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Council ratifies new Norwalk Police contract 13 to 1 as Watts decries lack of diversity, high paychecks

Norwalk Council meeting 2015-0113 011315 092
Norwalk Police Sgt. David Orr, president of the Norwalk Police union, talks to the Common Council Tuesday in City Hall. Listening is Personnel Director Emmet Hibson.

Correction Wednesday, 9:25 a.m.: A missing word was inserted in a Bruce Kimmel comment about the relative dangers of police work vs. other occupations. Also, addition information was added as to why Eloisa Melendez recused herself; 2 a.m. Thursday, Sgt. Orr, not Detective Orr.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s difficult for the average Norwalk citizen to understand how a city police officer could make $197,000 in a year, Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said Tuesday, before becoming the only Council member to vote against a contract other Council members described as “very fair.”

The contract with Norwalk Police Department, which is effective from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016, calls for a 2 percent raise in its first two years and a 2.25 percent raise in its last year, but is balanced by savings in health benefits. “The impact of total wages and benefits is only 1.8 percent this year, 1.9 percent the next fiscal year and 1.5 the following fiscal year,” Councilman John Igneri (D-District E) said. “I think that is very good, it helps the city keep expenses down.”

The vote was 13 to one, as Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) recused herself because her father is a retired police officer.

Negotiations started in 2013. Norwalk Police Sgt. David Orr, president of the Norwalk Police union, said the union voted 117 to 20 to approve the contract.

“We view this contract as a fair deal, where the union’s benefits for the most part have been maintained,” Orr said. “We feel as though the concessions made by the union, in recognition of some of the pending hardships by the city in reference to medical care and pension costs, have satisfied their needs as well.”

Norwalk Council meeting 2015-0113 011315 099
Norwalk Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A) , left, reacts to what he called “hyperbole” in a discussion about the Norwalk Police contract, a reference to police officers putting their life on the line. At right is Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large).

In 2014, Norwalk Police officer Russell Ouellette made $213,076.63, Lt. Ashley Gonzalez made $197,924.44 and officer Paul Larsen made $191,863.62 by working special duty assignments and overtime shifts in addition to their full-time employment. Most special duty assignments, or “dirt jobs,” are paid for by outside contractors.

Watts said he didn’t want to seem insensitive on a very sensitive subject, but it was a matter of a contract and payroll. “This is very painful for us to do because we love and respect our police officers,” Watts said.

Watts used the word “us,” although he was the only Council member to vote no after conferring with a nodding Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) often in the discussion.

“I don’t think Norwalk can afford this contract. Matter of fact, I think that there needs to be some reining in spending,” Watts said.

His other issue was the lack of minority police officers, especially in the upper ranks. Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) echoed that sentiment, saying that she was a member of the Personnel Committee and had seen all the changes in the contract, but felt that they didn’t go far enough. Police should have body cameras and the department’s diversity should reflect the community, she said.

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) said that eight of the last 20 officers hired by the department are African-American or Hispanic, a fact that Mayor Harry Rilling later confirmed. Four of them are women, McCarthy said. “I do think that the hiring practices we have in place are resulting in a police force that is representative of this community,” McCarthy said.

“I agree, we do have fewer people in the upper ranks, we are always taking a look at that,” Rilling said.

Personnel Committee Chairman Glenn Iannaccone (R-At Large) said the contract will save Norwalk $80,000 in this fiscal year and $200,000 in fiscal year 2015-16. This is due to health insurance premiums reform, he said.

“The bulk of the changes affect the new hires which I feel is the fairest way to apply major benefit changes,” Iannacone said. “So I think this is a good contract.”

“The net cost to the city each year of this contract under 2 percent.  Lower than most contracts in the last decades. So this is really, really a great contract from the perspective of taxpayers,” Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.

The contract calls for “a decent salary increase, although personally I don’t get it, I think police are underpaid when you compare them to other jobs,” Kimmel said. The starting salaries of police officers “are either under or equivalent to jobs that are not nearly as dangerous or socially significant,” Kimmel said.

Watts looked incredulous, and leaned over to talk to Simms, who appeared to agree.

Watts said that 37 of the 100 top-compensated Norwalk city employees are police officers. Minority members should have that opportunity, too, he said, “Norwalk continues to make excuses,” he said.

While acknowledging that the high pay stems from overtime, much of which isn’t paid for by the city as it comes from outside contractors, Watts asked Personnel Director Emmet Hibson how so many Norwalk Police officers could be earning so much money.

“The simplest answer to that one is that 37 out of 100 for a police department is probably not as high as you think, when you look at the other towns,” Hibson said. “… That’s not a problem that plagues only Norwalk, that’s a problem that most cities have.”

Hibson suggested that other towns have 40 to 45 police officers in their top 100. Rilling said 80 of Stamford’s top 100 earners are police officers.

“The issue is are we giving increases that are outside the norm,” Hibson said. “I will tell you at 2, 2.5 percent for salary that our increases are extremely fair.”

Kimmel asked Hibson what the base salary is for police officers, and was told that officers start at $61,420. The maximum salary is $74,747 and it takes six years for an officer to reach that top step, Hibson said.

Kimmel said a starting police officer qualifies for affordable housing in Norwalk. A teacher will max out at $100,000 to $120,000 a year, Kimmel said. “We have an interesting issue here about public safety and how we look at public safety,” Kimmel said.

“This is just the way Norwalk tends to do business,” Watts said. “Just go along to get along and this contract is just more of the same. It’s a shame because this could have been the opportunity for both sides to come up with reform.”

He mentioned a civilian review board.

“I won’t be supporting this contract because I don’t think it goes far enough to control spending but I just want to say on the record that I support the Norwalk Police Department,” Watts said.

Watts had tried to get the Council to go into executive session to discuss the issue. Although the agenda called for an executive session, Iannacone said that it was optional. It was obvious that there wouldn’t have been enough votes to go into executive session. Iannacone said after the meeting, after being asked the question by this reporter, that Watts could have attended the Personnel Committee’s executive session last week and asked his questions there, although he is not on the committee.

Norwalk Police Contrct 2010-2013

Norwalk police contract  (summary of changes)

Updated, 6:30 a.m., Orr comment added.

Comments

30 responses to “Council ratifies new Norwalk Police contract 13 to 1 as Watts decries lack of diversity, high paychecks”

  1. John Hamlin

    A real problem is that overtime earnings are part of the pension calculation, so a few years of working massive overtime can mean a huge increase in pension liability for the city. An unnecessary expense.

  2. Harry Rilling

    Mr. Hamlin: You are incorrect sir. Overtime is not calculated into an officers pension. Only their base salary is used to calculate retirement benefits. You can verify that by reviewing the appropriate clause in their bargaining aggreement

  3. Tony P

    Love how Kimmel brings up teachers and how they ‘max out’ at 100k to 120k. While I am an educator (in a neighboring town), teachers have no chance at overtime. And you ‘max out’ once you take anywhere between 60-90 graduate credits above a bachelors – outlaying the money on your own in order to get that raise. It’s an apples to oranges comparison, and it takes 15-20 years to get to the top of teachers pay scale – not 6 years. Wish he hadn’t brought out the comparison. Would also be interested to see if Norwalk has hired any veterans – would be nice to know that the PD is taping into that great resource.

  4. M. Murray’s

    It should be relatively easy in this computerized age to separate salary and overtime from extra work. Most of the income above base pay is extra work, or money paid to the police department for hiring police officers for traffic duty. On top of paying the officers, the contractor also pays the city a fee for using these police officers. The city should divulge how much money is paid to them in these fees and it would give a clearer picture how much money the city takes in for allowing the use of these officers. Several years ago it was approximately 8% on top of what the contractors paid the officers.

  5. Suzanne

    They are worth every penny.

  6. dawn

    Let’s not fool ourselves.

    The cost of paying the police officer is working into the initial contract worked out to do the work.
    Front ways or back ways, the city or state does pay the price.

    I do not begrudge paying the officer, but lets not pretend our tax dollars are not footing the bill.

  7. Bruce Kimmel

    A few points not in the story:

    In Norwalk, police officers add to their relatively low base salaries in two ways: so-called extra work, such as directing traffic at construction sites, and traditional overtime. It is important to note that all of the wages generated by extra work are paid by private companies and not taxpayers, and that much of the overtime, such as special drug enforcement operations, DUI duty, etc., is paid for by state and federal grants. At last night’s meeting, there was a $7 thousand police overtime item paid for by the Treasury Department; it was for a joint drug enforcement operation.

    Of all the wages beyond base salaries that are paid by the city to police officers, only 8% are for overtime (and much of that is paid by the U.S. Treasury Department.)

    Also of importance, the city receives 15% of the extra work money paid to police officer by private companies as “administrative costs.” And this totals roughly $500,000 per year.

    And finally, in the story above: The word “not” was left of a sentence I said. The other jobs are “not nearly as dangerous or…”

    Editor’s note: The missing word has been inserted as of 9:25 a.m.

  8. M. Murray’s

    And Dawn, it is important to realize that those charges in the initial contract are generally there whether an officer is hired or not. Many area towns and cities in this area have an ordinance that a police officer must be hired on any road construction (norwalk does not). Even if they don’t hire or pay for a police officer, they charge those fees.

  9. Susan Wallerstein

    Agree Tony P, unnecessary apples & oranges comparison. Besides pensions are administered by state teacher retirement sysrem (not the city) and CT teachers cannot retire from one CT town and then go to work in another,, other than on very limited short term basis.

  10. EastNorwalkChick

    I agree with M. Murray, overtime pay should be broken out from actual base salaries when the top 100 pay list is publicized. It seems to muddy the water and leads to a lot of confusion and is used as a weapon for some trying seek headlines/attention.

    Mr. Kimmel, you state that 15% of extra work is from private companies. So does that mean 85% of the extra work is for State and City contracts that is paid for by our tax dollars? If so, we need to think about whether it is worth it to drive on decent or crappy roads or have worn out gas lines and sewers replaced when it comes to paying our officers overtime at construction sites. People seem to want the best in this City, but don’t want to pay for it.

    Also, thank you Mayor Rilling for clarifying that pensions are calculated on actual base salary and that no overtime pay is included. That’s another myth that seems to be making the rounds and used routinely come election season as fodder to stir things up.

    When it comes to police, fire and teachers, I believe in paying them a good salary. They are the ones who are on the front lines for us and do the most for this City and it’s residents….and for the rest of City employees, especially the administration positions within City Hall, I believe they definitely need their salaries looked at and brought in line with the real world. You want to cut cost, look there, not at the ones who we need the most.

  11. Bruce Kimmel

    Please read what I wrote: Ninety-two percent of police “overtime” is extra work paid by private companies. Of that amount, the city receives 15% for administrative costs. The last couple of years, that 15% equaled roughly $500,000.

    Regarding teachers: Police officers can not rely solely on their maximum base salaries, especially if they work the regular day shift, in order to live in Fairfield County, send their children to college, etc. The top base salary for the day shift qualifies an officer for affordable housing. Also, I believe teachers are underpaid, too, especially in their early and middle years. Many teachers work summer school, after school programs, or on jobs totally outside the profession.

    During the discussion of the contract, we realized there were lots of folks in city hall, and I’m not talking about department heads but folks with relatively minimal responsibilities, that make more than many police officers.

    Also, it has been a goal for the city for a number of years to increase employee contributions for health insurance and pensions, and this contract does exactly that. That is why the net cost of the contract for taxpayers is under 2%.

  12. Bill

    @Bruce Kimmel, they only qualify for “affordable” (i.e. subsidized) housing because people like you think the rest of us in the middle class of Connecticut should pay for others housing. If you cannot afford to live here move to Florida. The market will sort out what someone should be paid and what kind of housing they can afford. It should not be up to people like you to set pricing for wages or housing prices.

  13. piberman

    Would Councilman Watts demand that all City employment including our school teachers also reflect the racial complexity of the Ctiy rather than competence/qualifications as the primary hiring criteria ? City residents most likely affected by crime might want competence/qualifications, not racial preference, as the primary requirement in local policing. Or since crime in our City mostly affect certain communities would Councilman Watts demand that only members of those communities serve as police officers ? Is Councilman speaking for himself, a specific community or some other group ?

  14. John Frank sr

    Watts feels he must complain about the lack of high ranking minority officers to satisfy the people who voted for him, and he is entitled to say whatever he wants. If he took a serious look at the problem he would soon find out how many minority officers will not take promotional tests, for many reasons. Some are related to losing seniority as an officer if you get promoted, with no assurance how long it will take to earn the seniority to get back to working the day shift. Another is a lack of confidence in how they may do in the tests. A lot of people are afraid of tests, generally, and afraid to compete with officers they believe have done more studying. Even officers who have demonstrated the skills to get promoted to detective generally are not eager for the responsibilities that attend the next promotion and can easily earn the extra money working some overtime. Some of the best officers I ever met would not take tests for promotion. I speak from experience, after retiring from the Norwalk Police Dept, as a captain, after 24 years and 8 as union president.

  15. John Frank sr

    We had a large family and qualified for food stamps while I held the rank of sergeant in the police dept. We could never had owned our home in a nice neighborhood without substantial help from both our families.

    Most officers have too much pride to ask, but many probably qualify now for some public assistance. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Imagine, there was a time before there was a police union, when officers were required to work a lot more hours, without time and a half overtime, and could not retire before age 60. 60, in my opinion, is too old to be a police officer. Both time and a half overtime and a lower retirement age were negotiated while I was union president.

  16. Oldtimer

    Doesn’t the chevrons on Orr’s uniform indicate he is now a sergeant, a higher rank than detective ?

  17. Scott

    Mr. Kimmel I appreciate your opinion on the cost of living I Fairfield County and I hope you remember that statement when it comes to handling the contracts of other bargaining units. A lot of people feel that municipal employees ate overpaid but when compared to the cost of living here there isn’t as much left at the end of the month as people think. If I were a single income household I would need assistance. But there are people far worse off who work hard but can never get ahead. I am thankful everyday to have a good job

  18. John Hamlin

    I take the mayor’s comment as authoritative on the subject of the pension calculation and overtime — I appreciate the correction. I also believe that we should pay our police, firefighters, and teachers more than we do — we need the best in those positions — but we should also expect accountability and performance in exchange for higher salaries.

  19. LWitherspoon

    One can support the Norwalk PD, as I do, and still have questions about this contract.

    Many of the the city unions have seen wage freezes for one or more years. Have the Norwalk PD ever done so?

    Does the contract maintain the existing incentives for healthy, experienced offers to “retire” and work in law enforcement for another CT town or the State PD? Is it in Norwalk’s best interest to continue this practice which I believe encourages our most experienced officers to leave?

    Lastly, I believe NoN and the Hour have reported on other city union contracts in which the negotiated savings on benefits mostly made up for the cost of wage increases. This contract contains nowhere near that level of savings. Why?

  20. Wake Up Norwalk

    HELLOOOO OUT THERE!! The fire department has a growing problem with diversity, let’s discuss that and get our heads out of the sand. Chief has been here ten years and wants a contract extension for more time to create an all white department in our community. How come no politicians are discussing that, scared?

  21. WOW just WOW

    I am amazed that some are still posting the spin that the taxpayer is not paying for the police at construction sites. The fact is that the taxpayer is paying every penny of this waste.
    The bid/contract for city construction jobs has a line item for traffic control . This includes both the amount of hours and the dollar amount (police up to $85.98 per hours plus a city car and city gas)(flagmen about 22 bucks an hour and NO city car and NO city gas.) When it is a utility project this extra cost of flagmen vs police officer is included in your utility rate structure. Also as far as the 15 percent surcharge the city collects this barley pays for the car and gas. When you keep in mind that we the taxpayer are paying 100 percent of this police overtime to collect 15 percent this just adds insult to injury.

  22. WOW just WOW

    While reading the contract summary I noticed it brings up the tattoo policy . Does anyone one know what the details are? I am hopeful that they will be no longer be allowing these cops that think its acceptable to be sleeved in tattoos. It looks completely unprofessional .

  23. John Rambo

    Yes, Oldtimer, The chevrons indicate that Orr is a Sergeant.

  24. THE TRUTH

    John Frank
    I don’t think police of today in Norwalk making 6 figures qualify for assistance.

  25. Non Partisan

    NYC- a lot more expensive place to live than Norwalk CT- with a very long waiting list of applicants
    NYPD Starting Salary (out of the Academy) = $46,288
    5years of service= $69,005. Im glad to see we are so generous.

    BTW- if a city construction contract requires that you hire a city employee and pay their OT rates for them to direct traffic for that contract I fail to see how this is not paid by the taxpayers. I also cant fathom why the city would inflate the costs of construction and use a police officer to do the work of a $22/hr flag man.

  26. M. Murray’s

    Unlike most towns around us, Norwalk does not have an “open hole” ordinance, meaning that the contractors are not obligated to hire officers instead of flag men. They chose to do so. Many of the utilities automatically put the cost of an officer in the contract regardless of whether they use an officer or a cheaper flag man.

  27. Tecdaddy

    Didio Non Partisan, I was thinking the same thing.

  28. WOW just WOW

    M Murray
    You say
    Many of the utilities automatically put the cost of an officer in the contract regardless of whether they use an officer or a cheaper flag man.

    It seems like you are using a bit of a play on words here.
    Utilities do not submit a bid/contract to the city. They simply pass along any costs as rate increase. So the taxpayer would be paying for the higher cost of a cop vs a flagman in higher rates.
    Also you state

    Even if they don’t hire or pay for a police officer, they charge those fees.
    If you are referring to a city projects bid/contract you are incorrect as the construction companies do not get to charge for one thing (police) and supplied another (flagmen). Traffic control is a line item in the bid/contract and whatever is billed is what is supplied. Otherwise as I am sure you are aware as a retired police officer that would be fraud which is a crime.

  29. WOW just WOW

    Bruce Kimmel may want to check facts next time before ne wastes the taxpayer money. He seems to believe that police should be making 6 figures do to the danger of their jobs.. Time for a fact check

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2014/01/15/these-are-the-top-10-most-dangerous-jobs-in-the-u-s/

    Police are not even in the top 10 of most dangers jobs. When reading this list you will see that all but one makes much less than a Norwalk Police officer.

    Also not many jobs pay in the 6 figures and the required education is a GED

    •Have a high school diploma or equivalency

    http://www.norwalkct.org/index.aspx?NID=152

  30. piberman

    Curious that no one seems to mind City teachers being paid 5th highest salaries in CT. With ample supplies of 200k administrators and principals. Despite their somewhat problematic performance. So why gang up on our police ? They don’t take the summer off and they serve all of us – young and old. Most residents give the City police high marks and they’re not the 5th highest paid force in the state. Relative to the size of the City budget the police budget is not a “budget buster”. Same comments apply to the fire department. Our professional services are not busting the City budget and unlike the teachers/administrators they keep a low political profile. Lets focus attention elsewhere.

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