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New Norwalk position draws implications of impropriety, racial indignation

Norwalk Common Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) frowns as a discussion about a new ordinance position begins at Tuesday's Council meeting.
Norwalk Common Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) frowns as a discussion about a new ordinance position begins at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Correction, 1:13 p.m.: The husband of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp got David Watts into politics, Watts said Friday; one word was wrong in a Bruce Kimmel quote.

NORWALK, Conn. – Aspects of the qualifications drafted for a new city position are “highly offensive,” Norwalk Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said Tuesday.

The program coordinator position would pay $53,031 to $76,600 and would not require a college degree, in the specifications worked out by the Council Personnel Committee.

Told that Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director Adam Bovilsky felt that a college degree requirement could unfairly exclude qualified people, including minorities, for what is a clerical position, Watts said, “I am extremely offended by that.”

Others had other issues – Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said the upper salary figure was too high and Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) suggested the position was being created for someone who is already a city employee – Darlene Young.

The position would coordinate various programs in the Office of Fair Rent and Human Relations, which has taken on more responsibilities, according to Personnel Committee minutes. The program coordinator would become the American Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for the city, oversee capital improvement related to ADA, address homelessness and update the city’s Affirmative Action plan, which dates to 1979; and 25 percent of the job would be to manage the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, the minutes say. Young currently runs the Summer Youth Employment Program.

First out of the box in Tuesday’s Council discussion was Hempstead, who suggested that the salary range be $42,000 to $57,000.

The proposed salary range of $53,031 to $76,600 is in line with similar Ordinance Employee positions, Personnel Administrator John Schlosser said.

“So we can hire someone to a clerical position and within the ranges that exist now they would start at 53?” Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked.

“Yes,” Schlosser said.

“I was going to offer an amendment that person has to have a college degree” to put the requirements in line with the proposed salary, Watts said.

“I don’t care if it is a minimum two-year associate degree, a four-year degree, they should have a college degree and at this point … I think that’s right in line with someone getting their first job, $53,000 to $76,000,” Watts said.

At which point Schosser explained Bovilsky’s reasoning.

Watts said that he, Stewart and Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) have master’s degrees.

“There are enough qualifying, including minorities, who have college experience,” Watts said. “Whether that’s a two-year or four-year degree, I don’t think that that’s unreasonable, to put this position out. I don’t think that any minority would be offended if we do that. And I don’t like that language or stereotype. I mean, most minorities that I know especially here in this town are either in college or have some kind of college degree, especially when you talk about a program manager position. For someone to say it would discourage minorities applying, that would mean that minorities are not educated and I just flat out reject that.”

Stewart took a different tact.

“May I ask, do you already have someone working at City Hall who you have in mind for this position so you are taking someone who already is working and has a salary?” Stewart asked. “Because that’s a lot of money to pay somebody with just a high school diploma. I mean, I want that application, let me see it. That’s a lot of money. I have a master’s degree. So come on now, is that for someone that’s already there, that’s already on the payroll, and you can’t cut it because she has seniority or something? That would explain a whole lot. Otherwise I want to know where that application is.”

“The intent is to announce it to the public,” Schlosser said.

Young, who is also secretary for District B Democrats, has been running the summer youth employment program for years.

“She could apply for the application as well, she would be considered, but it would be announced to the public,” Schlosser said.

Minutes of the Personnel Committee meeting suggest that Bovilisky is interested in hiring Young:

“Mr. Bovilsky stated that the person that currently manages the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program had done this for several years and would bring a great deal of knowledge and expertise in this area,” the draft minutes state. “He added that the job would be posted and they are hopeful that this person would apply for the job, and there was a discussion on how the job is posted. Mr. Schlosser explained that it is not categorized as a Union job but is an Ordinance position and would go through standard external job posting procedures.”

Young’s 1998 resume, provided to NoN Thursday by Personnel Director Emmet Hibson, states that she was educated in business administration at Virginia State University, and in human services at Norwalk Community College. It does not specify that she has a degree.

Young did not respond to a Thursday email asking for her qualifications or if she is interested in the new position. She has a current salary of $58,000, Hibson said. She is currently working for Bovilsky.

“When the Summer Youth Employment Project wound down, I asked that Darlene be permitted to work on some projects for me, especially projects related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, until a permanent hire is made,” Bovilsky said in an email. “Darlene has been working out of my department for a couple weeks.”

Watts also has experience running the summer youth employment program, for one year under former Mayor Alex Knopp, who did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Former Mayor Richard Moccia hired Young in the first year of his administration.

“It’s been nearly 10 years,” Moccia said in an email. “If memory serves me, David never asked to stay on, but again, long time ago.”

Watts, a Yale Divinity School graduate, was wearing a Yale sweatshirt Tuesday, although for months he has been sporting clothing with a Town Fair Tire logo. Watts got that job after failing to win election as state representative, a paid position. Before that he worked sporadically as a political consultant; campaign papers for the New Haven mayoral campaign of Tony Harp say that Watts worked for the campaign in the summer of 2013 for four weeks at a salary of $750 a week. He did not stay on through the primary or to the general election, although he has ties to the Harp family; Watts has said that Harp’s husband got him into politics.

NancyOnNorwalk would have asked Watts if he is interested in the new Norwalk job, but he has recently said he would no longer respond to NancyOnNorwalk.

Minority hiring is non-existent in Norwalk, Watts said Tuesday.

Darlene Young is African American.

“What I understand, and this is true, when you talk about minority hiring here in Norwalk, it’s been kind of non-existent,” Watts said. “I think the last mayor was one of the only, to hire the only African American who is a department head and matter of fact under this administration we lost a minority with Tammy, who, as soon as she got the job, was escorted out. I mean, when this new administration came in she was gone and there was a new attempt under the last administration when that happened there was an accommodation for the last assistant city clerk. Under this circumstance there was never an attempt.”

Watts was talking about former assistant city clerk Tammy Grimes McPherson. That position is an appointment made by the Common Council.

In 2012, Moccia said the city clerk position is normally a Council rubber stamp. But this one had fireworks. The majority of the Democratic caucus supported Erik Anderson (now a District B Board of Education candidate) but then-Councilman Carvin Hilliard nominated McPherson. Moccia called this move unprecedented; Republican Council members voted with Hilliard and Watts to upend the choice of the Democratic caucus.

That made Republican Erin Halsey (now Erin Halsey Herring) the city clerk and McPherson the assistant as a largely Republican choice. Moccia said that, in his 30 years in Norwalk, he could not remember another time when the majority party had been without an assistant city clerk.

The Democrats soon became the minority party when Mike Geake, Bruce Kimmel and Carvin Hillard left the caucus.

Democrat Donna King is now city clerk and Herring is the assistant.

Minorities are not looking for a handout, Watts said.

“What they are looking for is an opportunity to compete for a job,” Watts said. “I don’t think that is unrealistic, but if you want to talk about minorities being hired, it’s been completely outrageous, even in this building, the way it’s been the amount of minorities that have been hired. I flat out reject that and I know a lot of proud minorities would, too. … A lot of proud minorities that went to college, have a degree would love to have the opportunity to compete for this job.”

Bowman, a Personnel Committee member, defended Bovilsky’s approach.

“(Schlosser) explained, I think he was just trying to reiterate some of the things that Adam explained to us, especially with his office being the Affirmative Action office, he didn’t feel it was necessary to add educational requirements that were not necessary for the job,” Bowman said. “This particular pay range, as he started to explain, is the bottom range that clerical workers are also in, who are also required to have only a high school diploma. So we did look at that to see or not because it did seem high.”

It would be necessary to create an entirely new pay scale to change the one proposed for the new position, she said.

“The other positions with the same qualification already in place are in this pay range,” Bowman said.

Kimmel ended the matter, a 14-minute discussion that began at around 10:30 p.m.

“We are pretty much doing committee work on the Council floor and this could go on forever,” Kimmel said. “It seems to me it’s a little bit premature to have the vote of the full Council… these are all legitimate points and we could go on and on.”

It was unanimously agreed to send it back to committee.

Bovilsky on Thursday explained the need for the position.

“Over the past eight years that I have been director of the department, we have taken on several new responsibilities,” Bovilsky said in an email. “We drafted a new Affirmative Action Program, to replace a plan dated 1979, and with the new plan took on additional responsibilities including annual utilization analysis of the City’s workforce and additional work towards the goals set out in that document.  We created an ADA Compliance and Transition Plan and now oversee an annual $250,000 capital budget which is used to correct non-compliant elements of City programs and services (including building access).  We are now the Language Access Coordinators for the City, and we represent the City on various regional homelessness initiatives.  All these new responsibilities came with no additional staff.  For the past few years we have requested additional staff to help our department manage these projects.”

08.26.15 Norwalk Personnel spec mtg TELESCO

 

Comments

3 responses to “New Norwalk position draws implications of impropriety, racial indignation”

  1. Norwalk Parent

    Sounds like lots of money to me. I am curious how does this job which is clerical and requires no college degree compair to a starting salary of a norwalk school teacher?

  2. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    Ms. Young has been working in City Hall for almost if not 18 years through different programs only funded through grants for whatever reason, since the Weed and Seed summer youth program, community police funded started and also others, under Knopps and Moccia, without any benefit packages. Because of her compassion for Norwalk and her community . With the knowledge she has in every aspect of Norwalk she has earn her degree and she should be given a salary that would compensate for years of not being paid with benefit package. Some with degrees might be book smart but still can’t use common sense.

  3. Sherelle Harris

    Thank you, Mrs. Ruby McPherson. I could not have said it better. She is not coming in with a sense of entitlement. She has put in the time and done a great job, often working two positions while getting paid for one. She is not new to the scene coming in by way of unethical deals with the devil. Furthermore, the person she will report to wants to work with her.

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