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Norwalk looks to address long-standing ‘pain point’

A screenshot of the Eproval website.

NORWALK, Conn. — A $28,000 expenditure would end the “onerous process” citizens face when they attempt to arrange a public event in the City of Norwalk, City Clerk Donna King said last week.

“We have found that in 2019, it is actually ridiculous that we have a paper process like this, and we are aware that there is a better way to do this. Not only are we aware, but the public is aware that there has to be a better way,” King said to Common Council members.

The Council Finance Committee went on to unanimously approve a potential year-long contract to use Eproval special permit software; it will go to the full Council for a vote. Not only would it make life easier for PTO leaders and others who organize events, who would be able to get the necessary sign-offs while sitting at home in their jammies, but it would create a master event calendar on the City website. This would be done through a cloud, but Norwalk would own the data.

There have been multiple Facebook posts complaining about the City’s event permitting process. “I have had numerous parents and community leaders express their unhappiness, stress and disbelief at the process to me this past year,” one Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member wrote in October.

“The goal is to take the pain out of the process, not only for the resident or the applicant, but also on the City side,” Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio said Thursday. “There are some events that may require a member of the public to get up to a dozen signatures on a permit, special events permit, and that requires a lot of coordination between departments and communication.”

The search for a better way began last fall, and, “We spent a lot of time going through and looking at what other municipalities had done, how did they address this,” DelVecchio said. Connecticut has a form online that users download, fill out and mail in, but Denver, Colo., and Aurora, Ill., use special permitting software, and “We worked very closely with the vendor. And we were able to negotiate some very good pricing from them.”

Residents will be able to access the forms from wherever they are and won’t have to schlep from one City Hall room to another, a process that King said has justifiably produced “a lot of moaning and groaning” from working folks.

“The signatures will all be done electronically with the workflow behind it,” DelVecchio said. “It’s a much more efficient approach than what we have now. And it does enhance the communication between all the departments, so we don’t have some of the surprises that we’ve had.”

Such as, a road being torn up when 400 people show up as part of a road race, because a water main broke in the middle of the night and the Department of Public Works sought to fix the problem, she said.

There are more than 100 events per year in Norwalk, and the software planning effort has identified 17 event types, “everything from the oyster festival, to a church fair to a religious procession to it’s all over the map,” DelVecchio said. If there’s a tent, code enforcement needs to sign off; if there’s hot food, the Health Department needs to be involved; and if there’s music, the noise ordinance is an issue.

“There’s a lot of back-end work that needs to be done for each of the permit types that exist,” and a task force is forming, “not only of city employees, but some of the common permit pullers for like some of the PTO organizations, and perhaps from Rowayton as well, to participate so that we can all put some focus on this and get it up and running,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen before the end of the year, I really don’t.”

Finance Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) asked how the system will differ from the calendar/event system the Norwalk Public Library uses.

“Some of these events do not take place on city property,” DelVecchio said. “…The library doesn’t require you to have a permit, or perhaps an inspection to be able to reserve that room, or insurance…. there are a lot of moving parts to the special events that go on within the city.”

Council member John Igneri (D-District E) asked if similar progress could be made on construction permits.

Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey is working on that, DelVecchio said.

Igneri said he’s gotten many emails complaining the events permitting process and called this a “great step forward.”

“This is a giant baby step. I know that sounds weird, but it is, it’s a giant baby step,” DelVecchio said. “This is the sort of the one permit, I think, that is the most onerous right now within the city. It’s a pain point for the City Clerk’s department, and it’s a pain point for the residents – we really do push them around the entire city and our schedule to try to get this done. For municipalities that have gone to this type of solution, they find that people find it a lot easier to do business with the city. And that actually brings in more special events, which it can be a revenue generator for the city, maybe not just on the $10 we charge for permit, which is ridiculously low, my opinion. But it also you know it, it’s the other kind of revenue that gets generated the restaurant business, the, you know, the taxi cabs, everything else that goes along with it.”

14 comments

Kevin Kane September 17, 2019 at 8:34 am

It would be interesting to know if a parallel path is being done where by someone is looking at why so many signatures are needed in the first place? It would be a good 1st step to understand the problem, eliminate the duplicity/redundancies THEN find a product solution. Similarly, $28,000 annual fee/ 100 events = $280 per event just to coordinate signatures?

Was Docusign considered? We use Docusign in the private sector at $40 per month per user but note:

“Does everyone signing the document need a DocuSign account?
No, recipients of your documents do not need an account to sign with DocuSign. Your document will be sent via email from [email protected] and recipients can review the document, adopt a signature, and complete the signing process without having a DocuSign account.”

I am thinking 1 user per department x $40 per month…What are there….100 departments? Seems it would be a llllot cheaper and as effective.

Also, for master scheduling there are shared calendar apps, some are free, for anyone to see availability of a Resource such as a building, conference room, playing field, pavilion, etc.

What am I missing?

Bryan Meek September 17, 2019 at 8:35 am

It took 4 additional headcount in the mayor’s office and almost 6 years to figure this out. Welcome to the 21st century.

Bobby Lamb September 17, 2019 at 10:09 am

I think it’s great Norwalk is finally moving into the 21st century. The current process is so cumbersome. Kevin – I’m guessing you’ve never had to get a special event permit – it’s way more than just an issue of collecting signatures. When events involve street closures, serving food, carnival rides, extra public safety – it’s complicated and involved. I’ve spent hours getting permits in the past and am so glad they are finally doing something to make the process better and easier for residents. They’re probably going to save more than 30k in staff time by automating some of this stuff.

Al Bore September 17, 2019 at 10:24 am

It must be an election year so many small things are getting done in so little time. Can we figure out how to make a downtown something we can all be proud of instead of bailing out the banks at the cost of the home owning taxpayers, me and figure out how many more apartment building were going to build to finally make our current government yell uncle and stop. Rethink the walk bridge boondoggle. Overcrowded in traffic in Norwalk the new slogan for our current city government.

Mimi September 17, 2019 at 11:23 am

Agree with Al Bore. All these recent articles reveal that the Rilling Administration is rushing to tick down SIX YEARS worth of departmental operations overhauling and revamping in the last three months before Election Day. What was everyone doing for six years if not all of this? I suppose an expensive glass tile rainbow crosswalk, a styrofoam ban, a Duck Season-Wabbit Season photo op, the continuing Mike Barbis witch-hunt, pretending POKO doesn’t exist and flashing Governor Lamont around as a democratic political prop is supposed to blind us regular folk as to what is really going on.

Something tells me that if a certain individual with a corporate business background was voted in in 2017, many of these antiquated glitches would’ve been addressed in her first three months. Anyone who is/was employed in the corporate sector is full aware that the current state of operations at city hall would be unacceptable there, as there are checks and balances and systems of department/employee accountability in place to ensure that mismanagement doesn’t send their corporations into a downward spiral and lose them revenue. Our city hall? Well, its employees are guaranteed raises without annual performance evaluations!

Time for a change this November!

carol September 17, 2019 at 11:35 am

gee one can tell its an election year-projects are leaping out of the woodwork. how about poko-silence on that one. wake up voters.
LISA FOR NORWALK

Holden Caulfield September 17, 2019 at 11:46 am

The next step in this long overdue modernization should be filming all town halls, council meetings and zoning/planning sessions etc. and posting them on the city’s official website (NOT Facebook). That way residents, who are unable to attend because they are sitting on a delayed train home or caring for their children, could view them and remain informed.

Rusty Guardrail September 17, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Taxpayers have a right to know how much of the Grand List is in dispute. The administration’s concealing of this info is telling.

Adam blank September 17, 2019 at 2:41 pm

I’ve been in on a few meetings over the past year on this permitting issue. The city had to locate possible vendors, figure out which would be best, figure out if the process could be further streamlined, work with the vendor on designing a norwalk specific interface. I don’t see the timing on this having anything to do with elections.

Bryan Meek September 17, 2019 at 4:17 pm

The intention seems good, but it took 5 years and 10 months and how many new hires to figure out that the days of triplicate paper and interoffice mail are over?

Recall $900k walked out of our bank account because of antiquated internal controls. What else is hiding underneath?

It’s time for a complete analysis done by third party management consultants. Government needs to achieve economies of scale and become more efficient. Adding headcount should only be done when capacity is exhausted and measured. You don’t hire someone full time to figure it out. This is management 101.

Bobbie September 17, 2019 at 9:39 pm

Kevin, don’t you now live and vote in Wilton?
And, improving the permitting process, regardless of the reason, is a step forward. Stop knocking progress. The status quo or going back to past practice will not keep the city moving forward. The people who work for the city are, for the most part, hard-working and deserve respect.

Bobby Lamb September 17, 2019 at 10:44 pm

Brian – stop with the false narrative. I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure they just renamed some positions and changed the duties. I think I read he didn’t add any new positions. You guys are so hard up for issues to talk about you’re now left with literally making up things to complain about.

Kevin Kane September 17, 2019 at 11:45 pm

Bobby, I’ve applied for permits before – building for a renovation and renting Cranbury pavilion. The process for Cranbury pavilion was/is (I gave up searching the site) archaic but applicants had to wait for a monthly meeting for the permit to approve. And yes,I live in Wilton but have family and close friends in Norwalk, visit there often and to a degree, care about it still. I welcome your input on Wilton anytime.
My point is that regardless of town, entity or anything having to do with goals, there ought to be SMART objectives: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound. From this report, it seems light on specifics. It would be interesting to see what that process was. Statements such as ” They’re probably going to save more than 30k in staff time by automating some of this stuff.” is precisely what should be avoided. “Probably”….”more than” “stuff”. Was there ONE analysis on ONE permitting process that measured specific problems, what the solution is and what will constitute a “savings” or “a win”? What is the quantifiable savings estimate for Cranbury Park Pavilion Rental procedures? SMART approaches were a core problem on the Bike Walk Task Force I volunteered on – we were constantly drilling down to get what was specific, measurable, and realistic.

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