Ford gone; Norwalk seeks new Tax Assessor

Ad on the City’s website.
Norwalk Tax Assessor William Ford, as shown in a 2022 Common Council Finance Committee meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is looking for a new Tax Assessor, in an ad posted four days ago.

Mayor Harry Rilling touched on the issue briefly at Tuesday’s Board of Estimate and Tax (BET) budget review meeting, at which the Tax Assessor’s Office was one of the departments up for a discussion. BET member Jim Frayer asked if Ford was going to comment on budgetary line items and Rilling said, “Mr. Ford is no longer with the City.”

The discussion featured Paul Gorman, hired as Deputy Assessor in April, called himself “interim assessor” and explaining that he couldn’t answer questions well because he had just learned Monday that he’d be making the budget presentation.

Rilling did not answer an email asking about the comment. On Thursday, Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews answered a follow-up email, saying, “Upon leaving the City of Norwalk, Bill Ford was eligible and will receive payment for his accrued vacation time, which he earned throughout the course of his employment. There is no other severance due.”

The departure comes in the midst of a heated budget season and heavy criticism of the Finance Department.

On Feb. 28, three Common Council members called it “unacceptable” that the Council had not been given an accurate Grand List that day, as they deliberated on a budget cap. Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) said she had “lost complete and utter faith” in Dachowitz and Ford to “give us true numbers for us to do our job.”

Rilling said he’d called Ford into his office three days later.

Feb. 28 was the deadline for a Grand List; it’s due Jan. 31 but Rilling had granted a one-month extension. The Grand List document with reportedly accurate numbers is dated March 3.

The Tax Collector’s Office and the Tax Assessor’s Office have been struggling with a software transition, which reportedly did not go well. The Grand List was compiled with Munis, the system Norwalk was in the process of dropping. On Feb. 28, Ford said some properties had been input as being taxable when they were exempt, and the calculation needed to be revised.

Ford was not present for the March 9 Council Finance Committee meeting, where Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) delivered the Tax Assessor’s Office statistics on the ongoing revaluation.

Ford worked for two years without a deputy after being hired on the eve of the pandemic. He had been City Assessor in Worcester, Mass., for 10 years when he came here to replace Michael Stewart, who retired the previous summer. Assistant Tax Assessor William O’Brien resigned at about the same time.

Stewart and O’Brien’s departure followed a citywide revaluation in 2018, described by lone Council Republican Bryan Meek as “botched.” More than 400 appeals were filed on the valuations done by Tyler Technologies, and court-ordered stipulations are cited as one of the reasons the 2022 Grand List is lower than the one preceding it.

When Stewart and O’Brien left, Rilling promised a different direction.

“I typically do not comment on personnel matters, however, I felt it was important to let the public know this department is heading in a new direction,” Rilling was quoted as saying in a news release. “These changes provide me with the unique opportunity to transform the Assessor’s office. This department will be more responsive to the public going forward through improved customer service and communication.”

In a 2019 email to NancyOnNorwalk, Rilling said, “The reval was not botched. I was only concerned about the process and how the Assessor’s office did not communicate in an open and transparent way leading to confusion.”

The efficiency study of Norwalk’s government departments, released a year ago, painted an unflattering picture of the Tax Assessor’s Office, portraying it as “lacking in sufficient supervision and expertise.”

Study authors Evergreen Solutions LLC cited personnel shortages, incompatible software, and remote working arrangements for multiple staff members, including Ford, who, it was rumored, had been working from Vermont.

Property records show Ford bought a Fairfield County home in late 2021. He sold a Massachusetts home in the same time period. His name didn’t turn up in a search of Vermont property records.

Dachowitz has said it’s “exceedingly hard in the state of Connecticut to find good senior assessor personnel.”

Unlike Ford, Gorman, former Westport Analyst Inspector, is a certified Connecticut Assessor. Dachowitz recently said Ford had taken the classes needed to be certified in Connecticut and would be taking the test when it is offered in October. Colchester Tax Assessor John Chaponis said it was “reasonable” that Ford wasn’t certified and described it as irrelevant, given that the department likely had certified assessors who could sign the Grand List.

Information added, 2:22 p.m. Thursday.



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9 responses to “Ford gone; Norwalk seeks new Tax Assessor”

  1. Lisa Brinton

    Mr. Mayor, the fish stinks from the head.

  2. Terrence McNicholas


  3. David Osler

    The city has never properly assessed property. Simply look at what I paid for my house, and what I was assessed at. This has come up multiple times. No instruments at all fair market in 2013. I couldn’t appeal in 2018 I was denied now we’re up again.

  4. Patrick Cooper

    Leadership. Easy to see, hard to define.

    “Pass the Buck” ????

    Or, “The Buck Stops Here” (Harry Truman).

    We see exactly what we have here in Norwalk. Blameless. No, these poor hires should know from the get-go, you are here to take the blame. Write it into the job description.

    400 lawsuits – and the last revaluation wasn’t “botched”. Delusional, in denial, or simply incapable of accepting responsibility? Come on, isn’t it obvious?

    Mr. Ford must be relieved to be free of this politically-toxic city. Make anyone a bet – pretty sure he didn’t get out of the building without a gaggle of lawyers informing him that his “severance package” would be tied directly to an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that keeps the many embarrassing secrets bottled up at 125 East Avenue. It’s also a convenient way to protect the mayor from answering direct questions. Sorry, I can’t comment on employee matters. Why? Because I am the only employee that matters.

    Grand List down 176 million dollars, and look around – so many many many new apartments. The entire city seems to be an “enterprise zone” – why pay taxes? And let’s not ignore the POCD and the TOD development plans – all but written by the special interests. On full display with the Mill Pond boondoggle. 5 finger highballs and Cubans lit with 100 dollar bills at the Station House after ENNA, all of East Norwalk, and all Norwalk taxpayers get bulldozed by a handful of handpicked minions. Another sure bet – it will continue every day Harry is still mayor.

    A. Mismanagement? B. Cronyism? Capital C for Corruption? Select “D” – all of the above.

  5. John O’Neill

    I fear this is the tip of the iceberg. Whoever the new assessor will be (Hopefully, they have a candidate in mind) is coming into a Hurricane of issues. It still shocks me that Mayor Rilling is seeking another term. The Board of Ed / Revaluation / Tax Assessor Issues / Teacher’s Contract Negotiations / Did I mention Revaluation?? Quite frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me is Harry had second thoughts and decided to high tail it to Florida…You know the state Dems love to hate..

  6. Fred Wilms

    Our new Assessor needs to be fully present in Norwalk. That means working full-time at City Hall, being able to physically inspect Norwalk properties, plus attending in-person any Council meetings.

  7. Nora King

    I don’t understand why Harry Rilling hired someone who couldn’t sign off on the Grand List and had no waterfront experience. This couldn’t get any worse. Two bad hires under Harry Rilling in this office. The assessor is a key role. It is a hard job because people tend to be angry when it comes to paying taxes and the assessor must really understand the properties and the neighborhoods.

  8. Bryan Meek

    Maybe some day, but Google Earth is no way to assess a Grand List.

    What’s next Revals by ChatGPT?

  9. Niz Judia

    I have these questions, Who is supposed to report this mess to the state for investigation, will the lawsuits ignite an inquisition, seems like the local / state officials are ignoring what is happening here?

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