Updated, 3:35 p.m.: More information.
NORWALK, Conn. – A glistening array of municipal information is now available for you on the City’s website.
The Mayor’s dashboard, unveiled Monday and prominently displayed on the website’s homepage, is described as “an interactive look at the information and statistics that help guide the city” and will reportedly evolve in response to community feedback. Although such dashboards are a developing trend around the country, this one is one of a kind, developed by in-house staff at no cost, Mayor Harry Rilling said.
“We looked at many other cities. Boston, New York, Seattle, San Fran, Los Angeles. We learned from those that we wanted it to be dynamic and regularly updated (not a PDF) like some had. And some had too much data with no context. We didn’t find that helpful either,” Rilling said in an evening email. “This is my unique take on a dashboard.”
“I think it is a great tool for the residents to see progress and track not so progress,” Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said. “The Town Clerk’s office provided information that we hope is beneficial to the public, it is a work in progress so we will be having input on what is working or is needed make it even better. We have some new ideas already we are working on.”
“The Dashboard does not show information grouped by department, instead, it is deliberately sorted into six different areas representative of the fabric of what makes Norwalk a great place to live, work, and visit,” a press release explained. “The Dashboard presents information in a modern way to tell the story of what is happening all around Norwalk. Most of this work occurs behind-the-scenes, and the Dashboard brings that story to life. There are currently over 100 data points that were selected based on feedback from City staff and their experiences interacting with the public.”
Rilling in January 2018 called a dashboard one of his goals for the year but said he couldn’t give an ETA. In an October video, he said, “Each City department has been requested t put together different metrics that they believe are interesting to the people in the community, knowing what’s happening in Norwalk, knowing how efficient we’re being, how effective we’re being. That will be ready hopefully within the next three to four months.”
“I firmly believe in government transparency, and I am thrilled that we can share this information directly with the public,” Rilling said in the Monday press release. “This information was not chosen because it made us look good, but rather, it was what we felt the public would be interested in seeing. The Mayor’s Dashboard is a living product, and we will continually look to add and expand the information as we move forward. I hope the public takes time to explore the Dashboard and will let us know what they think. Their feedback is critical and will help inform where we go next.”
“City dashboards give municipalities the opportunity to brag about successes and explain strategies to fix problems,” ClearPoint Strategy, a company that builds dashboards, states on its website. “As part of that, citizens can see what the city is tracking and measuring, as well as how much progress is being made, which often provides helpful context and reasoning behind different initiatives.”
What does the dashboard show?
One little oddity about the dashboard: it’s showing statistics for 2020. That’s because we’re in fiscal year 2020, which began on July 1. It also looks like it’s saying “OK” in several places, but the “K” refers to “thousands” and the “O” is a zero.
There’s a years’ worth of statistics for 2019 but 2020 is a work in progress, of course. Some segments have two little boxes on the bottom; click one and you get 2018-19 info and click the other for 2019-20.
It shows that there were 5,883 calls to Norwalk Police this July but 5,399 in July 2018. There were 1,851 parking tickets issued in July 2018 and 2,933 this July.
Rilling said he had no specific explanation for the increase in police calls. “Parking tickets is not an apples to apples comparison because this is the first year LAZ patrolled our parks and beaches. We have gotten several questions about this already, so may break out parks vs. on street tickets in next update.”
Construction investment is reported as way up, from $17.5 million in July 2018 to nearly $58.6 million this July. Rilling said that’s attributable to The SoNo Collection, the mall expected to open in October, “and a few other large projects.”
The “A Safe & Welcoming City” page shows rainfall totals, amidst tallies of police and fire calls, fire violations and inspections, crime trends, the number of Health Department laboratory tests and patients served in clinics.
“Rainfall is one of the many things the health department tracks that relates to health and safety of residents,” Rilling said. “It can have impacts on water quality, flooding, shellfishing, swimming, and, as we experienced a year or so ago – drought conditions. We thought it would be of interest to residents.”
Why not post police and fire response times?
“Response times are something we could add in the future if we hear feedback that it’s something people are interested in. We have quite a bit of public safety info on there and the numbers for response times were basically flat … so didn’t seem very interesting. They didn’t make the final cut of what to put on that page.”
Under “fire calls,” the page shows “EMS,” “Fire” and “others.”
“Others” are, “Gas spills, funny odor, false alarm, cat in a tree, etc.,” Rilling said.
The page for “A Fiscally Strong City” shows budget information, the tax collection rate, the City’s bond rating and fund balance – $52.27 million in “2020” and $57.67 million in 2019 – in addition to grand list info and mill rates of neighboring communities.
NancyOnNorwalk asked about the mill rate posting in the context of an election in 76 days, whether other cities provide this information.
“I don’t know of any other Connecticut cities that have dashboards, and we are one of the only states with 169 different towns, all with different tax rates,” Rilling replied. “Mill rate and grand list information are one of the most common things people have questions about. It’s also something very important to people who are thinking about moving their family or business to Norwalk. It is completely relevant and frankly would be odd not to include it.”
The dashboard is an evolving tool, developed with input from department heads and finalized by Rilling’s opinion about what was important to include, Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said. Eventually, the input of up-to-date information will be automated through some intensive back-end website programming, and the City is expecting that over the next few months, the public will weigh in on what they want to see.
Departments will be updating their information monthly until the automated feature is in, she said.
It’s expected to become more interactive, with more historical data added: you should be able to click on the budget and pull up individual departments, according to King.
“The Mayor’s Dashboard is a collection of key statistics, both financial and operational, which show how Norwalk is functioning in an easy-to-understand format for all the city’s citizens,” Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz said in an email. “It did not cost much or take undue amounts of time — most of this data was already being collected by the departments and was just centralized into one collection point. We did not use outside consultants; our excellent IT department (kudos to Karen DelVecchio and Joyce Liu) built the site in-house.”
Director of Recreation and Parks Nick Roberts and Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin confirmed that it’s data already collected by their departments and there isn’t an onerous workload to upload it to the dashboard.
“The Planning Commission has been interested in tracking various metrics so this is a good start to that effort,” Kleppin wrote.
“I’ve worked for other municipalities in the past who have utilized similar dashboard indices to provide the public with real time data. I think it provides transparency to residents and shows that the City is committed to data driven performance and management,” Roberts wrote.
“Norwalk is the only municipality in the state that has anything this comprehensive for its constituents,” Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli said. “This is the future of governmental accountability. Kudos to our Information Technology Department (my colleagues) who were responsible for a lot of the development and data presentation.”