NORWALK, Conn. – Cutting Norwalk’s expenses and finding ways to make informed decisions were among the topics addressed by Common Council candidates at the recent East Norwalk forum.
At-Large candidates were given the chance to answer questions randomly as the forum wound down. A member of the public asked, and three or four candidates were allowed to answer, if they volunteered.
Incumbent Democrat Warren Peña, Republican Richard Bonenfant and incumbent Republican Doug Hempstead answered this question: “Is anyone here willing to go line by line in the budget and see where the waste is and cut the spending?”
Not possible, Peña said.
“We don’t have line item control,” he said. “That is the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s job, along with the mayor. But as a financial planner, financial adviser, that’s been my theory since day one. Why aren’t we going through annual planning? Why aren’t we going through reviews of each department? Seeing what we can tighten the belt on. I would totally love to be a part of that process, but unfortunately on the council we don’t get that privilege.”
Bonenfant said it sounds simple until you get involved, and find that everything is a debate. Nevertheless, the city does work to save citizens money, for example, by refinancing bonds to get lower rates, he said.
Hempstead said Norwalk doesn’t have too many employees – Stamford has twice the employees but not twice the population, he said.
“I don’t think we’re overly heavy,” he said. “Sometimes I am frustrated, we don’t have enough people. We never had a grant writer until Mayor Moccia came into office and hired one. Could we use three? Yes, but you have to pay for three. I think maybe as the economy turns, we bring some of this development online, it will ease some of the pressure.”
Another person asked about the volumes of materials council members get, even though it is designed as a part time job for volunteers.
“Let us know what your ideas are about how you can do your due diligence, and not just listen to applicant’s experts, just staff,” the citizen asked. “What are your ideas for doing due diligence to make sure that you’re spending our money wisely and efficiently?”
Incumbent Republican Sarah Mann said she is Type A, and reads the thick council packets three times.
The first time she just reads; the second time she writes questions in the margins; the third time she checks to see if the questions are answered by backup materials. Then she calls the committee chairperson or a department head.
“If my question isn’t answered I’m going to call the state or whatever, because if I’m going to be voting on something I’m going to know what I am voting on,” she said.
Republican Joe Kendy mentioned his business experience and said he goes to the top for information.
Republican Glenn Iannacone said, “It all comes down to the committees. … All the legwork that is done in the committees, that’s where you learn everything.”