Norwalk ‘reorg’ moves forward, with Parks and Rec under one umbrella

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling talks to Common Council members Wednesday in City Hall. At left is Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King.

Updated, 6:41 a.m., 9:58 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members on Wednesday moved forward what Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) described as a “personnel realignment, not a true reorg.”

The Ad Hoc Committee voted four to one to authorize “option 2” from Mayor Harry Rilling’s proposed reorganization, which would create a new Department of Public Property and Parks, and keep recreation and parks together under a Chief of Public Works and Operations.  The committee modified the proposal to omit a Chief of Community Service and a Chief of Economic and Community Development.

This will keep the process moving, Tom Livingston (D-District E) said, explaining that there are issues with the Chief of Community Service role and the two omitted positions will be discussed in two weeks.

“We have put a lot of time, effort, into discussing and studying putting parks and rec and DPW together. I am comfortable trying that,” Michael Corsello (D-At Large) said.

“I do believe that there’s benefit as far as recreation and DPW portion are concerned,” Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said.

The Norwalk Branch NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has objected to the plan to merge Fair Rent with Fair Housing; Rilling commented that meetings are needed with the NAACP and the Fair Housing Advisory Commission.

The proposed reorganization is still on track for a Council vote this summer, Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King said in a midnight email: “They referred the majority of option 2 to Finance, Personnel and Ordinance committees for them to get started on reviewing the proposal. They plan on having another Ad Hoc committee meeting ASAP to discuss two sections – economic development and community services -in more detail with the hopes of making a recommendation on those sections next.”

King and Rilling initially said they were hoping to implement the proposed reorg in time for the July 1 start of a new fiscal year.

“We are a little behind… a couple of weeks won’t make a big difference,” Rilling said to Livingston, agreeing with the proposal to study the two chief positions longer.

Doug Hempstead (R-District D) had the lone dissenting vote.

“I really think the reorganization is worthy of certainly a look-through, an evaluation and updating job positions, job descriptions, salaries, that’s really good. But I say that, and not changing the voice on that, we don’t have internally the expertise nor were we provided with enough information that especially tells us what our economic value to the changes and what the deficiencies are,” Hempstead said, asserting that outside help is needed.

“Without that kind of professional help and the outside view that’s not connected to direct government politics, all the things that come into play when you put this kind of … soup, that I think we need some guidance and help,” Hempstead said, further explaining that implementation will likely be the hardest part of the reorg.

Kydes said the proposal will go to Council Committees, which will hold public hearings and vet the plans. Sacchinelli asked if the city was planning to seek consultants, and King said that nothing formal had been drawn up but there had been many discussions.

“We work this every single day,” Rilling said. “We all have a degree of expertise in how  organizational structures work and how you align like functions to improve communications and to have greater efficiencies and sharing of resources. I have studied organizational structures, change and development. All of us have worked in government for quite some time.”

A consultant isn’t need to point out the obvious fact that economic development supervisors should be aligned with all the things that deal with economic development, he said, as an example.

“I understand where you are coming from but we can bring in somebody from outside who has no idea about Norwalk whatsoever, who will then speak with individuals, who perhaps resist change, and expect them to tell us the best way for us to do business,” Rilling said. “The people in this room should know the best way for us to do business.”

He continued, “We have worked this for five years now. I have worked this for many years before that. I have seen how lack of communication, lack of coordination, and lack of sharing of resources have cost the city tremendous amounts of money, tremendous amounts of inefficiencies, tremendous amount of wasted resources.”

“I think that’s why we’re confident moving forward based on the recommendation,” Sacchinelli replied. “ … It completely makes sense. That being said, we are moving forward with little to no tangible content. I think that’s what we’re asking for in terms of the next steps.”

It’s very difficult to get the data to make comparisons because Norwalk departments are so “siloed,” King said.

“You’ve all had every option in front of you for quite some time now, is there anything that doesn’t make sense? Anything that is not logical?” Rilling asked, promising again that the Council will have every opportunity to get it right, “not necessarily exactly right the first time perhaps but as we move forward getting it right.”

“I agree with the Mayor, we think this will make a substantial difference in the way City Hall is run,” King said. “It’s also not that big of a difference… It’s a realignment of staff. The proposal costs 1/100th of 1 percent of the city budget. It affects 14 out of 630 employees. It’s step one that we feel like is the low-hanging fruit that we need to do in order to take on the bigger things that the city does need to tackle, that we will need outside help with. But, while it’s a big ask for you guys to move forward with this without information, it’s also not really that big of a change we are asking for. It’s not that big of a monetary change, it’s not going to make that big of a change in the daily lives of the people who work here except for who they are working next to and talking to on a daily basis.”

“Look at what the Board of Ed is spending trying to improve what they are doing. We gave them $11 million to improve their outcomes,” King said.

The spreadsheet provided by Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron in May states that option two will cost the city $261,595, based on the new chiefs making $140,000 a year.

When city staff meets with a neighborhood organization to discuss code enforcement, there are many different departments involved, and property owners who have issues get multiple letters from the city listing different requirements, King said.

“We don’t need a consultant to tell us that those departments need to be working together and talking in a coordinated way,” King said.

The discussion also touched on King’s possible future role as Chief of Staff, as Livingston queried Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney on the topic.

The salary ranges are clustered, with everyone except the Chief Finance Officer getting the same $140,000 salary, Burney said, confirming that King’s salary would be $36,000 higher under the proposal.

“If you want me to negotiate for an individual, that’s not nearly enough. So we’ll start that as the floor,” Burney joked.

Rilling later emphasized that many communities, large and small, have a chief of staff.

“It’s a critical position and it should be compensated fairly,” Rilling said, with Livingston replying, “We all agree,” and Kydes later clarifying that “salaries and job descriptions will be {the} purview of the Ordinance and personnel and finance Committees, and the rest of the Council.”


Norwalk native June 28, 2018 at 6:19 am

What an embarrassment. The one-party Council is going to move ahead with a Re-org that increases costs by a quarter million with no real information on the financial benefits to the City. This is modern day Tammany Hall politics in its most naked form. The fact that the Assistant to the Mayor Harry Rilling has the audacity to promote this buffoonery with full expectation of its passage is a sad reminder of why Norwalks taxes continue to spiral out of control; even while it’s property values and Grand List remain stagnant.

Sue Haynie June 28, 2018 at 6:28 am

This is a slapdash design, using taxpayers (other people’s) $$$, no metrics, no job descriptions, and with goals so undefined and bland that no one can be held accountable. The plan was initiated by Ms. King, who financially benefits from the re-org, and whose major civic accomplishment has been working in New Haven—the city that just raised it property taxes by 11% (because its organization structure worked so well.. not).

Hempstead, “…we don’t have internally the expertise nor were we provided with enough information that especially tells us what our economic value to the changes and what the deficiencies are…,”

Sacchinelli “ … It completely makes sense. That being said, we are moving forward with little to no tangible content”

JLightfield June 28, 2018 at 8:28 am

So let me understand the gist of the “need more information” crew— there’s concern that either a) not enough experience or b) enough time or c) enough data has been made to determine if a reorg if reporting structure is doable.

Kinda hard to get your KPIs from the current structure. Do we forget the decade or two of common council avoidance to investing money on an integrated GIS based permitting system across departments has kept zoning, building, health and fire silos in place.?

Or the lack of alignment between departments? My fave permitting example is the hypothetical permit for an ice cream store where a simple layout of tables and chairs makes for a mathematical word problem that defies algebra.

Management is more art than science. And if those stating that they want better data to make a decision were honest, they’d be decrying the lack of data and the dysfunctional solos of department overlap and urging Rilling to do everything possible to fix it.

Rick June 28, 2018 at 11:03 am

Doesn’t do any good to complain , even after the head of the snake is cut off there are those that still slither into our wallets and take.

Im sorry I have seen what one of the cheerleaders did on zoning on Woodwared ave then got kicked out of South Norwalk and has gone on to do damage on wall st.

Lets call him Jim the transit guy did the same thing with the trains, used Canadian management on a Oak charter state and was shown the door. Now he slithers into the ct post to post his nonsense.

There must be something in it for the cheerleaders must of been a few back room meetings promising a name plate somewhere for support. You want a name plate run for office and earn it the city has been played enough.

Villlage creek should know this we are fighting an illegal operation on a building that was given the green light on once it was built wrong by the plans. , woodward ave ice cream store went all wrong just ask Village creek they seem to know all the facts, if they don’t we bring it up at a Colin power meeting .

Once the mall opens this will all have to be revisited , the city will be ready then for the bad news.

Livingston asks question usually when he nows the answer .

need more information” crew is probably is American made., they care and think things thru how insulting to think only the smart ones are only in city hall.

PIBerman June 28, 2018 at 12:24 pm

Where else would the Mayor’s new Chief of Staff be considered qualified for that position ? Where else would a $36k salary boost be given without any explaination ? Where else would a ReOrg plan be proposed that doesn’t offer major/any cost savings to the City ? Where else would a Mayor deign his own Reorg plan without using professional advise based on his background as a Police Chief ? All in all further evidence of a City run by elected officials lacking basic business experience imposing their amateur governance on a City troubled with a long stagnant Grand List, falling property values, punitive taxes and major exodus of long time homeowners replaced by new temporary renters. The obvious issue is why can’t we do better running our City governance.

Adolph Neaderland June 28, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Certainly the city’s governance unwieldy structure needs to be cleaned up, long overdue.

However two different consultant, Hodge from Stantec, and W-ZHA from Redevelopment recently have similarly recommended that Norwalk look to low impact industrial development to revitalize it’s economy.

If we are to follow that lead, a City plan for implementation is required before an organization chart is constructed.
Only when a vetted Plan is approved should consideration for a reorganization be considered, creating the structure to implement that Plan.

Determining how to woo the kinds of light industrials that will increase the Grand List without requiring another significant infrastructure investment and/or tax incentives requires expertise and experience we apparently do not have. (Our 2013 -2017 infrastructure investments , tax incentives and residential construction thrust have had virtually no effect on the Grand List).

The Mayor’s proposal locates “Business Development”, the key to Grand List growth, 3 layers down on his chart before mayoral responsibility.

My opinion, it should be a direct responsibility.

carol June 28, 2018 at 2:44 pm

can’t wait for november-lets get rid of these buffoons , how dare they approve this with no background info,no experts to say this should be changed but not that.
if the taxpayers of norwalk let this charade go through,then they deserve what they get a new mayor named king.
shame on the council.

James Cahn June 28, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Some of these quotes are amazing. Bruce Springsteen isn’t this good at circle-talk and he’s the king.

“I agree with the Mayor, we think this will make a substantial difference in the way City Hall is run,” King said. “It’s also not that big of a difference…” I’m confused. It’s “substantial” but also “not that big of a difference?” Is that like “jumbo shrimp?” Or “working vacation?” That seems schizophrenic…even for Norwalk City Hall.

This one is choice, too: “It’s not that big of a monetary change, it’s not going to make that big of a change in the daily lives of the people who work here…..” This has always been a pet peeve of mine. It irks me when I’m asked to pay for something and the rationale that I’m given is that “it’s not really that much money.” Why is it so insignificant as long as I’M paying the bill but not so insignificant that those asking for it can’t do without it?

Just so I’m 100% on this thing…

* This is a “re-org” which will be vital and significant by having as limited an impact as possible.

* It’s meant to save us money. Which it will do by costing us money.

* Norwalk needs a Chief of Staff because other cities have one but, also, benchmarking to other cities isn’t relevant because Norwalk is totally different than those other cities.

* The reorg makes total sense due to its lack of any current specific plan or projected outcome.

* The only possible way to see the benefit of the reorg is is to do it and then figure out why it didn’t work.

Harry Rilling unwittingly summed this up more precisely than I ever could…”All of us have worked in government for quite some time.”

You sure have, haven’t you?

Debora Goldstein June 28, 2018 at 4:28 pm

For the portion of the meeting held in public, I thank the Chair (Mr. Kydes) for recognizing at least some of the discussion needed to be properly held in a public meeting.

What I heard during that time was disappointing, however.

The specific example cited by Ms. King is a problem solved by information systems, not staff reorganization.

And the reason for adjusting ordinance position pay scales is to align them with union positions. Given that the City complains about the cost of union labor, this seems to be at odds with the objective of controlling costs. It also puts the City in the odd position of negotiating on behalf of non-union labor. And it consciously seeks to devalue the benefit of belonging to a union.

I’m also not a fan of the argument that supervisors must make more than their direct reports when the direct reports are union employees.

The idea that the council should approve one of a menu of options based upon “is it logical” rather than identifying deficiencies (as Mr. Hempstead pointed out) is not a case of low-hanging fruit, but of prioritizing the needs of management. Mr. King said this won’t have an appreciable effect on Norwalkers, but there is no way to be sure of that.

She argues that the costs are not material, but this is a city that could not afford to hire someone to do an independent review of the Walk Bridge.

Giving one individual more money for doing the same job, and several more additional salaries because they are dubbed “cabinet positions”, without attaching specific value to the additional responsibilities and the so-called efficiencies this would produce is trending in the wrong direction. How long will it be before each of these cabinet members need his/her (are there any “her” cabinet level managers?) own “chief of staff”?

And the Mayor will have to forgive those of us who are skeptical of the “pass it now and we’ll adjust it later” argument. This formula has been used time and time again to pass something, only to have the idea of adjusting it later shot down with the argument that it already passed and there was no need to revisit it.

JLightfield June 28, 2018 at 5:51 pm

@jamescahn you raise good points but I’m going to quibble with your benchmarking comment. If the resounding issue is that Norwalk fairs poorly in any number of operational areas because there iare too many overlapping areas, then why not unoverlap them?

This is really what is at stake. I’m sure there are different reorg possibilities. We can debate all of them, but merely suggesting an endless analysis to get to a “perfect” consensus reorg simply ensures that nothing changes.

Al Bore June 28, 2018 at 6:33 pm

This comes as no surprise and watch they will all be re-elected, What a shame two mayors and Norwalk is still going down the tubes. Stagnant property value and high taxes.

James Cahn June 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm

@Jackie. Don’t misunderstand. I’m hardly suggesting that we let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough.” But I AM suggesting that we not let “any old thing” suffice, either.

I think a re-org is a good idea. But this is hamfisted and amateur. The All Saints Girl Scouts had a better, more articulable plan and goal set for their cookie sales this year than is being sold to me here. That’s not an exaggeration for effect, either.

I agree, we can destroy anything via over-analysis. But that doesn’t mean that the viable alternative is to just stumble around blindly and guess.

Let’s take one of your examples, a good one: permitting for an ice cream store. Some questions:

How many permits are currently required for something like that? What’s the cost to the permittee? Is there a clear critical path for the permittee? What’s the current turn around time from start to finish?

Am I really expected to believe that these answers are totally unknowable? If we don’t know the answers to these questions, how will we know that we’ve improved this process? Teams that actually want to achieve their goals make sure that they’re well defined. What we’re doing here is coming up with answers to questions which haven’t been asked and told, “If these turn out not to be the answers, we’ll come up with different answers and try those…” That’s just stupid. Not only is it stupid, there’s virtually no better way to define inefficiency.

The only real goal, here, seems to be for Harry to lighten or help spread around his job, to give his assistant a raise and to shuffle some people around so that the raise nets out as close to cost neutral as they can possibly get it. Since will cost me MORE money, I want to know what I can expect to get. This question, they have an answer to. Their answer is, “We don’t really know. Probably not much.”

What I really object to is the charade that this is all somehow for my ultimate benefit. Tell me you’re doing this because you want to give your assistant a raise. Tell me that you don’t think that $250,000 is enough money that I should expect to get anything in return. Tell me that you don’t like my shirt. But don’t tinkle in my soup and tell me, “Oh, that’s just rain…”

Jlightfield June 28, 2018 at 9:48 pm

@jamescahn, so you and I could play armchair quarterback on what a reorg should look like, right? But at the end of the day we would both conclude that our way made sense for each of our different experiences running orgs or projects. So we’d agree to disagree, and move on until one of us runs for mayor, does their reorg, and the other writes comments on it 😉 So yeah, i’m Fully in support of the idea that any Mayor should reorg their department reporting structure however they want.

The ice cream store is always a good one because it touches on the complexity of what on the surface is an easy to understand business. The word problem? If farmer Brown opens Ye Old Ice Cream bar in a commercial zone, and health says it’s a restaurant because food, fire says you can’t have more than 50 people based on floor space vs. fire code, building says you can’t have more than 45 people based on building code, zoning says you can’t have more than 4 4-top tables because of parking required by active floor space and that the bar can’t be more than 26 feet, how many people can Farmer Brown hire?

In Norwalk’s case the issue of conflicts on permits was something i attempted to unravel during my stint on zoning. But that was one silo. When it came to things like do you give a zoning permit for a project on a site where there is a pre-existing zoning issue, it’s clear. When the problem is another department’s it becomes bogged down by silos of essentially data. Some departments do a great job with records, Public works for example, and some haven’t; parks and rec for eaxample. The two are easy to pick on because what they do or don;t do is very visible and the perennial issue of who plows what city owned property has fascinated residents for decades.

I get that you want defined goals out of this, but to what purpose does having the council, who as the legislative body have failed collective for years to address any of this? It’s not that there are individuals who aren’t interested in improving the city, but doing so via the convoluted committee system that by design can barely keep up with the flow of reactive contract approvals, has been a decades-old problem. So it’s easy for me to say, as I have, the alignment of functions will result in better management because ultimately a hierarchy will be in place to endure that goals are in fact set based on the new alignment. I don’t agree with you that this needs to be done upfront, because we are stuck with this two year election cycle, and the real results of such a culture change will be incremental and driven by achievements built on consensus with these departments.

The corporate world is filled with reorg upon reorg upon reorg scenarios because sometimes it takes more than once to get that productivity out of change. I expect that will happen here.

Your last point is about the raise for the chief of staff position. Added responsibility should mean more compensation. While the BOE manages to compensate its administrative staff competitively, the rest of government hasn’t kept up with the market. Sure, Norwalk could continue it’s system of rewarding longevity instead of attracting top talent with competitive salaries. But if Norwalk wants to hire people who can manage people and things, then the salary needs to be competitive, not just by looking at what other cities in CT pay or do, but by what the recruitment and responsibility peer group is earning.

If the council had reclassified positions buried within the charter over the years maybe we could have been having an debate about the number of project managers needed in multiple departments, but we can’t because updating that charter is really hard to do apparently. So instead of increasing middle management, this proposal increases upper management. I’m going to assume there’s an implied first in the strategy, because more than anything Norwalk needs lots of layers of differently skilled workers aligned with strategic objectives to get there, and the current structure is simply inadequate.

I’d love if a PE project manager and an economic development person, and a community outreach person were all hired just to deal with a Walk Bridge issues. Maybe then Norwalk would have a fairer chance managing the flow of plans and data generated by the 125 consultants on the job working on CTDOT’s agenda. On the same principle dedicated management is also needed in upper management positions.

Paul Lanning June 28, 2018 at 10:32 pm

All of this squabbling doesn’t have anything to do with Norwalk government routinely giving our tax money to contractors and developers who do nothing for us. When the smoke clears, that won’t have changed at all.

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