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Ugly Norwalk council tone justified lack of ‘debate’

By Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-District D)

NORWALK, Conn. – Last month, the majority of Norwalk’s Common Council voted to table an item without first discussing it. No parliamentary rules were broken; there was nothing done secretly; nor was it unusual for the council to table an item. Nonetheless, there was a fair amount of anger among a few council members who made a variety of charges about breaches of democracy, mayoral control and power grabs.

Because tabling motions cannot be debated, the council has maintained a tradition of not making such motions until after there has been some discussion. This legislative courtesy not only provides the public with information about the goings-on of the body, it also allows members to make their views public before the agenda item is removed from the public eye. I have always supported this tradition, and will continue to do so. It’s a tradition that promotes democratic discussion.

However, on Oct. 9, I voted to immediately table a resolution that was presented to the council by five Democratic members. The resolution called for the Police Commission to rescind its decision to eliminate the position of captain in the police department and to begin promoting officers to that rank. The resolution rejected the recommendation contained in a study done by the International Association of Police Chiefs in 1997, and updated in 2007, which urged the city to eliminate those positions by attrition.

(According to this study and the update, eliminating captains would create a flatter, more agile organization better able to deal with gun-related crimes. The Norwalk police chief has stated that elimination of those positions would ultimately allow the department to deploy more officers on the street. Thus, the Police Commission stopped promotions to captain a few years ago, and the position will soon disappear completely from the organization.)

But the question remains: Why did council members violate the tradition of allowing discussion prior to making motions to table? While I cannot speak for others, there seem to be three reasons that explain why we broke tradition: perceptions of the council’s jurisdiction, the content of the resolution, and the definition of what exactly constitutes a debate.

Some members believed the captain issue was none of the council’s business, and that it should never have come before the body. I disagree with that view because over the years a variety of resolutions have been debated and voted on by the council that did not relate to the usual business of the body. These were generally recommendations for other legislative bodies, what I call “sense of the council” resolutions.

Nonetheless, I was disturbed when I learned the resolution would be presented to the full council before the issue had gone before the Health, Welfare and Public Safety committee. Issues pertaining to the police are a regular part of the agenda. More importantly, committee level discussions are generally thorough. I believe we would have had an informative discussion of all sides of the issue at the committee level. Then, if some members were still not happy, a resolution might then have been in order. I am certain it would have been better received, and possibly debated.

Other members noted that the resolution contained a number of factual, even absurd, statements, such as comparing the organizational structure of our police department with cities of three and four million people. The resolution also ignored the fact that the responsibilities of captains in other cities are far different than in Norwalk, that in many cities captains are part of upper management. (In Connecticut, captains must be part of the police union.) Still, I do not believe factual errors, which can be easily removed during debate, are sufficient reason to stifle debate on an important matter.

My concern with the resolution, and the primary reason I voted to immediately table it (instead of allowing debate and then voting against it), was only partially related to jurisdiction or content. I believe the majority of council members, along with a large section of the public, plus other city officials, were deeply disturbed by the ugly tone of recent council “debates.” We were tired of the insults, interruptions and name-calling.

This is my fifth term on the council. Although I have been involved in a fair number of heated discussions, I have never witnessed anything close to the nastiness of current members. I have never seen nastiness become a substitute for reasoned discussion on such a regular basis.

For me, the question was straightforward: In light of all the recent ugliness, why follow tradition and extend the legislative courtesy?

Bruce Kimmel 

 

Comments

12 responses to “Ugly Norwalk council tone justified lack of ‘debate’”

  1. Norwalk Police Captain John Frank (ret)

    Bruce
    Shame on you ! You freely admit you voted against traditional courtesy just to show them they had hurt your feelings in previous debate, without finding out why there have been captains in the police dept for so long, or why the City negotiated a pay grade for appointed inspectors into the union contract ? The people who voted for you expected better. Some even expected you might even do a little work, once in a while. Are you now going to caucus with the other party ?

  2. Tim T

    “According to this study and the update, eliminating captains would create a flatter, more agile organization better able to deal with gun-related crimes”
    Bruce
    I don’t know how to break the news to you but its not working. Crime especially gun related crime is out of control in Norwalk. OPEN YOUR EYES.. This is yet another reason why we need new blood in Norwalk politics that is not afraid to go against the status quo and continue with the failed policies of the old boys club that has made Norwalk the mess that it is.

  3. David Watts

    Bruce,

    You know for a fact this matter went before HWPS on March 22, 2012. The minutes are posted on the city site. Your actions are so “jump the shark” because we seen this before. In 2002, you resigned the Common Council’s majority leader post and stop working with the Democrats. Then, you were appointed to the Board of Education. During your time there you changed your voter status and resigned. Now, you are back on the council attacking again Democrats. After failing to work with the different groups- you should look at the Man in the Mirror.
    You have voted with the GOP to privatize garbage, now this. Use whatever excuse you would like but, voting against debate was a shameful tactic. The men and women of the Norwalk Police Department deserve better.

    1. Bruce Kimmel

      The agenda for the Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee for March 22 does not list anything under Police Department. From the minutes, it is clear that there was an informal discussion of the matter, but that was seven months before the resolution went before the Council. The item never made it officially to that committee’s agenda.

      You mention some of my disputes with the Norwalk Democratic Party, all of which reflect my futile efforts over the years to work with what I consider a dysfuntional organization. For the record:

      In 2002, I briefly resigned from the Democratic Council caucus after learning that members had formed a faction and had been meeting at the East Side Cafe; they had essentially formed a secondary caucus and created a mess. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of behind the scenes behavior. The official caucus had been turned into a joke by these members.

      In the winter of 2005, Mayor Knopp and I agreed that I could be an effective member of the BOE, so I announced I would run for that position the following November. When David Cole resigned a month later, I was appointed, and then won election the following November.

      True, I became an Unaffiliated voter from May 2007 to July 2008. After 20 months of trying to get Democratic members of the BOE to do something, anything!, constructive, I was told by the leadership of the party that I was NOT to write or say anything in public because of the upcoming 2007 elections. I abruptly changed affiliation and did what I believe was in the best interest of the city.

      I was forced to resign from the Board in February 2009 when my son became seriously ill and I had to be home evenings.

      1. David Watts

        Bruce,

        This matter was discussed under new business and one republican member gave me the idea (resolution). After the change in leadership- republicans no longer wanted to discuss this.

        During the seven months I lobbied for bi-partisan support and found many minds closed. Why did I seek bi-partisan support? Because, the police union asked for it. However, as the deadline approached we had to make a statement.

        The mayor did not want us to debate this issue, period. The republican machine went into overdrive and took you for a big ride. Claiming it was about race and partisan politics. Really? Whatever, your reason for denying council members the right to speak was shameful.

        You have now become the GOP’s letter writer and I am going to write a letter explaining your history of not working well with others. Three different groups and the same result- Bruce, look at the man in the mirror.

        I just got home from seeing the movie Lincoln. What would you have done when Congressman Stevens carried the message for the republican party? Those debate where rude and out of order but they changed this nation.

        The founders of this great nation would look upon you with disappointment.

        1. LWitherspoon

          Mr. Watts,

          We are still waiting for you to explain how it is that you were lobbying for bipartisan support at the same time that you were boycotting the meetings of the committee responsible for the legislation.

      2. oldtimer

        If I had a record like that for working effectively with my party, I am not sure I would be so quick to publish it.
        There seems to be a pattern of switching allegience when things aren’t going exactly the way you think they should. Were you the kid on the playground who kept taking the ball and leaving when your team was losing ?

        1. LWitherspoon

          Actually, he was probably one of the few kids in the playground who had the guts to stand up and say “this is wrong, let’s not do it” when others were behaving in a rude and nasty manner. For this, a few brutes probably acted rudely towards him, just as you are doing now, but in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter because he earned a lot of respect from the wider community for doing what he thought was right.

  4. oldtimer

    Bruce
    If you weren’t so concerned with showing fellow Democrats they had hurt your feelings and you were intent on getting even, you could have found out what was really going on. You could find out why the mayor and his appointed police commission wanted to eliminate captains so they could appoint people to another, higher paid, rank. You could find out from the democrats that proposed the resolution what they had in mind. Then, after courteous discussion and consideration, you could do what you were elected to do, cast a vote for the right side of this important issue. The resolution we all know was not binding on the police commission and your vote might not have had much affect, but, if enough council people did their job and then voted on the results of what they found out instead of taking orders from the great OZ, the police commission might reconsider letting all the candidates for earned promotion “die on the list” so they could appoint somebody’s political favorites.
    Imagine, if you can, what this decision by the commission, and your effective endorsement of it, will do for the morale and effectiveness of the cops who do the work and, until now, believed they had an honest chance for promotions. It can’t be helpful, if more effective police work is the real goal.

    1. LWitherspoon

      What amazes me is that this entire controversy seems to boil down to whether or not one or two people at the top of the PD are in the Union and therefore eligible for lots of overtime.

      What also amazes me is that you would imply that this is about Bruce Kimmel’s hurt feelings. Until now, none of the nastiness coming from Watts et al was directed at Bruce, so how could his feelings be hurt? Bruce has always stood up for a civil and respectful tone at Council meetings, and he deserves our respect, our thanks, and our vote for doing so. I wish he would run for Mayor.

  5. David Watts

    lwitherspoon,

    I did not boycott any meetings! This matter went before HWPS and a Republican member suggested a council resolution. Please, read the minutes! During the seven months I lobbied support from both sides.

  6. BARIN

    Hold your horses folks, talking about nastiness and attacks Mr. Kimmel. Republican council member Mccarthy accused Ms. Duleep’s mother of being a code violator in an article in the paper, accusing Ms. Duleep of protecting her code violating mother. What the heck does Mom have to do with it. He attacked a woman who has spent her time and money for the betterment of our community, just to get at council member Duleep. Why aren’t all the council members jumping all over him. I find it shameful and embarressing to the city to have a council member attack a fellow council members mother. What are you folks doing about that, oh wait, NOTHING. He should IMMEDIATELY apologize. A thank you to council member Maggio for voting against her fellow Republicans in regard to sending the resolution back for discussion in regard to Ms. Chapman, this is a council member with backbone not afraid to do the right thing. Ms. Maggio for Mayor! On another note, why is applause in Mr. Watts video an issue, who cares, the guy was trying to be creative with it. Plus I went to committee meetings when councilman Watts was the chairman and Republicans never showed up, thus no quorom, thus nothing was done. Amazingly as soon as a Republican became chairman low and behold a quorom, but now Mr. Watts was unable to get anything on the agenda, thus nothing gets done. Shame on the council members who assisted in this nonsense.

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