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Norwalk Police Commission avoids fine

Norwalk Police Commission 041513 180
The Norwalk Police Commission (Mayor Richard Moccia, Commissioner Pete Torrano and Commissioner Daniel O’Connor) did not give a fair representation of what it would be doing last July, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission said recently.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Police Commission has been found to be in violation of the law by a state agency, but the only penalty imposed could be described as a slap on the wrist.

Agendas for special meetings held by the commission on July 6 and July 11 “did not fairly apprise the public” about what would be happening in its published agendas, the Freedom of Information Commission ruled on April 10, urging Norwalk not to let it happen again. The rest of the complaint filed by Diane Cece was denied. Her complaint about not being able to speak at the meetings was found not to have merit, as was her complaint that minutes had not been posted on the city’s website.

The complaint stemmed from a hot-button issue for many Norwalk residents – the appointment of a new Norwalk Police chief and a new deputy chief. Cece was among those in favor of a nationwide search for a new chief. Mayor Richard Moccia was adamantly opposed to that idea.

Cece protested when commissioners called an executive session at the July 7 meeting, and said she had been treated disrespectfully. The meeting was never posted in the calendar on the city’s website; the agenda was posted in accordance with FOIA statute, but it wasn’t obvious that a meeting would be happening.

Cece asked for civil penalties for the violations, but the commission only ordered, “Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with the notice requirements” of the FOIA law.

Cece drove to Hartford three times for hearings with the commission. Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr did not arrive for the first one, on Jan. 8. The rescheduled hearing on March 31 did make it into his appointment book. Commissioner Kathleen Ross listened to arguments from both sides and issued a recommendation for the rulings listed above.

The commission provided a recording of the final hearing, when the commission voted on the recommendation, to this reporter. Cece pleaded her case, citing “a documented and long and chronic history of non-compliance of FOIA law,” as she asked the commission for a tougher result: training in FOIA-compliance for commission chairmen and staff.

She tried to settle for training for Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan.

“The violations … were not by a new department head or a new staff member who hadn’t been properly trained, but in fact they were by the city’s corporation counsel, the person who is the lead attorney for the city. He is often charged as the person who does the FOI training,” she said. “In light of the violations occurred with Mr. Maslan, that he is the person who does the training itself, it left me a little disheartened that the ruling for the remedy just said, ‘Henceforth don’t do it again.’”

Norwalk Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan 041013 070
Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan was not named in the complaint filed by Diane Cece.

Commissioners said Cece hadn’t mentioned Maslan prior to that hearing. Because he wasn’t named in the complaint, the commission said the best it could do was train the police commission.

A commissioner also commented that there was no record of complaints against the city of Norwalk, and therefore no reason to impose training.

“The chronic violations don’t result necessarily in complaints,” Cece said. “For average people to do this … The first time they complained they missed the hearing, so I had to come back, etc. Ultimately what ends up happening is, after weeks or months of the complaints” being made in Norwalk and not to the state, they get remedied or people drop them because they’re not willing to put in the time and effort.

Cece agreed that if she ever filed a complaint again she would remind the commission of the April 10 ruling.

The ruling is attached below.

Cece vs Norwalk FOIA

Comments

21 responses to “Norwalk Police Commission avoids fine”

  1. Tim T

    Like I have been saying all along Moccia rushed to appoint a new chief with ZERO ZERO ZERO search for the best candidate. .This was the opportunity for Moccia to get someone from outside the old boys club and fix what many consider a broken failed police department. I am not surprised at all that they violated the law in regards to the posting of the hearing as we all know Moccia seems to think he is King and not Mayor. He has forgotten time and again that he works for us the taxpayer and not the other way around.
    I wonder who will get the useless police union endorsement now that good old Harry is running. I bet Moccia thought this little stunt guaranteed that he would get the endorsement. The funny thing is the endorsement means Zero as most cops don’t live in town thus cannot vote in Norwalk. Also many taxpayers do not have respect for the police union to follow their lead. Actually the police union endorsement is the exact opposite as many would not want anything to do with who they support. One thing to keep in mind whoever they police union supports will be sure to continue the practice of unlimited overtime for the cops at construction sites on the back of the taxpayer.

    GREAT WORK DIANE WE NEED MORE LIKE YOU IN NOTWALK THAT CALL THESE THING OUT.

  2. Tim T

    Take a look at that picture of the police commission..a bunch of old gray haired white men, not exactly a good representation of the Norwalk residents. Maybe that can help to explain their disconnect from the real world of Norwalk. Its time we do away with the rubber stamp police commission appointed by the mayor and get a lager member civilian review board that is elected by the taxpayer.

  3. M. Murray

    Much ado about nothing-Shakespeare

  4. oldtimer

    Diane’s complaint is understandable as she is a well known advocate for transparency in government and moccia doesn’t seem to be. Technically. the appointment is done by the Police Commission, but we are pretty sure the choice was moccia’s. There doesn’t seem to be a requirement for a public hearing or any special meeting when the commission appoints a chief or decides on other appointments or promotions, so the commission acted as if it was just another regular meeting. They never have posted an agenda. and didn’t see any need this time. It looks as if none of them ever bothered to read the FOI law and Maslan doesn’t check the notices for the meetings for compliance with FOI law. The police commission is not the only city agency that doesn’t include the agenda in their meeting notices and doesn’t publish a formal legal notice of meetings. Diane might have done better if she had the assistance of a really sharp attorney when she prepared her complaint.

  5. Victor Cavallo

    It’s quite interesting that I read of no allegation that the Commission’s technical violation caused any harm to the public or to the Complainant, since she attended the meeting anyway despite the meeting notice’s level specificity, which, of course, is highly subjective. I don’t read here that but for the level of specificity, the Complainant would have had any more than the already numerous opportunities to comment on, and to influence, the decision of the Commission. I don’t read here that more than the usual cadre of two or three professional Norwalk complainers got their knickers in a twist about the appointment. Even Andy Garfunkel, “…who made the search issue for a police chief a key point in his (mayoral) campaign … indicated that Kulhawik ha(d) his support. ‘I’m not disappointed in the choice,’ he said … ‘I believe Deputy Chief Kulhawik is probably a wonderful nomination for the post.’ ” (http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/police-fire/norwalks-new-chief-welcomed-process-criticized by Nancy Guenther Chapman).
    .
    And so the process that was used to pick the new chief resulted in an acclaimed “wonderful nomination” while saving the City tens of thousands of dollars that would be applied toward better purposes like crime- fighting or education.
    .

    It’s ironic that after reading an article about “freedom of information” I should become concerned about freedom from “misinformation”. First, the author of this article misquotes the decision in the cutline below the top photo. The FOIA decision did not say that that the Police Commission “…did not give a fair representation…” of what would happen at the meetings. The decision said the Commission did not “fairly apprise.” The difference between the former and the latter is quite significant legally and factually. The cutline suggests purposeful misrepresentation, which is not the case; whereas the decision’s language suggests that the Commission didn’t follow proper procedure or that the notice was incomplete. Second is the selection of pictures by the author of this piece. No doubt the most unflattering pictures of the personalities involved were selected to portray them as greedy, nefarious graying wolves. I know these folks and they are dedicated and experienced people motivated only by the intent to make this City a better place. Most are volunteers who see or seek no gain from the countless hours they spend guiding the City in a measured and efficient manner– in contrast to some of our fellow citizens who are given to nothing more than a narcissistic intent to create chaos.

    It was said that the Complainant was treated disrespectfully. Perhaps that was her motivation in bringing this Complaint. But, I advise her to consider this quotable quote that has risen to the level of a proverb: “Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it.”

  6. Tony Di

    Let’s look at this objectively. Agendas were posted. Meetings were held. Was the meeting described in great detail, no. Even the FOI says Executive Session is for personnel matters…so they wrote “Personnel Matters”

    For that, we lost a days’ time for a city attorney, had a state employee waste a weeks time listening to this nonsense. Police Commission avoids a fine? The headline should be “Lady Wastes a lot of Tax Money”

  7. Tim T

    Victor Cavallo
    I agree Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it.”
    With that said can you please talk to Mayor Moccia about that as I am sure many have seen how he behaves when anyone dares to disagree with King Moccia

  8. Tim T

    M. Murray
    How do you say Much ado about when a new police chief was snuck in without any public input and with zero search for the best candidate by the mayor and the rubber stamp police commission.

  9. Diane C2

    A couple of clarifications here-
    it’s not that Mr. Maslan wasn’t mentioned in the complaint, but rather he wasn’t named specifically as a violator or a respondent in the complaint. I didn’t know I had to mention people individually if my narrative of the events named the violator specifically. My commission-apppointed ombusdman and advisor perhaps should have instructed me to include Mr. Maslan.
    Yes, Oldtimer, a lawyer is nice to have in these cases, but I doubt there are many taking pro bono FOIA cases these days!
    I do not consider my efforts to have resulted in a waste of taxpayer dollars – it is my right as a citizen to pursue FOI complaints, and in fact it is a greater waste of taxpayer dollars for people NOT to file complaints – it allows under-the-radar tactics to prevent the public from knowing what is going on!
    The reason the FOIC shows no record of Norwalk violations is because people don’t have the time or money to pursue them! And, Mr. Spahr seems to think that addressing issues post-complaint but pre-hearing equals compliance! Ridiculous, and only allowed to happen because we allow it to happen.
    I urge every resident and taxpayer of Norwalk to file FOI complaints for every infraction – this administration doesn’t comply now only because they don’t have to – let’s make them and every future administration comply. And not just when it’s convenient. But always.
    I do want to say that while disappointed in the findings and recommendations of my hearing officer, that I respect the process, and I could have not have been made to feel more comfortable during the full commission hearing – an intimidating setting of commissioners all one side and just me on the other, with an entire ‘audience’ behind me of people there for other cases on the docket. I learned a lot, felt I was treated by the Chairwoman professionally and courteously, and am happy that the most important of items in my complaint were found in my favor, confirming the violation of the Executive Session by the Police Commission.

  10. Diane C2

    Let me also note that my FOIA complaint had nothing to do with my personal opinion that the city should have at least considered conducting a national search.
    I like and respect Chief Kulhawik and hope he brings much needed change to the NPD. Even more so, I hope he moves to Norwalk. I think positions of such importance should have a residency requirement!

  11. BARIN

    Residency requirements are at the top of the list. Thanks for uncovering these things Diane, please keep it up.

  12. Old timer

    The city had residency requirements for a lot of jobs and still does for a lot of appointments to boards and commissions, but they gave them up for city employees a long time ago. I suspect there may be questions about the legality of residency requirements for employees. Even if they are legal, they would have to be conditions of a job and could not be retroactive. A residency requirement for the chief’s job was not a requirement and, if it became a requirement, it would effect the next chief, but not one who already had the job.

  13. Old timer

    Turns out residency requirement are perfectly legal in CT, except for teachers, and there have been lawsuits lost by municipalities and Norwalk took them out of their contracts a long time ago. They could certainly make them a condition of employment for anyone hired after an effective date, but, probably anticipate a cost as the unions would want something in return for giving up the present rules. Inasmuch as a police chief is an appointment, residency could have been a requirement. A lot of people believe residency should be a requirement or, at least, a clear preference for all city employees. It is probably a worthwhile goal for any administration to work toward.

  14. LWitherspoon

    The logic behind a residency requirement seems to be that whoever is hired won’t care enough to do a good job unless he or she lives in Norwalk. As someone who has hired more than a few people over the years, I always did everything possible to hire the person who was best qualified, period. Limiting the search to people within Norwalk’s borders for a job opening that has a very specific skillset would have been a very bad move.
    .
    What if the Norwalk residents who apply to be director of the DPW have no prior experience running a DPW? Should we hire a Police Chief whose resume is less than stellar simply because he happens to live within Norwalk’s borders? It would be better to evaluate key positions based on a pre-determined set of performance criteria which involve measurable benchmarks. In a perfect world, every City Employee would live in Norwalk. In the real world, however, I don’t care if the head of the DPW lives in Danbury, I care if he gets the streets plowed quickly and cost-effectively. Residency requirements sound good but they inevitably reduce the pool of applicants to people who either a) already live in Norwalk or b) are so desperate for a job that they must uproot their family and move to Norwalk to get one. Is that who you want running our City?

  15. Old timer

    A lot of searches for dept head jobs specify successful applicant will be required to move into the community within a certain period of time. That gets around the limiting effect of a residency requirement for applicants. Police and fire applicants were required to be registered voters.
    It seems kind of silly to require all appointments to boards and commissions, as unpaid volunteers, to be residents, and not have the same requirement for paid city employees, especially those that are essential to deal with emergency conditions as first responders. Too much of our tax money is being spent out of town, too many city employees are not local taxpayers.

  16. M. Murray

    The zero search was because the City had qualified candidates within the department. It is foolish to spend tens o thousands of dollars for a nationwide search when there are qualified candidates within. How many cities like Stamford and New Haven spent thousands to find someone outside who only stayed a year and left or were run out of town, only to repeat the process again. Residency requirements are a great idea as long as the City is willing to pay wages commensurate to the cost of living compared to housing costs compared to more affordable area. Te goal should be to hire te best qualified candidates, not the best quality candidates willing to move into the city. That would definitely cut down the quality in the pool of applicants.

  17. Tim T

    M. Murray
    You state
    “The zero search was because the City had qualified candidates within the department”
    You are kidding right?
    How do you judge qualified if you don’t compare from outside the old boys club? You don’t!!!
    The Norwalk police department is considered a comedy act by many.
    Actually the only ones that I have met that don’t feel this way is the cops themselves, both current and retired and of course the criminals because they don’t get caught. What The NPD needed and still needs is a new set of eyes at the top from outside the NPD. This way they would be seen for the disaster that they are and could do a house cleaning from the top down, and a good house cleaning it needs.
    The NPD has failed and failed miserably to prevent or solve crime. Maybe you forget about the numerous shooting and killings of the last several years but I have not. The bulk of these remain unsolved. The ones that were solved were solved by outside agencies.
    Also as far as Stamford and New Haven that did not work out. Could that have been because the almighty police union made the chiefs live imposable because one of their own didn’t get the job? I think so. What Norwalk and municipal unions’ in general need is a Chris Christie type to put them in check
    You also state
    Residency requirements are a great idea as long as the City is willing to pay wages commensurate to the cost of living compared to housing costs compared to more affordable area.
    Odd as last I check 90 percent of the NPD is making 6 figures.
    On a side note I find it comical that the bulk of the ones that seem to be happy with the performance of the NPD and police commission are current or retired NPD.

  18. LWitherspoon

    @oldtimer
    You state “A lot of searches for dept head jobs specify successful applicant will be required to move into the community within a certain period of time. That gets around the limiting effect of a residency requirement for applicants.”
    .
    Unfortunately that’s not true. Any candidate with a family who lives in another City will have great difficulty moving to obtain the job, and likely won’t even apply unless desperate. His or her children will be involved in local schools and activities. What person in their right mind uproots their children during their formative years if there’s any alternative? So your residency rule will limit the pool of applicants to either a) people who already live within Norwalk’s borders and b) people who are so desperate for a job that their only option is to uproot their families and move to Norwalk.
    .
    I do think it’s interesting that residency requirements are legal in Connecticut, EXCEPT FOR TEACHERS. What does that say about the power of the State Teachers Union in Hartford?

  19. I just hope Nancy is just as fanatical IF a democrat gets voted in… I am suspecting “no” but only time will tell.

    Nancy and Diane are not on the side of right but against the republicans.

  20. BARIN

    If you are making a decision as a department head that will have a direct impact on residents, you should also feel the impact of your decision directly as we have to.
    Any resident that cant see that has blinders on, stop with the we can’t do that it will limit the candidate pool, we dont want them to uproot their families etc.
    Long time residents are uprooting their families to get out of Norwalk based on many of the decisions made by department heads who don’t live here.
    Unless you are a personal friend of one of these out of town department heads you would agree that they should live in Norwalk.
    If you want the job in Norwalk you need to live here, that simple.
    If there is a candidate that encourages and implements this requirement, I will certainly vote for them as will many other residents that consider it vital to the community.
    Logically if a decision you make has direct impact on you or your family, you will be certain to think that decision through more carefully before implementation, it makes sense because it’s human nature.

  21. Tim T

    LWitherspoon
    You state
    “Any candidate with a family who lives in another City will have great difficulty moving to obtain the job, and likely won’t even apply unless desperate”.
    Odd as people in the private sector pick up roots everyday due to employment .
    So Unfortunately LWitherspoon your statement is not true.

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