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Barron briefs Council on proposed Norwalk reorg’s financial impact

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron speaks to the Common Council Ad Hoc Committee, Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — The financial aspects of Mayor Harry Rilling’s proposed government reorganization were unveiled Monday by Finance Director Bob Barron.

It’s four plans now, as an additional one was added Monday, Barron said. Budget increases vary from $36,600 to $261,600, depending on how many positions are added and salaries adjusted. Increased operational efficiencies are factored in, but it’s a conservative estimate, according to Barron.

“I think all of us personally believe there’s a great more quantifiable savings,” Barron said, explaining that $96,260 had been factored into the analysis as expected savings from combining the Recreation and Parks Department with the Department of Public Works because the city wouldn’t have to outsource tree removals. This is in the analysis because the department heads have made a commitment that the expenses will be eliminated, he said.

Rilling sat in the audience of the Common Council chambers as Barron and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King answered a few questions from Council members, before the Committee moved to an executive session to discuss possible personnel changes. There to discuss their positions, during the private session, were Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento, Acting Recreation and Parks Department Director Ken Hughes, DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre and DPW Road Supervisor Jose Ortiz.

The proposal presented May 7 to the Council – with a goal of implementation by July 1 – aims to “align city resources and employees in to a more rational and efficient organizational structure that represents the needs and functions of a modern city,” reducing the Mayor’s “direct reports” from 20 to nine. Three of the four proposals include merging DPW with Recs and Parks, Barron said Monday.

Council members pushed back on the July 1 target date, asking Barron if it would create problems if the changes were implemented during the fiscal year.

Barron said it wouldn’t, as, “As soon as whatever scenario is approved we will transfer the money into the new organizational structure as needed.”

Council President John Kydes (D-District C), chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, observed that the chief positions that would be created would answer to the Mayor, and as an election nears candidates would be hesitant to take the jobs due to uncertainty about who their boss would be.

Council members have complained that the proposal was presented without backup documentation of costs. Barron presented spreadsheets for each of the four proposals, plus two summary documents.

Norwalk currently runs with 18 departments with 629 full-time employees earning $53.2 million, the talking points say. Under each proposal, there would be nine departments with 630 to 631 FTE employees.

The Assistant to the Mayor would become a Chief of Staff under the proposals, with responsibility added for the City Clerk, grants and customer service groups; the salary would increase by $36,000, according to the “reorganization talking points” document presented by Barron to the Committee, citing “external and internal equity considerations” as the reasons for the salary increase.

King made $104,897 in 2017. The talking points mention that $32,500 was saved by rewriting the grants coordinator position and lists outside salaries:

  • Stamford Chief of Staff $162,000
  • Bridgeport Chief of Staff $132,400

The Chief Financial Officer would have the additional responsibilities of Information Technology and would get a salary increase of $9,400, the talking points state. The Superintendent of Recreation and Parks would get a salary increase of $19,500 due to increased responsibilities as Superintendent of Public Property and Parks, under proposal one.

The newly created Chief of Economic and Community Development would make $140,000 and the newly created transportation planner would be paid $85,000, under proposal one.

There are four employees being supervised by the Redevelopment Agency but paid for by city grants, King said, explaining that the proposals would keep them in the city budget but they’d be supervised by the city.

Former Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker was working out of the Mayor’s office but paid for out of Redevelopment, and focused on working with businesses, trying to attract businesses and doing a lot of tourism work, King said, explaining that the position is being reimagined to be “much broader” than the former position.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) asked why Redevelopment isn’t being moved to be under economic development.

It’s a quasi-governmental agency and the goal is to rearrange the Mayor’s direct reports, King said.

Proposal two would create a recreation manager at $109,400 a year while eliminating the athletic supervisor’s salary of $78,400. Proposal four would pay the Director of Recreation and Parks and Public Property $6,500 less than proposal two and would not create a Superintendent of Public Property and Parks.

Variations include 102 employees under the newly created Chief of Public Works and Operations in proposal one, 107 employees in version two, 83 employees in version three and 106 employees in proposal four. There would be 55 employees under the Chief of Community Services in proposal one, 51 in proposal two, 75 in proposal three and 51 under proposal four.

King also addressed an editorial written last week by Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel, who suggested that BoE functions and city functions could be combined.

“There probably are efficiencies that we could achieve working with the ‘Board of Ed,’ combining certain committees and functions, but this is step one in the process, which is to get the employees who are currently reporting to the Mayor in a more organized and logical setup,” King said. “Once we get that going we could tackle the other things that could probably improve upon.”

reorg impact summary May 21, 2018

reorg current FTEs May 21, 2018

reorg proposal 1 May 21, 2018

reorg proposal 2 May 21, 2018

reorg proposal 3 May 21, 2018

reorg proposal 4 May 21, 2018

15 comments

Lisa Brinton Thomson May 22, 2018 at 5:58 am

Doesn’t the word ‘efficiency’ usually imply savings and not ‘budget increases [that] vary from $36,600 to $261,600, depending on how many positions are added and salaries adjusted.’

Why is it that the Rilling administration only knows how to add staff, increase salaries or give away tax payer money?

Patrick Cooper May 22, 2018 at 7:40 am

Sometimes an analogy helps cut to heart of the matter.

I’m a private investor. By no fault of my own, I’m provided an investment adviser – “Harry” – who promises to move my portfolio forward. After 5 years, the net result of his efforts is – my principle is down significantly, my fees are going up annually – and I come to find out – he’s actually not doing much of the thinking or investing. It’s his assistant. (you google him only to find – he has never passed the series 7, has no financial background whatsoever, and actually – in his life he’s never had to hit a P&L target without the benefit of the “investor’s bailing out repeated failures). Then he comes to me – and says – we are rearranging the office – now I’ll have a better window seat, my assistant gets a bigger office and higher commissions – and we just need you to send in more for us to invest.

Would you retain this financial advisor?

Why on earth do we trust Harry with our money?

Bryan Meek May 22, 2018 at 7:46 am

Norwalk Public Schools have 65 fewer employees since the Mayor took office and more reductions are coming very shortly due to the budget reductions forced on the schools. The Mayor has added 8 positions and counting to city government. His last campaign was on the success of the school system and his support for it, not growing city government.

Having to be dragged into building schools when the city’s population is growing from the 1000s of taxpayer subsidized apartments you are cramming into the city is not an accomplishment, it’s the duty of leadership. But, I don’t expect the independent journalist to ever connect the dots here. This is the essence of fake news.

John E. Tobin May 22, 2018 at 8:20 am

Correction: The first sentence in the story should read:
The financial aspects of Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King’s proposed government reorganization were unveiled Monday by Finance Director Bob Barron.

“Rilling sat in the audience of the Common Council chambers as Barron and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King answered a few
questions from Council members”

Bryan Meek May 22, 2018 at 11:13 am

To be fair, the city of Hartford employs 1326 outside of education. Their population is roughly 123,000 and falling. Their city side budget was $375 million not including education ($938 million total). Ours, for a city of almost 90k, is roughly $150 million ($340 million total) Pound for pound Hartford is spending an extra $100+ million a year on God knows what and from our wallets.

Governor Malloy is going to give another $500 million of our money to bail out Hartford’s corruption and ineptitude. Why do Bob Duff, Chris Perrone, and Bruce Morris continue to support this insanity?

To save money a reorg makes sense, but it should be done with outside professional expertise for a fresh perspective. With all due respect to Ms. King, her experience from New Haven is from a city that is marginally more effective than Hartford. Best practices might be abound, but an independent analysis should be sought. And again at the end of the day, how many problems would go away if we weren’t getting the shaft from our state government?

We need this government to work for all of us, not just the politically connected towns and cities that are bleeding us dry. It forces us to continue fighting each other for what should rightfully be ours. Our roads are in the worst shape they’ve been in for years. Trees are not being trimmed leading to extensive power outages that could be avoided.

For example, can anyone answer me why we can’t cut one of the 10 widow-makers down that are hanging over Wolfpit ave? This is a disaster waiting to happen and our outsourced tree trimmers are no where to be found. How would DPW be more accountable given there are labor relations to work through? Why are we cutting trees down in parks before on critical thoroughfares? Does the Outsourced tree trimmer determine this? Who is running things now? Can we start there before figuring out how it is going to be run in the future? It seems we don’t even know right now.

James Cahn May 22, 2018 at 2:12 pm

I love the idea of eliminating redundancy, cutting employees and creating a more efficient City Hall.

However, I’m not entirely clear on why we’re letting the patient diagnose itself, here. Are they unaware that there are consultants who do exactly this type of work? Why haven’t we engaged one of them? We seem to be able to hire Stanec every time Redevelopment needs an opinion on the flavor of the K-Cups in the break room coffee machine. Why no real firm, here?

As suggested by Lisa Brinton Thomson, the narrative that, “This will either save us money and /or cost us $36,000….unless it costs $260,000” gives the appearance of an awful lot of guessing and stumbling around in the dark.

Maybe I’m giving Rilling and his crew more credit than they deserve? Is the real goal here not really creating efficiencies and streamlining what’s there but just hiring more people to the staff and figuring out a way for Laoise King to get a raise?

It seems awfully convenient that of all uncertainty and the numbers we can’t really nail down just yet, the one number we’re certain of is the proposed compensation for the new “Chief of Staff” position…..which, purely coincidentally is almost exactly the same as the current compensation for our mayor.

jlightfield May 22, 2018 at 2:25 pm

I don’t get why there is so much criticism about a process that engaged with current city employees to figure out a way to better manage and organize workflows for the city. Either you philosophically agree that any mayor is the chief executive of the city, or you don’t.

The new positions, a Chief of Economic and Community Development, and a transportation planner are areas that have been identified as needing much improvement.

Remember all the times people complain that we need traffic studies, and then when traffic reports are delivered, there are claims that they are wrong? Now we see a path towards having the city’s traffic needs addressed proactively and infrastructure improvements identified long before a development project hits the boards and commissions.

Bill Nightingale May 22, 2018 at 7:02 pm

Shouldn’t this reorg abolish the Redevelopment Agency especially if we are creating a director of community development?

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 22, 2018 at 7:36 pm

@jlightfield, you raise an interesting point about the mayor as the chief executive of the city. Norwalk has a “weak” mayor/“strong” council system of government. He in fact needs the Common Council’s permission to reorganize the departments at City Hall. If he were a “strong” mayor, he’d be the chief executive you refer to. So philosophically, no one agrees that the mayor is the chief executive of the city. If we did, we’d have revised the Charter by now, and we’d have a “strong” mayor system. In fact, the citizens are so wary of empowering the office of mayor that they turned down—decisively—the four year mayoral term in 2016.

Whether or not the Common Council approves the proposed reorganization—whichever version at whatever cost, the only certainty as this point being the Chief of Staff’s salary it seems—the greatest needs of the city will not be addressed by these changes, namely Charter Revision and the realignment of Planning & Zoning with appropriate updates to the codes to make it easier to do business here.

Sue Haynie May 22, 2018 at 7:41 pm

@Nancy on Norwalk, Danbury Chief of Staff’s salary is $86,238 ( 1/2 of Stamford). Danbury mirrors Norwalk in size, demographics and growth.

Norwalk ‘saved’ $36K by eliminating a grant writer & plans on using $36K to increase Ms. King’s (chief of staff) salary by $36K to $140,000. Is that Ms. King’s idea of New Haven-style efficiency?

SALT-ravaged cities like Norwalk have no one to blame but themselves. The rest of the country gets ‘efficiency’ by streamlining government; Norwalk adds titles, staff, salaries, costs. Where are the accountability goals, the savings metrics and lots of examples of how this will benefit residents and taxpayers?

Sue Haynie May 22, 2018 at 8:05 pm

Thank you Nancy, I was mistaken.

Why does Norwalk’s assistant to the mayor/chief of staff need to get paid almost $100,000 more than Danbury’s?

Is this the reason why Ms. King is in such a hurry to get something passed?

Jlightfield May 23, 2018 at 6:30 am

@Donna yes a strong council/weak mayor system means that the a Mayor is required to get spending and contract authorizations from the council. I guess that goes back to days of colonial expectations that each and every expense should be reviewed by part-time citizens. The charter should ultimately be updated to reflect modern accounting systems and budgeting. However, the charter defines the original employment roles for when Norwalk consolidated, and sets a process by which to have the council authorize new employment roles. It does not speak to how reporting lines are set, and for that, clearly the chief executive should define how direct reports are organized etc. Previous mayors have set up “authorities” and “agencies” outside the financial authority of the council to get past the financial authorizations.

I think a simple reorganization of departments and reporting structure is a cleaner way to go, and the council should not hesitate to support this alignment given that they have no direct oversight, review or method of holding departments accountable for operations other than authorizing contracts and funding. What we have now is not a teneable management system, and it is long past the time to try something new.

Townie May 23, 2018 at 3:36 pm

When looking into how other things are run by the government in Danbury, I discovered:
The schools have more students, but far less staff. All while dealing with very similar (often more severe) demands. School salaries for both certified and non are less than Norwalk. All classroom assistants ( even those in kindergarten) are full time……not 25 hrs like Norwalk. Danbury has consolidated services, like building maintenance for all public buildings…not a separate school maintenance dept like Norwalk. Danbury schools are cleaned by their own staff, but with far fewer than Norwalk. And it is said they are cleaner. Danbury DPW has almost 50% fewer workers, while handing the identical work tasks that Norwalk DPW does. BTW….was told Danbury assigns only one employee per truck and a snow plow, while Norwalk has 2. Danbury does not pay for uniforms. Why does Norwalk need double the staff, a driver and assistant assigned every vehicle and full free uniforms? This information was easily obtained by just talking with a guy I know that works for the City of Danbury.

Bryan Meek May 24, 2018 at 8:28 am

Hopefully the new management team will figure out how we can cut the grass on Knowalot lane that is now over 2 feet tall and filled with ticks. Don’t worry, the kids can just brush them off before they get bitten. I wonder what changed from just a few years ago when the city was always on top of keeping these pathways cleared? Also why is Grasso replacing perfectly good storm drains on side streets while ignoring the collapsed ones on main arteries? How does a new management team resolve these problems? The last time someone tried to hold staff accountable for results they ended up on the unemployment line. If labor runs the show, does it matter how many managers you hire?

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