Norwalk council members: No one asked us about our needs

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Norwalk Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) questions Finance Director Thomas Hamilton at last week’s Finance Committee meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – There is one area in which Norwalk Common Council members are willing to put more money into the budget – a fund to cover their expenses in governing.

Turns out they were never asked how much should be in the budget to cover things like paper and ink. So when Finance Director Thomas Hamilton informed them last week that the council budget had gone up 50 percent for 2014-15 they cried foul, saying it should at least be doubled.

Hamilton had put in $600 to cover the council for an entire year, which he raised to $900 after consulting with City Clerk Donna King, who consulted with Assistant City Clerk Erin Herring, Hamilton said.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) was the first to complain.

“Do you understand that $900 is for 15 people?” he asked Hamilton. “…. We don’t have any office supplies. It seems like $900 to run this department is quite low.”

Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel agreed. He said it was odd that council members weren’t consulted, as usually whenever they authorize money for other departments the requests come from the recipients of the money.

“The bottom line is it probably costs most of us (money) to serve,” he said, announcing that it should be discussed at the next Finance Committee meeting.

Council members are paid $50 a month.

“I don’t think this is one where there would be any objection on my part to provide whatever funds are needed to cover office expenses of the council,” Hamilton said.

There is a larger issue, Kimmel said.

“There’s all of this work and you want to attract …  It’s a thankless job and you do want to attract high quality people. OK? I’m not saying they do it for the money. But it’s a pretty demanding job and we don’t even get to make a request for the budget and things like that,” Kimmel said.

Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said he had never been asked for a request, and he is in his third term as a president (not consecutive).

“We should be treated in the same way as anybody else,” he said, adding that the original $600 should be doubled, at least.

The “problematic” issue goes beyond paper and ink, Hempstead said.

“Like being asked by assistant city clerk to get the guard here to open up for a goal-setting meeting. She goes, ‘You don’t have any money left in your budget.’ I said I don’t care … That is what we’re faced with. We can’t get a guy here for $15 an hour to open up when we want to do a meeting,” he said. “Then on top of it we need the secretarial support, because legally it’s a meeting. It’s a little frustrating. I get the budget aspect. Somehow this needs to be squared up or there’s got to be a fund here for general governmental business.”

Herring was present for the beginning of Saturday’s goal-setting meeting, but did not stay to keep minutes. Hempstead told council members at the end of the meeting that they needed to submit the goals that had been formulated, to put into minutes for Freedom of Information Act purposes.

Watts reminded everyone that he does not take the $50 stipend.

“That went into space,” he said, speaking of the last legislative session. “That money should have gone to the council expense so if we needed office supplies the $1,200 should have gone to the bottom line so we could have gotten letterheads and envelopes with council members names individually on them. This hit me when I went to the post office. A lot of my constituents who don’t use email, that require a letter, I have to write a letter. I don’t have any stationary. I have to pay for the postage myself … as an elected official why do I have to bear the expense?”

The stipend cannot be changed without a charter revision but the expenses should be covered, he said.

“The city can give us the tools we need to perform the job,” he said. “Nobody wants to lose money by serving on the council. We all do this not for money but we do it for the public.”

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Councilman David Watts (D-District A), left, and Minority Leader John Igneri (D-District E).


20 responses to “Norwalk council members: No one asked us about our needs”

  1. anonymous

    Common council, how about leading from the top, don’t ask for more money and just deal with it.

  2. @David Watts,
    We know, we know, we know – you don’t take the monthly allowance – GOT IT.
    I’m thinking you keep repeating this over and over again for a medal of honor as some great contribution to the city of Norwalk.

  3. LWitherspoon

    Mr. Watts doesn’t appear to have had any gainful employment in recent memory apart from part-time campaign work in last fall’s New Haven mayoral race. In spite of this he refers to himself regularly as part of the “working poor” which is a misapplication of the term since “working poor” refers to people who actually have gainful employment.
    Even more curious, Mr. Watts declines the stipend of $600 per year which would help defray his costs of being on council. Now he is once again reminding us that he doesn’t take the stipend, while in the same breath complaining about not having money to create fancy personalized stationery or buy stamps. If he simply took the stipend like everyone else this presumably wouldn’t be an issue. Six hundred dollars would probably pay for some impressive gold-embossed letterhead and lots of stamps for mailing it far and wide.
    I for one would prefer to have Council members who are able to serve constituents without fancy personalized stationery. How can you ask City employees to do more with less when Council isn’t setting an example itself? If writing his name and return address on envelopes is too much work for Mr. Watts, there are lots of charitable organizations that send out free pre-printed return address labels as part of their appeals.

  4. The Deal

    ……once again the ungrateful populace speaks…..

  5. Piberman

    Why would anyone argue increased supplies for a Common Council whose members pass budgets without line by line review or any detailed discussion ? And let all City financial decisions be made by the Finance Dept. ? Is there any Council member who actually reads the budget and asks about innovations and budget savings ?

  6. Spanner

    Why with an elaborate printing office in city hall they can’t make some letter heads for our council members?

    This goes hand in hand with the council having not having resouces to learn about some things to be able to vote for innovations and budget savings.DPW wants a vac truck or the fire dept wants a truck who breaks that stuff down so the two or three hundred thousand dollar purchases fits the need of the city not the need of a department head?

    These studies that are talked about laying around collecting dust who spells those out for our council?The ones hiding them?

    So much for playing nice,the news coverage is great but to get off of topic so we can make council members look bad by posting is something I’m trying to stay away from.Its not fair to NON.It also shows the childish behavior the city is still full of.

    Medal of Honor awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty..even for the cheap shots fired Dave can’t have that honor its a sacred Honor for those like my dad who got one in the service.

    Doug Bruce David and the rest of the members it sound like a little respect within city hall would go a long ways.We knew when Mayor Moccia was in office it cost money to open doors Maybe now that Mayor Rilling is in office he can get his own key.

  7. ScopeonNorwalk

    Council members currently get compensated at about $2 an hour (and that’s a high estimate) and then still have to come out of pocket for supplies to do their job…

    Each Council member has at least 8 mandatory meetings a month for on average 2 hours each. This doesn’t include any actual prep or research time or time attending constituent events and meeting with constituents…

    So even with the supplies requested. The Council Members are still basically volunteering.

  8. ScopeonNorwalk

    You can get compensated more being an inmate and working a prison job…because by the time they come out of pocket for supplies, compensation is -$2.

  9. Suzanne

    ScopeonNorwalk, That’s exactly right. They are volunteers and compensation for their time is a moot point. It’s like this: someone on the council has a file folder – in it goes receipts for expenses incurred while a Councilperson performs Council business outside of the usual volunteering activities. What those would be could be defined by a Council meeting with Mr.Hamilton present. Figure out how much these expenses actually add up to (the first year would have to be a guesstimate) by listing the member and the expense with a date and receipt that goes into the folder. Now, give or take ten percent, you have a budget for actual reimbursements to Council Members. No different than the Girl Scouts, 4-H or a small business budget.

  10. the donut hole

    pay your back taxes or resign. wasting city resources now on procuring your own letterhead? when is this bad joke going to end.

  11. @The Deal –
    “ungrateful”?? Nah, just sick of Watt’s being a blowhard.

  12. The Deal

    Ok Irish, I get it that you’re not fond of Mr Watts but Mr Hempstead and Mr Kimmel are also quoted in the piece with the same complaint. Is $1200 really too much? Is it really an amount to be pitchin-a-(fit) about? I don’t have a particular horse in the race but the City Council should operate with what they need to at least appear professional in what they do. N’est pas?

    This comment has been edited to comply with our policy.

  13. srb

    I can’t believe anyone would begrudge the council members for having a $1200 budget. The rest of us (including me) sit on our butts and mainly carp while they do the work of helping this City run. I don’t care of their democrats, republicans, tea party socialists or what, they spend an inordinate amount of time on behalf of the rest of us–and yes I know its by their own choice but that doesn’t mean they should have to put up their own money too. Criticize their actions and choices, run against them but don’t while and bitch because they feel its necessary to have a $1200 budget. Geez

  14. LWitherspoon

    I am grateful to the council members who show up regularly to committee meetings and work hard to find ways to save money for taxpayers. Unfortunately David Watts does neither, and according to other commenters the cherry on top is that he doesn’t pay his property taxes either (the ones he has voted regularly to raise). Now Mr. Watts wants special stationery. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what Norwalkers need from him.
    I agree with Suzanne above that there should be allowable expenses for which Council members can be reimbursed, but it shouldn’t include fancy stationery as Mr. Watts seems to desire. What kind of example would that set for City department heads who need to be asked to accomplish more with less?

  15. piberman

    Question to all readers:

    Is there any Council member in memory that earned a solid reputation for actually studying and mastering the City budget and suggested ways of reducing City spending and holding Dept. Heads compensation to their performance ability to do more with fewer resources ?

  16. @The Deal,
    Hempstead and Kimmel do not repeatedly on end every time say they do not take the stipend. I am not commenting whether or not they need more or not, I commented on Watt’s mantra.

  17. Suzanne

    piberman, If only!

  18. srb

    comes of as petty to me. Whether Watt pays his taxes on time or doesn’t is a wholly different issue than whether the council should get $1200 for clerical and administrative needs. Geez, everyone on the council is working for no pay as volunteers and your going to begrudge them $1200. If you had the higher moral ground you are in free fall.

  19. Suzanne

    srb, for me, it is not the amount it is the fact that there is no data to support the amount. Norwalk is sorely lacking in data based knowledge to actually know what is needed. If you ran your household like that, you would end up with perceived extra spending money and no groceries and the light bill neglected. It just doesn’t make any sense to the most neophyte of numbers people (that would be me) – the City needs a household budget that has been evaluated based on actual expenses and actual needs. It is missing and all of the numbers thrown around in the world whether by the Council or the Budget and Finance people will not replace this analysis. Without it, a citizen could not file a tax return.

  20. the donut hole

    the councilman’s demonstrable lack of financial management skills is very relevant. if you decide to forego income that you could use to pay your delinquent taxes and you seem more concerned with stationary than $300+ million, then it becomes very relevant.

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