Norwalk council struggles with ‘little bit of chaos’

Norwalk Common Council Jan. 22 2013 105
Norwalk Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large) objects to an item on the agenda at Tuesday night’s meeting.

 By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – There was a recurring theme at Tuesday night’s Norwalk Common Council meeting: Item not found.

  • “With your indulgence, somehow this item got a little mixed up when it got put on the agenda for you,” Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said about 20 minutes in to the just over one-hour long meeting.
  • “We’re getting paperwork at the last minute into our council chambers consistently,” Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large) said at about 8:47 p.m. “It’s just creating a little bit of chaos and I think we just have to be better at what we’re doing. I just see a big issue with finding an issue before us that we have to vote on that already has been done.”
  • “I’m so sorry. The contract I have has pages 1, 3, 5 and 7, so I don’t know how I’m going to vote,” Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) said at about 8:55 p.m., on a separate issue.

1. Agenda-resistant item:

Hamilton was speaking of a $725,000 appropriation from the contingency fund to cover expenses from Superstorm Sandy, with the expecta­tion that the city will be reimbursed for most of it by FEMA. Item 1 on the agenda simply said, “Accept and approve the Special Appropriation request of the Board of Estimate & Taxation: Dated: December 3, 2012.”

“If you look at the backup material, normally, I think you know, that the board of estimate recommendations start with ‘resolved’ and then have an account number and so forth,” he said. “Item 1, that didn’t happen, but the backup is, in fact, correct. So I would ask your indulgence to take these items up if you would. The backup was in all of your packages.”

A motion to put the item on the agenda was unanimously approved.

The expenditure had been approved by the BET at its Dec. 3 meeting and had gone through the council’s finance committee.

“Unfortunately there was a problem two weeks ago to get them on the agenda, so this is the second time there’s been a problem,” Hamilton said.

2. Work done, payment approval sought:

The second item, which drew Peña’s comment, was also Sandy-related. The council was asked to approve a $110,000 payment to Deering Construction – for paving work that had already been done.

“Why are we getting it now, to approve the money, when the project has been done?” Councilman Fred Bondi (R-At Large) asked Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.

“Unfortunately, Superstorm Sandy threw all of our project plans into disarray,” Alvord said.

Deering had being doing drainage work on West Main Street and Summer Street, he said, when the storm hit. A&J Construction, the paving contractor for the year, was not able to complete its other work and still do West Main Street. Deering had its equipment right there and did the work for the same price A&J would have done it, Alvord said.

“We couldn’t leave the street dirt through the winter,” he said. “… we had to get it done before the temperature started dropping.”

Peña said he wasn’t pointing fingers, but, “I just see a big issue with finding an issue before us that we have to vote on that already has been done. I understand the circumstances and I just think we have to be a little bit better here in the process that’s before us.”

The council approved the expenditure. Bondi was the sole no vote; Pena abstained.

3. Contract pages missing

Lastly, the council was asked to approve a 5-year extension of an arrangement that allows owners of the SoNo Corporate Center, located at 50 Washington St., to occasionally put a trash bin in the city’s park there.

None of the council members had the even-numbered pages of the contract. They hadn’t noticed until Miklave pointed it out.

The matter had gone through the Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. Chairman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said the entire contract had been in the committee and he went to get it. Council Presi­dent Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) offered to table the motion, but Miklave said all he needed was a few questions answered.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Mocciae said the arrangement didn’t have a monetary component to it. His department has a symbiotic arrangement with the SoNo Corporate Center, he said: work is done on the park – such as decorating it for Christmas – without city staff being involved. “Their staff cleans the front of the park, because we can’t get to it,” he said.

The building does not have a loading dock, he said, so management parks a trash bin outside once or twice a month to deposit debris associated with tenant relocation.

Mayor Richard Moccia drew laughs when he said, “I think the question is, did the other missing papers go into the Dumpster?”

Petrini said the contract was just a renewal. “The Dumpster doesn’t stay there long; nobody wants a Dumpster in front of their building,” he said.

“They are good corporate partners and they are working to improve the appearance of that building,” Moccia said. “I would hope that, since there is no monetary value, we could approve this and then track down the missing pages, check the Dumpster out tomorrow.”

All voted in favor.


7 responses to “Norwalk council struggles with ‘little bit of chaos’”

  1. Diane C2

    Ambiguous agendas. Cryptic action items. Fill-in-the-blank contract approvals. Last minute ‘special’ meetings. Questionable Executive Sessions. Council items advanced with no committee/staff input. Last minute agenda items.
    Missing contract pages. DPW work conducted before approval. Bid due dates that force votes without due diligence….the list goes on.

    All this, and more, is just the beginning of the acceptance of a “just sign here” mentality. Each individual infraction on its own seems innocuous, but taken as a whole, over time, and a consistent pattern, and surely all would agree this is bad, bad news for taxpayers and residents.

  2. Suzanne

    This report is puzzling, to say the least. When I think of the total amount that represents the City of Norwalk budget, I find these “overlooks” and “ommissions” alarming.

    Who is watching the store over there? And, always, always Mayor Moccia seems to think it is funny. I just don’t get it.

    I consider the Council the Board and Moccia the CEO. If this were actually the case and Norwalk was a corporation, it would have gone bankrupt a long time ago not because of any economic downturn but because of sheer incompetence.

    Perhaps the people who are copying the reports or printing the reports for Council use don’t consider their job important enough: perhaps that is the general atmosphere of the Mayor’s office otherwise reports and proposals would be impeccably administered and projects to be paid would be considered BEFORE the work is completed.

    This should be an embarrassment but, instead, I see a laissez-faire (French interpretation of this) attitude that leaves the Council to try and conduct their affairs in chaos while Moccia is laughing.

  3. Joe Espo

    @Diane C2

    I have an idea: next time there’s a DPW contract up for action or discussion, we’ll stop the clock for you for about a year’s time so you can review and re-review every letter, word, sentence, paragraph, page and document associated with it. But before that, we’ll turn back the clock so that you can be present and see hear and contemplate every thought, keystroke, word and action of every person incolved in the creation of the contract- including those who typed it and those who lent a fleeting thought to it while they were sitting on their toilet bowls. Will that quell your desire for ad infinitum transparency? Probably not, because you’ll ALWAYS find something to complain about.

  4. Oldtimer

    You have just demonstrated the oldest trick in the book. When the message does not please you, attack the messenger without any consideration for the message. The faulty process pointed out here happens way too often and Alvord, for one, makes bypassing the normal contracting process sound normal. Joe Espo, on the other hand, makes anyone who complains sound at fault. Notice that Alvord gives no figures to back up his story such as area paved and contract price for paving at a fixed number per yard. We are expected to take his word that all is well, nobody got cheated, the contractor who has the contract is not going to complain, or sue, etc.

  5. Diane C2

    @Joe Espo: Joe, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. Oh wait!! That would be HAL ALVORD’S job and the the PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE OF THE COMMON COUNCIL’S job!

    Joe, all sarcasm aside, if you’re a Norwalk taxpayer I’d hope you would be as horrified as I am that contracts get approved with a “don’t you all worry your pretty little heads over the details, now” admonition from Mr. Alvord when anyone questions him. Electing officials does not mean we give up our right to open government and public engagement. And puh-lease don’t confuse “complain” with “inform”…..

  6. Tim T

    Diane C2
    I would like to say Thank You for everything that you do for Norwalk. If we had more like you we would not see the clowns that we have running this city staying on. These idiots should be questioned at each and every turn as they are failures.

  7. BARIN

    @ Joe Espo, like the television commercial says “C’MON MAN”, you can’t be serious. Are you a Norwalk resident? There is no way anyone would support the way things are being done, in secret, no discussion and then we, the tax payers suffer. Oldtimer is correct, attack the messenger that makes everything better. For who? Thank you Diane, please keep up the great work being a watchdog and whistle blower all in one for residents of Norwalk. Someone has to do it.

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