducks in a row. We don’t have a Chief of Operations and Public Works. The Chief of Economic and Community Development just started. The Director of Recreation of Parks position is still vacant.”
Until those roles are filled and the new hires get “a little bit of the lay of land,” a diagnosis of the issues isn’t possible, he opined.
“Your question obviously is a great question,” he said. “I just don’t have a better answer for you other than we need to fill these jobs and let the people who are going to hold their feet to the fire weigh in on that.”