Mushak to Norwalk Zoning Commission: Time to shape up

NORWALK, Conn. — There’s a new mood in Norwalk to go with a new administration — there will be no more secrets, Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak told fellow members of the Zoning Commission at Wednesday night’s meeting.

It’s time to hold top zoning staff accountable by reviewing their performances, he said. Commissioners Nora King and Nate Sumpter agreed, but Joe Santo and Emily Wilson said there is no process in place to do a review of Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene, by the commission or anybody else.

Mushak’s announcement tripled the length of the Zoning Commission meeting. It appeared to be ready to end less than 10 minutes after it began, as the lightweight agenda was minus the lengthy issue of the Silvermine Tavern due to alterations of the plan that had been submitted (basements are now planned for the houses that are part of the project). But his assertions about bylaws and performance reviews began a discussion that stretched for nearly half an hour.

“We will have the bylaws followed, we will have performance reviews and we will have the restoration of full accountability and transparency that this commission once had before Mayor (Richard) Moccia was elected eight years ago,” Mushak said.

The Democrat said he asked to see the credentials of zoning staff last year, so he could arrange for training seminars in areas in which he had identified weaknesses.

“I was told that the public does not have the right to know what the professional credentials are of the top three staff members of planning and zoning,” he said.

Mushak said that, according to the city charter, the Zoning Commission has oversight responsibilities of P&Z personnel. The city’s organizational chart also shows this, he said. Yet Greene was last given a performance review in 2006, Mushak said. Greene threatened legal action two years ago when it was suggested that the commission give him another, Mushak said.

Wilson said that was a no-go.

“The Zoning Commission is not contractually the organization that oversees Mike Greene and (Deputy Director) Mike Wrinn. It’s a union labor issue,” she said.

Her understanding came from a long conversation with former Corporation Counsel Bob Maslan and former Personnel Director James Haselkamp, she said.

“Staff has a huge number of obligations and responsibilities that sit outside of our privy,” she said. “We don’t see a good portion of what they do so how do we sit in review of their full job when portions of their job have nothing to do with what we do?”

Santo said he has been on the commission for more than 16 years. Former Zoning Chairwoman Dorothy Mobilia did reviews, but not a standard “performance review,” which involve setting goals and using them as a yardstick a year later, he said. The commission hired a new staff person eight or nine years ago but it no longer has the power to do that, he said.

Santo agreed that the commission should request a visit from Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola at a future meeting. He promised to arrange that. Mushak said he would also contact Coppola.

Mushak also said he was told to go to Planning and Zoning staff when he wanted information in regard to an application, not directly to other City Hall staff members. P&Z staff ignore his requests for information, Mushak said.

“It’s been basically six very difficult years with a shut down of questions I have asked, information I have requested, and this is going to end immediately,” he said. “We have a new mayor, corporation counsel and this is not going to continue because it interferes with the professional and the serious responsibilities this commission has to determine the future of the city and protect public safety and welfare.”


24 responses to “Mushak to Norwalk Zoning Commission: Time to shape up”

  1. YankeeC

    Go Mike go. These City employees make very good money … they deserve to be accountable. What the world is wrong with Wilson and Santo? Aren’t they Republicans? Don’t they believe they should be reviewed, have goals set and be held accountable? What planet are they living on? Fortunately, voters realized how weak Wilson is … she was resoundingly defeated in November

  2. What type of position, whether it be public or private entities, have positions that someone/anyone can not conduct a performance review on an employee? Only if you own the place then you get carte blanche but a goverment position???
    The mayor has the ability to make these changes, lets wait and see if he takes control.

  3. Piberman

    Wouldn’t the appropriate procedure be for the Committee to bring these long standing concerns raised by Me Mushak to the two parties responsible for their appointments – the Mayor and Council ?

  4. oops – let’s reword that first sentence:
    What type of position, whether it be in a public or private entity, does not have performance reviews? Someone must be able to qualify and quantify the employee’s ability to perform the job and then quantify (and justify) his/her salary.
    Just ludicrous.

  5. Casey Smith

    Yankee – I respectfully disagree.

    It might be well to proceed with extreme caution in this area. Wasn’t there a big fuss created back when Fire Chief McCarthy first came on board and one of the Commissions, Human Relations I think, decided to make some statements about the chief and race relations? Seems to remember that they apparently violated the Chief’s civil rights by discussing his position in public when they had no authority to do so. I had no luck in researching this online, but others might be more resourceful.

    Public discussion of Personnel issues is an area where it is important to tread lightly unless, of course, one is looking for a major lawsuit.

  6. I would think race relations are entirely a different matter when a performance review is conducted, no? That is really something to tread lightly on if addressing.
    How a job is performed, the responsibilities and requirements should be outlined for measurement and pay scale. That is standard operating procedure for good business practices and City Hall should abide by such standards.

  7. Osgood Schlater

    There can hardly be a lawsuit if the issues involved are job qualifications. If the P&Z cannot even review its staff, then it should be closed down, and we should let the fuehrer principle reign. As for Chief McCarthy, it is too bad that the lawsuit did not proceed. Maybe that would have avoided the desperate Newspeak that the chief recently engaged in when trying to explain the absence of African-Americans among our firefighters.

  8. “I was told that the public does not have the right to know what the professional credentials are of the top three staff members of planning and zoning,” he said.
    Here is a thought, and this goes to all employees paid by city taxes (firemen, police, city hall and teachers).
    On the city website, create a section for each department and post all credentials (BS, Masters, PhD’s, etc..), resumes, applications and proof of verification for these submissions for all employees.
    Because these basic elements of gainful employment should fall under the FOI act and also because, as taxpayers, we have the right to know people’s qualifications (especially when educating our children or making costly alterations to our city that has future consequences).
    If anyone should balk at this suggestion, then go and work in the private sector where this information is confidential (and should be).

  9. Oldtimer

    Major lawsuit ? When an employer wants to evaluate an employee’s performance ? Unless the employee is in a union with a contract that clearly limits evaluations there wouldn’t be much basis for a lawsuit, in my opinion. Even where such evaluations are routine, it is not easy. Letting whoever Mike Green works for be intimidated by the vague threat of a possible lawsuit is ridiculous. Mike Mushak is right, the public, has a right to know the qualifications of various City employees, how well, or poorly, they are performing, and how they are compensated. Mike Green is no exception. Figuring out how to measure his performance will be a challenge, but the rules should be clearly spelled out and apply to all other department heads. Isn’t he appointed to that job ?

  10. ” Figuring out how to measure his performance will be a challenge-”
    I would think if there isn’t any way to measure his performance right now, then the Mayor needs to look at other city’s positions, align it up and follow performance reviews as they follow.
    If nothing exists, then it is time to rebuild with what is available and start from there. If Greene doesn’t like it, he needs to show proof he is worth his weight in gold.
    Where is it written that job descriptions do not change?? They change all the time, as well as pay scales and qualifications.
    Go ask someone who worked for a private company that has been bought out. They have to reapply and reinterview for the VERY SAME position AND SAME PAY that they may have been earning for 5 to 10 years! It has happened to me.
    And please don’t say that some people don’t earn now what they did 5 years ago because SURPRISE! In the private sector, they do, it is called a recession and not UNIONS.

  11. Don’t Panic

    Democratic or Republican shouldn’t enter into it. Objective performance evaluations should be a part of responsible governing on behalf of the citizens of the city. Objective reviews should be acceptable to unions because fair assessments lead to proper compensation.

  12. Dorothy Mobilia

    As the then-chairman of the Zoning Commission and at then-Mayor Alex Knopp’s request I evaluated the Planning & Zoning director’s performance according to the requirements of the city’s Office of Personnel and Labor Relations for FY2003-2004 and FY2004-2005, with objectives listed for FY 2005-2006. That included an interim performance evaluation on the city’s standard performance evaluation objective setting form.

    It’s true that Mayor Richard Moccia determined that the city agreement with the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association did not permit a city evaluation. That’s not how I read the contract, specifically in “Article II Management Rights,” which states that “All rights, powers, authority and functions of the City shall remain vested exclusively in the City except insofar as specifically surrendered or abridged by the express written provisions of this Agreement” with the bargaining agent.

    As an extension of the discussion led by Zoning Commissioner Michael Mushak, the contract seems to suggest that all department heads can be evaluated in the same manner. And while it’s true that the zoning and other staffs have responsibilities outside the purview of their commissions, it seems to me that the responsibilities that fall under the respective commission guidelines can be evaluated by those commissions. Whether the chairman or the entire commission undertakes a review is a separate question.

  13. LWitherspoon

    I agree that it’s high time for performance reviews. But why focus exclusively on department heads – ALL City employees would benefit. The vast majority are probably doing great jobs. Those who aren’t need to be identified and provided greater support or training, or in extreme cases, dismissed. The public’s business is too important to tolerate mediocrity.

  14. Flo2

    Looked at Mushak’s website. His job is basically a gardener for rich people! Lots of hands on work but how much deep thought or analysis of complex issues is required?

  15. Mike Mushak

    Thank you NON for your excellent reporting yet again, and for everyone’s helpful comments and support, especially from former zoning chair Dorothy Mobilia. Interesting how all of that desire for accountability of staff to the public just ended abruptly when Moccia was first elected. I wonder why?

    It is preposterous that the by-laws would be cited to allow Joe Santo as chair to solely choose committee chairs, yet he ignores other parts of the by-laws that pertain to staff supervision and oversight. Selective use of by-laws by our current chair, and by former chair and current co-chair Emily Wilson, that benefit only them while removing the public’s right to have staff properly supervised and held accountable for their actions, as well as to maintain fiduciary responsibility over the staff as the law requires, is reason enough to ask them both to resign as they have both presided over years of flaunting the law with impunity. Their style of leadership is obsolete in this new administration. As Joe Santo has said, he wouldn’t even know where to begin. I know, and the process has just started.
    Emily Wilson’s latest debacle, as commission co-chair and chair of the Zoning Committee, was to totally ignore our 2008 Master Plan’s recommendations, as well as a $90k 2006 study, and KILL the zone change I requested for Main Avenue to limit retail size on that dangerous stretch (listed by a 2011 SWRPA study as one of the most dangerous roads in Fairfield County, with the highest accident rate including pedestrian hits.) This zone change was recommended by top professionals in the country to help protect public health and safety, yet Ms. Wilson and Linda Kruk, who voted with her to kill the zone change, both stated that any property owner should be allowed to build whatever they want at any size in that area. I was astounded.
    They did not seem to care about any of the study’s or our own Master Plan’s concerns for protecting public safety, or avoiding expensive road widening that unbridled traffic growth will require, costing future taxpayers tens of millions, just to subsidize individual’s rights to build anything they want at any size. The future necessary road widening will take away property from numerous property owners and businesses, as the 2006 study showed would be necessary at Perry, Broad, Ward, and New Canaan Avenues. I guess the property rights of all those existing taxpaying businesses don’t matter at all to them.
    The public needs their trust in the staff and the commission restored to a level of professionalism and accountability that every taxpayer and business owner in our great city deserve. Our current dysfunctional planning process and obsolete zoning code will be fixed, and although it won’t be easy and will take years, it will happen, and it has to start now. The current Zoning Commission leadership, unfortunately, seems not at all interested in helping.

  16. Oldtimer

    The focus limited to dept. heads is based on this conversation being limited to evaluating the performance of a dept. head. Last I knew there was a regular scheduled evaluation process in place for most City employees, by immediate supervisors. There was a process for review/evaluation of dept. heads, too, that seems to have fallen into disuse in recent years. Different jobs would probably require different review processes, but some level of accountability is essential, in my opinion.

  17. spanner

    Thank you Mike

  18. Suzanne

    Flo2: Please see asla.org. Mr. Mushak is a registered Landscape Architect not a gardener and there is a considerable difference to what you claim. Mike has considerable training and experience in Urban Planning, one of the emphasis that can be pursued in the Landscape Architecture field. While having considerable residential experience to which his WEB Site is dedicated, his education and experience is perfect for the Planning/Zoning (I know, I know, they are separate in this town), Board(s) because he is all about creating responsible and sustainable urban environments which is also a priority of the organization under which Mr. Mushak practices as a Landscape Architect and the studies that he continues to pursue. Make no mistake, he is an informed, up-to-date and trained individual more than qualified to be on these Boards.

  19. Mike Mushak

    Thanks Suzanne. I forgive Flo for his/her ignorance. I’m used to it on zoning!

  20. piberman

    In taking his grievances with the P&Z public Mr. Mushak is following the same path as a former BOE member who sought the public forum when unable to convince the BOE to his point of view. Norwalk voters did not re-elect that individual. Maybe the lesson here is that citizens appreciate board and commission members who work within their respective bodies rather than seek public venues to air their differences. If all commission and board members felt free to air differences with fellow members publicly we’d have chaos. My way or the highway is a odd display of “public service”.

  21. Suzanne

    Is “taking grievances public” mean that asking for compliance with the by-laws in a Board meeting is somehow a call to arms? Mr. Mushak does not ask for anything unreasonable. In fact, he is asking for compliance with a document by which this Board should abide. That they haven’t and stubbornly refuse to do so means that the only alternative is to mention it in a Board-wide meeting. That this is a public act is of service to the constituency who expects compliance with the regulations on the books at the very least. This has not been the case. What was he supposed to do, piberman? Have “behind closed door” meetings where, it has been shown repeatedly in the public eye, he would meet with ongoing noncompliance and disrespect? It is better and it is politic to let the taxpayers know how a given Board is affecting their lives. Are the people responsible for Zoning compliant, responsive and well-qualified? Those questions should be asked and answered and the public ought to know about it.

  22. Mike Mushak

    I have been personally and unfairly attacked numerous times by partisan critics like Piberman who think following laws and proper procedures are important for only some , but not all. I am fascinated by his frequent calls for city staff accountability to taxpayers, and in particular his criticism of former and current NEON boardmembers for giving up proper oversight leading to the collapse of that organization, yet he thinks the same standards for the P and Z staff, as directed by our by-laws that were written no doubt by well-intentioned Norwalk citizens and officials long before me and the current commission to assure accountability and transparency, do not need apply. I frequently agree with Piberman on his opinions about staff salaries and taxes. I do not agree with him that any staff in City Hall should be immune from proper oversight or allowed to violate laws, or that I should somehow work quietly behind the scenes as by-laws have been broken for years with impunity with no concern at all by the current ZC leadership, who by the way are all appointees of the same former mayor who ended all oversight of staff in a striking display of professional irresponsibility and public oversight . He contradicts himself on this matter, revealing a disappointing partisan agenda. Interesting. Stay tuned!

  23. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Mushak
    How can Peter Berman’s comments be part of a “disappointing partisan agenda”? Mr. Berman has sharply criticized Norwalk’s Republicans and Democrats alike for their profligacy with taxpayer funds.

  24. Suzanne

    Perhaps it can be surmised that requesting a Board, largely appointed by a Republican Mayor, conduct business behind closed doors in spite of their continued reluctance to comply with a set of by-laws that define how the Board should behave, could be construed to mean that the previously appointed Republican board members are conducting a partisan agenda. After all, this type of “meeting” is exactly where these Republican appointees would have the most influence to set an agenda when the public does not see it. Let them be held accountable now and let it be for all of the taxpayers to see. Also, let this Republican leadership know it is no longer “business as usual” in not abiding by the document that defines their work. If that is a partisan agenda, it is calling a spade, a spade – the Republicans have been holding the Board hostage with impunity and it is time for it to stop. If Democratic appointees were acting this way, I would say the same thing. What makes this partisan, however, is that one political party continues to resist doing the right, by the book, thing in conducting Board business.

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