NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s town clerk should be appointed by the Mayor, not elected, Bruce Kimmel said.
This was the reason Kimmel gave for supporting Mike Barbis’ unsuccessful attempt to get the Democratic endorsement for town clerk last week. Barbis says the nomination “wasn’t planned,” and Republican Town Clerk Rick McQuaid wants readers to know that there are many tech improvements coming to his office, including more records available online.
“We’re in the middle of an upgrade, as we speak,” McQuaid said Wednesday. “It’s been approved by the Council, it’s gone through the law department, it’s already got two out of five modules all hooked in. We’re just waiting to go before the Finance Committee of the Council to have approved a smaller part of it.”
NancyOnNorwalk did not attend the Democratic nominating convention last week, as it was the same night as the Republican nominating convention. The Hour reports that Rowayton real estate appraiser Nora King nominated Barbis for Town Clerk – a surprise, as McQuaid was expected to be cross endorsed, as he has been twice already. A shoo-in.
King is quoted in the Hour as saying that the town clerk’s office hasn’t kept up with the times. “The Mayor needs someone in this role that understands technology and the importance of land use and I feel the two of them would work very, very well together. I don’t know why we’re cross endorsing somebody who’s over at the neighboring bar, having drinks with people who are going to run against our Mayor, right?”
Barbis had also been at the Norwalk Inn, hanging out in the bar before the Republicans endorsed their candidates. He said on his way in the door that the Democratic convention hadn’t started yet, so he came over for a drink.
The Republicans went on to endorse Lisa Brinton, an unaffiliated voter who (like Barbis) also lives in Rowayton, as their Mayoral candidate.
Barbis lost in a 39-10-6 vote, according to information provided by Democratic Town Committee Recording Secretary Colin Hosten. All of Barbis’ votes came from Districts D and E; five of the abstentions were in E, his home district. McQuaid voters included Lucia Rilling, Mayor Harry Rilling’s wife.
District D leader Kay Anderson voted McQuaid, while her husband, Kimmel, voted Barbis.
Kimmel and Barbis both serve on the Board of Education. Barbis is seeking reelection. Town Clerk would have been Barbis’ paying day job, should he have gotten onto the ballot as the Democratic Town Clerk candidate and won election to both offices this fall.
It’s not a matter of Barbis being preferable to McQuaid, Kimmel said Thursday.
“I’ve always believed, going back to the 2003 charter revision, that that office should be treated like a department,” Kimmel said. “And department heads are appointed, by the Mayor, that way we guarantee going forward that we have high quality, competent people that can keep up with all of the technology that’s required.”
“Rick is doing a pretty good job,” Kimmel continued. “But imagine if we had an election to determine who would head our Public Works Department – it creates certain types of problems in the future….. (The Town Clerk) should be appointed. We’re not going to be able to change the charter to make an appointment. So my feeling is both parties going forward should ensure should look to have candidates who have a background… in that area.”
“Bruce and I had a nice visit and I understood where he was coming from on appointed positions,” McQuaid said Monday. “We went over many things about the Town Clerk office.”
It stung to wake up a week ago and read King’s comments, McQuaid said Wednesday. “I had, I believe, I had a good rapport with her. I served with her on Council for a little while.” Although he criticized Barbis for not attending the NAACP Freedom Fund banquet last year, he’s not holding a grudge and doesn’t think Barbis is, either.
King did not reply to a Monday email asking why she advocated for Barbis to be the Town Clerk candidate.
People from both sides of the aisle were calling in support, McQuaid said Wednesday.
“I love my job,” McQuaid said. “I’m nonpolitical. I have helped many candidates, first time candidates, longtime candidates, from both parties, including … the independent party and with the Working Family Party… And I’ve kept it nonpolitical. So you know, there were a few things that were said that I don’t agree with. But you know, we each get to say what we want and we go forward, we’ll see.”
Upgrades to the Town Clerk’s office will give residents fraud alerts, and they’ll be able to look up their information online, McQuaid said. Licensing, tax liens, marriage licenses will be online, “everything will be available. Online, more public friendly.”
Real estate people have made suggestions and, “I think we’ve done a nice job of getting our own grants,” McQuaid said. “We received three grants in the last five years, that are ours, totaling probably close to $25,000, to upgrade our books and allow more public access to see things that we have, like all the birth certificates, death certificates, and, and you know, have access to different books up.”
People don’t understand what the Town Clerk does because they come in for their particular item, say birth certificates or vital records, or hunting and fishing licenses, and don’t see the rest of it, he said. “We can’t be real estate people, because we do land recordings, and we’re a recording office, not a real estate office…you don’t just come in and become a Town Clerk, you have to be certified in a 2.5-year course. And you have to take a test and you have to pass the test, and you become certified by the state.”
“I have the best staff, the best,” he said, commenting that another staff member had just been certified and a fourth staffer is working on certification. “They’re the backbones of it. I mean, I can’t take all the credit. Definitely. So, I think we have one of the best offices and the most personable and customer service offices in a building without a doubt. I mean, people come in here, and we want them coming back for more. It’s a P.T. Barnum theory, and that’s what I brought in the door with me when I came. And, and they have done it.”
“So when, you know, people might say things about what we do, or how we do things, they have come in and see it,” he said. “Because yes they may be right, in certain areas, but they may be wrong in other areas that we’re much for much forward, then people probably realize.”