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.”