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McQuaid promises upgrades to Norwalk Town Clerk’s Office

Norwalk Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, left, accepts the Republican endorsement for reelection, last week in the Norwalk Inn. Just down the street, at City Hall, Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis was seeking a Democratic endorsement to run against him.

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.

Republican Town Clerk Rick McQuaid on Wednesday handles election paperwork submitted by Democratic candidate Ari Disraeli. McQuaid asked about Disraeli’s newborn child and informed him that although the baby was born in Stamford, he could issue the birth certificate.

“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.”

14 comments

Tom Keegan July 30, 2019 at 6:12 am

It would take a month of Sundays to find a better man for Town Clerk than Rick McQuaid.

Lisa July 30, 2019 at 6:22 am

I hope everyone remembers the mess that Rick McQuaid had to clean up when he walked through the doors. He worked with Norwalk Police to help uncover who was stealing taxpayer dollars! He did so, with integrity and pride in the City he lives and works. If I were setting my sites on a new gig, I wouldn’t look to take out Rick McQuaid – he’s one of the brightest lights in Norwalk. Could be one of the reasons he’s been cross endorsed, just sayin’

Bryan Meek July 30, 2019 at 6:26 am

Rick is solid. I agree with the commenters. That said, I also agree with Kimmel. But I’ll go one further. The City Clerk’s position should be eliminated and combined into the Town Clerk’s office and then appointed by the Mayor, approved by the council majority. This is how a modern city like Stamford does it. For some reason reorg’s here require adding more headcount, not streamlining operations.

Scott Vetare July 30, 2019 at 6:49 am

Rick is the best of the best! Always willing to help. I think it’s time for Kimmel to come to his senses and realize it’s ridiculous for the mayor, any mayor to be able to appoint this position! Seems like he might have one of his ” good ol’ boys” in mind!?

Stuart Wells July 30, 2019 at 7:05 am

The Town Clerk’s office also has a significant role in elections. The Town Clerk is responsible for all Absentee Ballots (ordering, issuing, receiving and storing until the votes are counted on Election Day). The Town Clerk receives all of the municipal candidates required campaign financial filings, also including the job of reminding, (i.e. pestering) the candidates to file them on time to avoid state mandated penalties for late filing. The Town Clerk prepares numerous other election related forms and reports required by the state, many of them in co-ordination with the Registrars’ office.
We have a great working relationship between the Registrar of Voters’ and the Town Clerk’s Departments now and I have complete confidence that this will continue under Rick McQuaid’s leadership.

John Levin July 30, 2019 at 8:05 am

“District D leader Kay Anderson voted McQuaid, while her husband, Kimmel, voted Barbis.”

I have a marriage like that.

Kevin Fitzgerald July 30, 2019 at 8:46 am

As a former Town Clerk myself. I want the residents of Norwalk or any city or town doing business in Norwalk to understand that the Town Clerk holds many vital responsibilities such as filing land records, liens, property maps and surveys, hunting and fishing licenses, dog license, military discharge records, swearing in others by giving the oath of office to elected and appointed officials and notary publics. The Town Clerk also plays a major role in all city, state and federal elections. The Town clerk is also The registrar of vital statistics including issuing marriage licenses, registering all birth and death records, counter signing all liquor licenses in Norwalk and other miscellaneous duties. The Town Clerk has a learning curve of at least 2 years on the job. I know it was the most difficult position I ever held in my lifetime. I support Rick at this position it is one of the most important if not the most important positions within the City of Norwalk. Rick is doing a great job and should be endorsed by all political parties. This is not a place for politics ever.

Patrick Cooper July 30, 2019 at 10:35 am

Sorry, but I don’t want this “political” mayor making any more “appointments” – in his world view, only those who match his politics – specifically to positions where there should be none. We need less politics in our municipal government – not more.

CAROL July 30, 2019 at 10:51 am

Rick is the best there is. no mayoral appointment that would be the death of the department.
Rick is fair to every one regardless of party,leave the best running office in the city alone.
VOTE RICK McQUAID

Debora Goldstein July 30, 2019 at 12:38 pm

I am sad to see this most nakedly policall position taken by the otherwise extremely diligent Mr. Kimmel.

“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.”

This from the most vocal defender of the charter revision YES position in 2016, including a $75 donation to the YES PAC.

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/11/kimmel-answers-complaint-of-lack-of-education-on-norwalk-charter-revision-questions/

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/05/kimmel-defends-exclusion-of-norwalk-pz-from-charter-revision/

That referendum question not only endorsed election of a Town Clerk but proposed extending the term to four years, rather than have the Council (which Mr. Kimmel was on at the time) recommend whether to examine turning it into an appointed position.

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/04/norwalk-to-get-two-more-chances-to-speak-up-on-charter-revision/

Not to mention that the 2003 Charter Revision was about the merging of the Water and Electric Departments of the Second Taxing District.

Leaving aside Mr. Kimmel’s remarks, the fact of the matter is that this is really about consolidating more control under the “weak” Mayor-“strong” council model.

The “span of control” reorg instituted by the Mayor would have consolidated Town Clerk into another department, but was unable to do so, only because it is an elected position.

Mr. Wells correctly points out that the Town Clerk has a role in elections. He omits the fact that the Town Clerk also facilitates petitioning–including petitions by unaffiliated and minor party candidates, referendum questions, and primary challenges. The fact that this town has universally treated this position as apolitical (by a tradition of cross-endorsing) and that the ALSO ELECTED Registrars work well with it, suggests that this is not a problem that really needs to be solved.

DrewT July 30, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Rick is NORWALK! He loves this City more than anyone I have known in my 14 years here. He has tremendous Pride and Passion for his job. And he is probably one of the nicest people I know and always has a smile on his face. He is GOOD People!

Bryan Meek July 30, 2019 at 1:48 pm

To be clear, I’m not opposed to electing a Town Clerk. I am opposed to having both a City Clerk and Town Clerk on the payroll, when the City Clerk is nothing more than a political position. Stamford does it right combining these functions. We’re stuck in 1913. My position isn’t about the awesome job Rick’s team does, it’s about a government, overall, that still has barely crawled into the 21st century.

Texan1 July 30, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Looks like potential problems with mayor appointing anyone. Political shenanigans? I’m beginning more and more that citizens should be voting on more things that impact the city.

Ed July 31, 2019 at 11:15 am

I see in our neighboring towns that some have a few more elected versus appointed positions. For example in Darien, Board of Finance and Zoning are elected. Perhaps, that’s the way we should go.

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