Correction, 9:45 p.m. Feb. 20: Smirniotopoulos was not asked about $1 million reorg; information added. Updated, 3 a.m. Feb. 20: links added; photos of protest; 8:19 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s some political news for you:
- Some question reorg’s pricetag
- YMCA land transfer approved
- Aquarium restructuring approved
- Rock crushing behind Ely is for tennis courts
‘Trying to create controversy with misinformation’
Norwalk officials deny that Mayor Harry Rilling’s reorganization of top administrative staff is costing $1 million a year.
Documents dated Aug. 8 pegged the cost of the reorganization as $188,140; Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton has mentioned $1 million “of staff” and two of her supporters are saying the reorg cost $1 million.
“The claim that the Re-Organization costs over a million dollars is false. It is unfortunate people would try to create controversy by suggesting misinformation,” Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk on Feb. 7.
NoN was inquiring about the cost of the reorganization, approved by the Common Council on Sept. 11, because Donna Smirniotopoulos submitted a letter to the editor, claiming, “the City is understaffed, in spite of the mayor’s reorganization, which added a new layer of high-level management at an annual cost of one million dollars.”
The alleged “$1 million cost to the reorg” has appeared in the NoN comments section as well. Brinton on Dec. 18 left a comment on NancyOnNorwalk, which included the accusation that Mayor Harry Rilling had added “another layer of $1M staff.”
Patrick Cooper also referred to, “the 1 million staff reorganization,” in a Dec. 20 comment on NancyOnNorwalk.
Brinton did not reply to emails sent by NancyOnNorwalk last week asking what she meant.
Cooper declined to comment. Smirniotopoulos said she calculated the $1 million by adding the by taking the top salaries of the “approximately five new positions” that were created.
The Aug. 8 documents, created by then-Finance Director Bob Barron, show $277,409 in additional costs arising from the reorg, mostly from new positions created plus a $36,000 raise for Laoise King in her promotion to Chief of Staff. NancyOnNorwalk reported Sep. 12 that those costs are offset by $96,260 in savings, according to Barron’s tally.
“If each new hire received the top of the salary range and throw in Ms. King’s bump in pay, you get pretty close to $1,000,000 (885k not including benefits),” Smirniotopoulos wrote.
“The claim that the Re-Organization costs over a million dollars is false. It is unfortunate people would try to create controversy by suggesting misinformation. This process was conducted over many months at countless public meetings. A full breakdown of the costs (with a clear summary on page 99) can be found in the September 11 Council packet: https://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/13714
“That clearly shows the net increase was $181,140 – or 0.05 percent of the total $354 million Operating Budget. There has been no change to what was approved by the Common Council.
“Again, whoever is making this claim is just wrong. A plan that would add millions of dollars to the city’s budget would never have been proposed, let alone approved. The approved Re-Org aligned City departments more rationally and efficiently. We will continue to look for ways to eliminate inefficiencies, break down departmental silos, and improve service to the public.”
‘Get that in writing’
The Common Council on Tuesday greenlighted the sale of two slivers of City land to Norwalk Hospital, to allow the hospital’s planned redevelopment of the YMCA property to go forward.
No mention was made of objections voiced by former Council member Richard Bonenfant, a Republican.
“I am not in general in favor of selling off city lands,” Bonenfant said, voicing an understatement.
The proposed mix-use development is promoted as a future community hub that generates jobs and substantial real estate tax dollars through fully taxable real property.
“I hope you hold them to that, get that one in writing,” Bonenfant said. “If you can’t guarantee that the hospital is going to pay full taxes on that, that they won’t turn it into a nonprofit or they won’t come for some locally-sponsored tax break then I think you’re better off just just leasing it to them for $100,000 a year and calling it your property.”
The Council unanimously approved the sale for the appraised value of $950,000. The City will pay the State $176,000 for the release of the deed restriction.
The YMCA parking lot has been used for overflow parking when there are events at Matthews Park, Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.
The hospital has agreed to “execute a mutually agreeable lease agreement for the continued use of the parking lot,” he said.
“We don’t know when they’ll start (construction) but we want to make sure we have access to the property until they do,” Livingston said. “Once they start, we will probably not be able to get into the property… assuming we are not, they have agreed that they will execute upon completion a 99-year lease agreement to provide 50 parking spaces within the parking structure for Mathews Park special event overflow parking.”
Norwalk taking lead in Aquarium renovation
The Council also approved a restructuring of relationships related to the construction of a new 4-D theater for the Maritime Aquarium, a project which also includes new homes for the Aquarium’s meerkats and seals.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is paying the bill because it’s demolishing the Maritime’s IMAX theater as part of its Walk Bridge reconstruction project and the tri-party relationship – State, City and Aquarium – just wasn’t working, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo wrote on Feb. 1.
ConnDOT is on the hook because the City owns the Aquarium and the facility contributes to the public good. Under the federally mandated “functional replacement” program, the agreement is between the State and the City, but Norwalk leaders sought to let the Aquarium take the lead, and arrange for funding to flow directly from the State to the Aquarium, Lo wrote.
As a result, the Aquarium had the responsibility to manage and select contracts, and when the bids came in over budget last fall, ConnDOT put the project on hold to evaluate the project plans and consider redesign options, Lo explained.
“The State determined that the three-party relationship was too complicated and requested the relationship be restructured with the City having full responsibility on holding and managing the expenditure of funds as well as direct responsibility over all contracts necessary for the implementation of this project,” Lo wrote. “Maritime Aquarium will continue to play an integral role in finalizing the revised building program and design and to provide leadership in the coordination of construction activities and aquarium operations during construction.”
The Aquarium’s plans for a state-of-the-art 4-D theater were estimated to cost $34.5 million, Maritime Board of Trustees Co-Chairman Michael Widland said in May.
“The Mayor and city staff agree that a restructuring is in the best interest of the project, as the City has greater expertise and experience in completing large construction projects funded by the state,” he continued. “As the functional replacement agreement has always been between the City and the State with the Aquarium participating by a side agreement, the change in management of the contracts does not increase the City’s exposure to any additional liability or costs.”
Ely rock crushing is for tennis courts
“Grasso Construction, a company known for not being good for Norwalk, has been crushing and screening rocks or concrete behind the Nathaniel Ely School,” a reader wrote to NancyOnNorwalk recently. “The proximity to the school is cause for alarm as crushing concrete generates dust that isn’t good to breathe. I would be appalled if they got approval for such a thing without a big to-do about crushing near a school, not to mention the housing nearby.”
The rock crushing is for two new tennis courts in Springwood Ely Park, to be used by Grassroots Tennis, Lo informed NoN.
“This project is being implemented in collaboration and with financial support from Norwalk Grassroots Tennis and US Tennis Association,” Lo wrote. “As part of this project, we will reconstruct four existing tennis courts, will install two additional tennis courts and two practice/junior courts. The new tennis courts are located in an area where an existing large mount of earth and rock must be removed. The site contractor set up rock crushing equipment as part of the soil screening equipment on site in order to process and reuse the excavated material efficiently on site.”
Woman moved to organize protest
A “fake national emergency” brought up to 50 people to the Stroffolino Bridge, Monday in SoNo.
The protest, organized via MoveOn.org, was inspired by President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border in order to take money allocated for other purposes and use it to fund a wall along the Mexican border, instead of obtaining funds through a congressional appropriation, or making Mexico pay for it.
The “declaration of an emergency that doesn’t really seem to be an emergency” inspired the protest, organizer Batya Diamond said, calling it “an excuse for Donald Trump to be taking money that he’s not necessarily entitled to.”
“It’s up to Congress to appropriate that money,” Diamond said. Protesters turned out to “fight (Trump’s) anti-immigration and racist views to keep people out of this country,” she added.
White House adviser Stephen Miller on Sunday spoke to Fox News in defense of Trump’s wall, saying, “(W)e already have 4,000 troops on the border in light of a national emergency, a decision that was made almost a year ago, as we see an increasing number of people crossing the border as well as increasing violence in Mexico. What the president was saying is that like past presidents, he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as others have; that’s not what he’s going to do.”
Please enjoy this video by Harold Cobin.