GOP-led Norwalk council to ex-mayor Moccia: That was wrong

Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann, left. Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane Beltz-Jacobsen, right.

Updated, 2:25 p.m., explanation from Bruce Kimmel; 1:55 p.m., elaboration from John Igneri

NORWALK, Conn. – An agreement signed by former Mayor Richard Moccia on his last day in office was soundly rejected Tuesday night by the Common Council.

Council members unanimously rejected the tentative agreement allowing the city’s assistant corporation counsels to join the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association (NASA) with terms and conditions of employment that include exempting them from being subject to review and reappointment at the end of each term. The only way to remove an assistant corporation counsel from the city payroll under the proposed agreement would be for “just cause,” and could be challenged.

The tentative agreement would currently apply to four positions, one of which is vacant. Those affected are Diane Beltz-Jacobson, Brian McCann and Carolyn M. Colangelo. The positions would be slotted at Grade 8 in the NASA contract and, as of July 1, would get a 2 percent raise and would get other raises negotiated for the classification in the following years. Currently, Ordinance List employee raises are decided on by the mayor, working within a framework set by the Common Council.

Moccia signed the tentative agreement on Nov. 18. Mayor Harry Rilling was sworn in on Nov. 19.

Minority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) and council member David Watts (D-District A) were careful to say they are not against unions.

“We fully respect the lawyers’ right to unionize,” Igneri said after the meeting. “This agreement was signed hours before Mayor Rilling took over. No one saw that agreement until the day before Thanksgiving.”

It didn’t go through the council’s Personnel Committee, he said.

“It was just executed; we don’t know what process was used,” he said. “There were just one or two paragraphs in there that we had questions about and we wanted to talk about. We didn’t have the time to do that so we voted to reject it. Hopefully we can go to renegotiate two paragraphs.”

He explained the issues in a Wednesday email:

• Paragraph 2 referred to having to show “just cause” if not reappointing a lawyer. “This is violation of the Charter which says appointments are the right of the council and/or the Mayor,” Igneri wrote.

• Paragraph 8 “tied the City’s hands on outsourcing legal work. This needed clarification since the City usually does outsource legal work given the size of the in house staff,” he wrote.

The motion to reject the agreement, made by Personnel Committee Chairman Glenn Iannaccone (R-At Large), initially got a nearly unanimous aye vote, but Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At large) asked to speak.

The city could not afford the agreement but would probably lose binding arbitration if it were rejected, he said.

Kimmel later explained that it’s his recollection that in this type of situation is that the rules for already signed agreements, which are then rejected by legislative bodies, are somewhat different from negotiating decisions.

Watts agreed the city would probably lose if it went to arbitration.

“I respect workers right to organize,” Watts said. “I may have a disagreement with the way this contract came about. … We should reject the contract for the way it was done.”

By that, he meant the personnel committee should have discussed it before Moccia signed it, he later explained.

He had a suggestion for the council.

“We should create an ordinance that says once the election is over mayors shouldn’t do this,” he said. “I’m not going to indict anyone, I just think the way it was done was wrong. I just feel like we should reject the contract and allow it to go to binding arbitration and allow these workers to get a good deal for themselves and a good deal for the city. Because right now I feel it’s not a good deal for the city.”


8 responses to “GOP-led Norwalk council to ex-mayor Moccia: That was wrong”

  1. Don’t Panic

    This is a good sign that people are actually concerned about the process.

  2. anonymous

    Processes can be corrected, what about the results? Was the only reason the Common Council voted this down, from what Watts and Igneri said, because of the process?

    Please tell me the Common Council voted this down because it is a very bad idea also.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    I said: If the contract is rejected and goes to binding arbitration, the city would probably lose because the city is in a position to pay for it. My recollection of this type of situation is that the rules for already signed agreements, which are then rejected by legislative bodies, are somewhat different from negotiating decisions.

    (Editor’s note: We have updated the story to add Mr. Kimmel’s information from above, which paraphrases what he actually said at the meeting.)

  4. ScopeonNorwalk

    It’s a horrible idea…It opens the door for Department Heads to do the same thing which would mean less accountability for Department Heads because it would become virtually impossible to excuse them from their duties if they are doing a bad job…and it’s hard enough now, both to hold them accountable and excuse them from their duties when they fail the citizens.

  5. LWitherspoon

    It it typical for an 80,000-person city’s staff lawyers to be in a union? I have to wonder if this is a sign that over the years our elected officials in both parties have made municipal employee unions way too comfortable. Also, why the rush to unionize at the very end of Mayor Moccia’s term? Were people afraid that new Mayor Rilling or new Corporation Counsel Coppola were going to make changes?
    If the lawyers do unionize, does that affect the City’s ability to do things differently and save money on legal costs? If as union employees they can only be removed for ‘just cause’, what constitutes ‘just cause’? How does it serve taxpayers to have city employees who can basically never be fired?
    Question for Mr. Watts: How will going to binding arbitration lead to the lawyers reaching a good deal for themselves and a good deal for the city?


    Its amazing that Beltz-Jacobsen would have her job protected like this … she is useless and should be let go

  7. Oldtimer

    There has to be more to this story than we are getting. Nobody agrees to pay union dues unless they believe they will be getting some value for their money. Did somebody read the ordinance to them and point out that a new mayor could replace them with others, just as the corporation counsel is routinely replaced when a new administration takes over. They are now essentially at-will employees for two year terms, or less and easily removed. There is no requirement for a new mayor to show cause to appoint a corporation counsel of his choice and let the prior corporation counsel go.

  8. M Allen

    @LWitherspoon – “Just cause” means there has to be a reason, usually a real good one. However, in the case of most unions, as we’ve seen in the past, it has to be beyond good.
    @Scope – I don’t believe it opens the doors to Department Heads. Mainly because they aren’t supervisors, they are managers who have the ability to act with discretion.

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