Council candidates ponder Norwalk expenses, council workload

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.”


6 responses to “Council candidates ponder Norwalk expenses, council workload”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Stamford also has a much bigger infrastructure and commuter population during the day. Like NYC you can’t just speak to the employee to resident population.
    If grant writers manage to successfully attract two $25k grants ayear then they would more or less cover their cost. Moreover having two pr three would allow them to specialize increasing their liklihood of being successful.
    This is how you invest in your own city. Spend a little to get a return on your investment.

  2. EveT

    When will Common Council materials come into the 21st century and be sent out electronically? I heard the Board of Ed switched to electronic about 20 years ago. Is it true the city has an employee whose job is to drive around to Common Council members’ houses to deliver these big packets of reading material every week?

  3. Oldtimer

    Years ago, the council packets were delivered by police officers with a very tight schedule to get them all delivered the required number of hours before the meetings.

  4. Don’t Panic

    Electronic delivery isn’t a magic bullet. Those who think it is have never done meeting packets like this.
    If the materials aren’t prepared on a timely basis or are incorrect they will still be late or wrong in electronic form.
    It doesn’t fix the problem of councilmen and councilwomen who don’t have time to read them or choose not to.

  5. Suzanne

    This is the 21st Century, last time I checked. But even with that, scheduling materials to be prepared and delivered with an appropriate length of time for review by members of the Council seems like a no brainer. Put out the word: after such and such a date before a Council meeting, new materials can no longer be submitted. Figure out how many days it takes to prepare the meeting packets and schedule it. Make a deadline for delivery to Council members that gives them adequate time to review the materials. Presto! No driving around for delivery, no delivery of materials hours before a meeting: boundaries need to be set so these meetings can be held in a realistic fashion. Council members, after all, do have to make decisions that affect the entire town. Their work should be treated with respect, no exceptions, and a calendered schedule for meeting submissions should be broadcast to all (that, I believe, is a part of what the Norwalk City WEB Site is for as well as venues like NON and The Hour.) Submitting the materials through e-mail attachments is how millions of companies operate and, therefore, is not uncommon. If the rest of corporate America can do it, so can the City of Norwalk. No excuses.

  6. piberman

    One can only wonder whether Common Council member Hempstead, serving the City nobly for 3 decades, ever thought of changing matters so the Council would have line item authority on the City’s budget ? Or have any budget controls over individual Departments ? Or whether he ever thought that the BET should have members who have run businesses, been accountants or have had senior level financial experience ? Or term limits for Council members. Or BET members ?
    One wonders whether Mr. Hempstead is discomforted or takes any responsibility for Norwalk having the highest paid municipal workers of any city in the state ? Probably not. One wonder whether Mr. Hempstead sees any connection with our punitive property taxes required to finance excessive City salaries ? Probably not. After all Mr. Hempstead appears comfortable with letting the BET Chair (appointed by the Mayor and seconded by the Council) to handle City financial affairs so the Council can focus on more important matters. Such as assisting NEON.
    It might be a suitable inquiry for Mr. Hempstead to inquire whether any Common Council in any other city in CT delegates its financial matters to a BET ? Or why well run cities have elected Boards of Finance to handle financial matters.
    One wonders how many citizens agree with Mr. Hempstead’s view that the City needs more employees. Long term residents claim the only thing that’s really changed is property taxes and city employee salaries, not services.
    One wonders whether Mr. Hempstead thinks property taxes and municipal salaries are too high or whether he sees any connection between high taxes, high salaries, stagnant property values, stagnant Grand List and reluctance of businesses and developers to invest in Norwalk. Probably not.
    Does Mr. Hempstead have a plan for reducing property taxes ? Or revitalizing our small business community ? Is he against Big Boxes having voted for same over 30 years ? What plans does Mr. Hempstead have for Norwalk ? Is he uncomfortable with City employees averaging almost $100,000 in compensation ? Or legions of $150,000 administrators ? As the longest serving Council member can Mr. Hempstead tell us where we went wrong ? Or are really “protecting our future”? And why did he wait so long before telling us he wasn’t happy about BJ’s application on Rt. 7 ? Isn’t he comfortable with the P&Z’s capabilities ?

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