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.”