NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council member Matt Miklave has heard the questions, and wants everyone to know he is not being delusional when he points to Performance Based Budgeting as a means to freeing up money for Norwalk’s pressing needs.
“I don’t pretend I’m going to be able to implement Performance Based Budgeting on the first day I’m taking office,” he told NancyOnNorwalk at Sunday’s Democratic Town Committee mayoral candidate meet-and-greet at the South Norwalk Community Center. “That would not be fair, it’s not accurate it’s not right. What we are talking about is, on the first day, going down a path that will develop Performance Based Budgeting.”
Miklave, a shareholder in the Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., law firm with offices in several states and a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor, acknowledged that it will take some time to see the savings, especially given that whoever wins the November election will be working under what he calls a “disastrous” budget.
“We’re going to have to spend some money” to do the things he wants to accomplish, he said, such as fully fund the Board of Education budget. “We’re going to be looking for grants. We’re going to be looking for state, federal and local dollars to try to fund some of the work we have to do. It’s a big project. But we also have to make some hard choices.”
With eight years on the Common Council – he served 2001 to 2007 and was elected again in 2011 – Miklave was seen plenty he doesn’t like.
“The first thing we are going to do is demand that every city department actually evaluate every program they are providing against real performance objectives. Not performance objectives that are 12 months out, but performance objectives that are immediate,” he said. “And then we’re going to judge those performance objectives on a regular basis and I’m going to review them regularly to determine what programs are working and what programs aren’t. I will tell you now that the performance objectives that are set forth in the city budget are fiction.”
Miklave cited the fire department budget as an example, zeroing in on how many structure fires the department fights each year. His voice rising, Miklave ticked off the numbers: “In 2010, they fought 157. In 2011 they fought 157. In 2012 they fought 157, and, in 2013, they think they are going to fight 157. I actually said to (Norwalk Finance Director) Tom Hamilton, ‘You and I should throw in some lottery tickets with the numbers 157.’ That tells me they don’t even bother to read the performance standards they have set for themselves.”
Miklave said he intends to insist on real objectives written by the people who actually run the programs and departments, and said he will make them accountable.
“You tell me how fast it’s supposed to work,” he said. “You tell me how we’re supposed to do it. And if someone else can come up with a better program that will achieve that same goal cheaper and quicker, we’re going to take the money away from you and give it to them. That’s how you bring competition into city government. That’s how you inspire savings.”
Miklave was the only one of the four candidates Sunday to address the discussion about the allegations of racism in the fire department, and he spoke in generalities.
As a labor attorney, “I actually have a lot of experience with discrimination,” he said. “You have to make sure you have an aggressive program to make sure people feel valued and feel like they have an avenue. And what I’m hearing from several departments is folks don’t feel they have that avenue.
“Is it hard to recruit talented people? Yeah, it’s hard,” he said. “You can’t do it through an old-boys network, where somebody hires somebody’s cousin. You have to work really hard for outreach. We’ll work very, very hard to encourage qualified candidates regardless of their background to come to work here.”
When he addressed the crowd, Miklave touched on a theme common to all four challengers – making the government more accessible, accountable and respectful. Later, he expanded on that when asked about changes he might be contemplating.
“I’m not going to talk about personnel changes – some are going to embrace our changes, some who think that this is the way to run a major American city,” he said. “And that’s what we are; we’re a major American city. So they’re going to embrace that change. Some will be reluctant because they don’t want to change the way they’ve been doing things for years, and we’re going to talk to them and teach them and encourage them, and some people are going to decide by choice or otherwise that they won’t want to be part of the Miklave administration. And we’ll find a way to ease any transformation and any transition to make it humane, make it dignified and make it appropriate.”
Miklave also defended himself against charges by some people, including commenters on NancyOnNorwalk stories, that he has accomplished nothing of note in his time on the Common Council.
“I was responsible for adopting a tax credit ordinance for disabled people, I was responsible for the rewriting and the implementation of the entire city of Norwalk’s performance appraisal system, I served on the Planning Committee while we built the Maritime garage, built Harbor Yards, started the POKO development, started Head of the Harbor, progressed on Waypointe and progressed on 95/7,” he said. “I was on the council and the Finance Committee for eight budget cycles, demanding budget reform. So I’ve been pretty busy.”
(This week: Conversations with Democratic Party candidates Harry Rilling Andy Garfunkel, Vinny Mangiacopra and Matt Miklave. After the primary, we will extend an invitation to Mayor Richard Moccia and his opponent or opponents for interviews.)