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For the record: Officials answer questions, rebut assertions

NORWALK, Conn. – Sometimes our readers ask questions that deserve a bit more visibility than a simple response in the comments section. And sometimes statements are made that are just plain wrong.

What follows in an attempt to address some of those questions and comments with information from the source and facts gleaned from official documents.

Outsourcing custodians

A few readers have wondered what the future holds for Norwalk Public Schools custodians after this year, and after the current contract expire in 2016. Current language says they cannot be laid off so schools can outsource their jobs. However, as positions open through attrition, they can be filled with outside workers, and that is happening now.

We spoke with Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.

“Anything is possible in a contract negotiation,” he said. “I will tell you that we considered going for full outsourcing in the last negotiation (2013), but were advised against it by our counsel, Bill Connon (who considered it highly unlikely to be a winnable issue), and therefore we didn’t even propose it.  Could the 2016 Board ask for it?  Sure. Will they? Highly unlikely. Even if they did, the union would never agree to it, so the issue would be up to an arbitration panel that would probably be disposed against it.

“If I’m on the Board in 2016, I will definitely NOT ask for it (one has to pick one’s battles).”

Another person questioned the wisdom of voting on important school issues with less than a full board on hand.

The BoE members, like most elected and city officials in Norwalk (not including mayor, town clerk, and registrar of voters), are volunteers. It is not easy to compel volunteers to make every meeting. Voters can address chronic absenteeism every four years, but, as long as the board has a quorum, it can legally vote on an issue.

When the BoE voted to outsource some custodian positions, two members were absent – Mike Barbis and Sherelle Harris, both Democrats.

“The Board votes on matters all the time with members absent; with a nine-member board, that is inevitable,” Lyons said. “If we insisted on having all nine members present to vote on things, the business of the Board would slow to a crawl.

“For instance, we adopted our $166 million budget on May 6 and Migdalia Rivas was absent. Should we not have adopted our budget (which passed unanimously)? In this case, Mike Barbis has supported outsourcing from Day 1 and would have voted yes, so the worst case vote would still have been a 5-4 approval of the contract.”

 

Don’t let facts stand in the way

More than one frequent commenter likes to play fast and loose with the facts, creating a “World According to …” universe that appeals to those who subscribe to certain political agendas. In this case, Norwalk Director of Finance Tom Hamilton took exception to repeated references to city departments rarely finishing the year with a surplus.

“One of the regular commentators on your blog seems to be under the mistaken impression that on the city side of our operation that an operating budget surplus is rarely if ever encountered,” Hamilton said.

“This is patently false.”

Hamilton said the city departments routinely turn money back at the end of each fiscal year.

“The last time that the city ran an unplanned deficit was in FY 2008-09, during the height of the Great Recession” he said. “And that operating deficit was caused by a sharp contraction in revenue, not over-spending of approved appropriations.”

 

DPW director called out on assertions

It’s not always the commenters who raise questions – and eyebrows. Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord suggested to NancyOnNorwalk that it would be better to permanently close the Walk Bridge – no longer open the railroad bridge to let boats pass through — than spend $300 million replacing it. He said the steel is good and would last a long time, although he also said that the middle span can’t be painted because you would have to fully encase it to keep lead paint from falling into the river.

This statement was sent to Kevin Nursick at the state Department of Transportation.

“Your DPW director is not aware of the facts, apparently,” Nursick responded.

“Closing the bridge permanently is not an option (making it a non-moveable structure). This is a non-starter. The waterway below the bridge is a navigational channel and maritime traffic must be allowed. The bridge must be moveable, or have a high enough clearance above the waterway to allow maritime traffic. Increasing the clearance is simply not feasible. It is literally impossible to do because of the approach work necessary on the tracks for miles in each direction. Thus, the bridge must remain moveable.  A replacement structure must be a moveable one.”

Comments

3 responses to “For the record: Officials answer questions, rebut assertions”

  1. John Hamlin

    Thanks for shining a light on more issues. NON is a great source of information about what’s really going on.

  2. peter parker

    LOL, Alvord talks from his backside once again. What a waste, how can this useless Mayor keep that incompetent Alvord in the position of DPW direct and sleep at night? It’s evident they both have to go.

  3. Scott

    If the river were to be closed to commercial traffic (which is the only traffic besides sail boats that would be affected) what would the impact be on businesses like Devine Bros.? It very well might put them out of business thus freeing up valuable realestate. Does Mr. Alvord have other interests in mind? Maybe a little bit of wild conspiracy theory but I always believe in keeping my eyes, ears and mind open because people can surprise you

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