Norwalk reorg proposal said to address ‘low hanging fruit’

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling talks to the Ad Hoc Common Council Committee charged with considering his proposed reorganization, Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling’s “basic 101 of reorganization” was scrutinized Monday by skeptical Norwalk Common Council members, with some Democratic pushback added to resistance from 100 percent of the Council Republican contingent.

“I guess I am looking for more meat on the bone,” Minority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-District D) – the only Republican on the 15-member Council – said as a member of the Ad Hoc Council Committee, suggesting that a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is in order.

“Is there a list somewhere of what was identified as inefficiencies that can explain why under certain circumstances efficiencies are being created?” Hempstead asked.

“The most glaring one is 19 direct reports to the CEO. That’s not a very easily managed span of control,” Rilling replied, repeating the pitch that’s been made since his proposed reorganization of city administrative positions was unveiled early last month.

Rilling has proposed four options for Council consideration, with hopes of a speedy implementation in time for the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Each seeks to reduce the 19 direct reports to nine, with seven “chiefs,” combining aspects of different departments and possibly splitting the Recreation and Parks Department.

The meeting in the Council chambers drew a larger audience than previous Committee discussions, with Republican Charlie Yost watching from a catbird seat in the uppermost row, and former Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton, Donna Smirniotopoulos, Diane Lauricella, Darius Williams, David Watts and members of the Norwalk Branch NAACP (see separate story) closer to the action.

Hempstead and Council member Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) spoke of practices used in the business world, with Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Ray Burney backing up Rilling’s thoughts.

Like functions should be grouped together and right now there are “19 departments pretty much operating in a silo,” Rilling said, explaining that the goal is to increase communications and reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.

This would reduce 19 budget proposals to nine, “and we can look at them, we can more easily identify the redundancies that exist,” he said.

“I like a lot of what we have been discussing but I think there might be some other level of review that is necessary,” Sacchinelli said, speculating that rearranging departments might mean “removing a wall” and physically moving them and suggesting that Council members might be too close to the situation, that a third level review might help.

“Without the fundamental figures of tracking over the years, labor in labor out, it’s hard to make a conscientious decision for any of us,” Sacchinelli said. “So, where we stand, I think we should look at other levels of asset allocation. We have been looking at this strictly on a personnel level, and our concern being maybe we will be defeating the purpose, maybe we will lose efficiencies that we currently have if we strictly look at it through that lens.”

“I don’t want to throw a wrench in things but it is, to Mr. Hempstead’s point, it’s hard to make a decision based on anecdote alone,” Sacchinelli said.

In the “basic 101 of reorganization,” you look to group like functions together, Rilling said, explaining that his team studied the structure of other cities, larger and smaller, and didn’t find any that had 19 direct reports to the Mayor.

“This has been discussed for many years. It’s time to look at it and do something about it,” Rilling said, adding that this would be “obviously implemented with view towards evaluation.”

“You are not going to make a perfect reorganization right way,” Rilling said. “There’s going to be some bumps in the road, perhaps some hiccups. But we have to make sure that we evaluate it… This should not be a static process. This should be a dynamic process, a living breathing thing that changes as our city changes. If you look back, this has been the way the city has been operating for decades. Nothing has changed.”

Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) asked if a formal method of evaluating the reorganization had been planned.

Rilling clarified that he didn’t mean that there would be a formal evaluation at say, a six month mark, but “this is something that is going to be constantly evaluated.”

“I don’t disagree with the thought process,” Hempstead said. “Big picture, I would agree with the rest of my caucus.”
The city’s organization “probably needs to be modernized,” but, “I am troubled from the business side of me,” Hempstead said, calling the reorg “more in theory, we’ll see what happens.”

Organizational structure is a theory, Rilling said, with Hempstead replying, “I am not disagreeing with the fact that some of these make sense,” and suggesting that more background information is needed.

“Who believes that the current system is fine and should be left alone?” Rilling asked. “Or who believes that we should look for improving upon the system and moving forward with a reorganization?… We have provided you with our expert opinion as to what we need to do. If you look at the current organizational structure I think you would pretty much agree that its very inefficient.”

“I agree with a lot of what you’re saying,” Sacchinelli replied, then suggesting that there is “no way around it,” there will be disruption of services and “potential negative aspects to the internal workings” of the city, with possible employee departures.

In the corporate world, different lenses are used to study such ideas, Sacchinelli said.

“I think it’s great that you brought it forward,” Sacchinelli said. “I commend you, it’s just a little difficult being on the Council with the resources that we have in front of us, making the decision, knowing that we are going to be impacting people, we are going to be impacting services with no recourse in place and nothing to go on except, “we’ll fix it, this is done.’”

“There should be no disruption of services, everybody will know exactly what their function is,” Rilling said, asserting that no department heads will lose their authority.

“The idea is to implement what we believe to be the most effective reorganization,” Rilling said. “Again, I think we all agree that we are not going to be able to consider everything all at once. There may be some hiccups, there may be some bumps in the road. That’s when we do that process… You can’t identify how effective something is 100 percent until you implement it. That’s what the evaluation process is all about.”

“I think this is much needed but I think one of the things we are struggling with is not knowing what we don’t know,” Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said, asking how success would be defined.

First, the city would improve upon its delivery of services, and second there would be cost savings, Rilling said, explaining that measurables don’t just include calls to customer service but that the Mayor’s Dashboard, which would allow the public to keep track of issues, is almost ready to go online.

“I agree that we need to reorganize. It is long overdue,” Council Majority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) said, asking how the reorganization would be implemented.

The Council needs to decide upon a direction for the reorg, Rilling said.

“Once we understand what model the Council wants, then we implement it,” Rilling said. “Ideally, we implement it all at once but there’s going to be some things that we need to roll out, and get it done, not piecemeal but get it done, whatever we can do immediately and whatever we need to follow up.”

Rilling said that Burney had been senior vice president at Metro North and has been in this process.
“I have been through many reorganizations,” Burney said, listing experiences of working with consultants that included McKinsey and Price Waterhouse.

“That’s not the exercise that we are suggesting to the Common Council,” Burney said.
“What we are looking at is the low hanging fruit.”

“We are not even there,” Burney said of a process that would require a consultant. “We haven’t aligned the resources that the city functions in a way that is rational, that is functionally parallel. Once we do that… maybe then the city finds some money for someone to come in and walk you through a more detailed SWOT. Or you bring in someone with a six sigma background… we are nowhere near that level yet, which is why I think some of you are frustrated.”
“We have to take the first step to get to the end product,” Burney said. “That first step is simply taking the resources that we have and then lining them up so it makes sense.”

Corsello agreed.

“This is just such a basic reorganization,” Corsello said. “The more I look at it that’s all it sounds like it is. This is just a start.”

“I guess we’re going to disagree on some methodologies,” Hempstead said. “That’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. I am not trying to be an adversary, I am trying to say in my mind, in my experience, 37 years out in the business world… I disagree, a SWOT is usually one of the first things.”

It’s a difference of public versus private, Rilling said.

“Your goal is the bottom line, looking to increase revenue,” Rilling said. “When we are reorganizing in the public sector, it’s to increase the delivery of services or make it more efficient. And also, to find the efficiencies that we have not identified yet…. right now the way we measure through outcomes and inputs on the annual budget and unfortunately when you look at them, every year they are the same.”


Sue Haynie June 12, 2018 at 6:31 am

“asked if a formal method of evaluating the reorganization had been planned.

Rilling clarified that he didn’t mean that there would be a formal evaluation at say, a six month mark, but “this is something that is going to be constantly evaluated.”

So sloppy, wishy-washy, on-the-taxpayers-dime kind of thinking. This is not the way great cities do business.

Lisa Brinton Thomson June 12, 2018 at 6:31 am

My faith was restored last night as Ad hoc council members – most with business and organizational experience gave the mayor a wide birth in providing more detail on his reorganization plans. Doug Hempstead, Nick Sanchinelli, John Kydes , Michael Corsello, Tom Livingston and John Igneri each asked in their own way for ‘more meat on the bone.’

No one disputed the need to for Norwalk’s City Hall to be more responsive to residents and businesses. I even campaigned on it. Yet, despite claims of the executive branch spending a whole year ‘studying’ the issue, NO evidence of such was presented over the course of the hour that the mayor was in the hot seat last night.

The mayor and his staff failed to provide any additional details or documentation to the Ad Hoc Committee on:
– Detailed operational goals and objectives
– Projected outcomes that residents or businesses would see from the reorg
– Improved or projected customer metrics
– Estimated or quantification of budget savings
– Impact on employees and their work rules, given that job changes and descriptions are underway
– Assessment of union contracts
– Impact on the consent decree for Fair Housing/Rent
– Impact on the city charter
– Impact on city ordinances
– How the city would evaluate the success of the reorganization
– Cities that were benchmarked before they decided to do this

‘Figuring it out as we go along’ and that ‘all reorganizations are theoretical’ until implemented did not create a warm fuzzy for folks in the room.

Last night’s repeated take away was that the mayor does not like having 19 direct reports. Sadly, there was little mention of what was in it for taxpayers or residents. Management trends today are for flatter organizations not adding more management layers.

Usually reorganization’s look at efficiencies from a work and task related perspective – from the bottom up. Last night was strictly top down with the proviso that employees and department chiefs ‘the real experts’ would figure it out as they went along.

PIBerman June 12, 2018 at 9:08 am

If Mayor Rilling really wanted to improve City gov’t he would have hired a management consulting firm and used Prof. Search firms to hire Top Talent for City personnel. But he does neither. Nor does he seek major reduction in City operating outlays. Demonstrating again that the skill sets of a former Police Chief are not those required to effectively oversee a City with a $400 million budget. Why isn’t Mayor Rilling interested in reducing City operating outlays ? That’s the goal of legitimate Reorganization Plans.

carol June 12, 2018 at 10:33 am

hope the council will not rush into this just to meet the mayors deadline. much more information is meeded and the assistant to the mayor seems to be getting the best deal. what about the taxpayers.

Spam of Control June 12, 2018 at 10:41 am

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PIBerman June 12, 2018 at 10:47 am

Sue Haynie makes a perceptive comment. Not only is there no review schedule for evaluating the Mayor’s Plan but there’s no proposed Cost Saving to the City. Other than an amorphous greater efficiency. Looks like Mayor Rilling is unfamiliar with basic requirements of Reorg Plans. As is the Council.

Imagine the positive results if the Mayor hired Mgmt. Coinsulants for a formal report and then with the benefit of that expert advise did propose a real Reorg Plan that would identify cost savings in providing City services. That would give the Mayor real Kudos. Not questions.

Elevating the Mayor’s assistant to a regal “Chief of Staff” position with a major salary boost to 6 + figures raises the question of qualifications. And once again focuses attention on the Mayor’s studied reluctance to hire Prof. Search to secure Top Talent for the City. Based on available public information the Mayor’s Asst would not qualify for a “Chief of Staff” in Norwalk nor in any major organization.

Norwalk is not well regarded for its City governance. But there is an opportunity for Mayor Rilling to address that. Step one is to call in Management Consultants who understand how to secure best practices management. Not do it yourself ahead of an election.

James Cahn June 12, 2018 at 12:12 pm

I tend to have a stilted view on this thing. Can another reader please confirm that I’m reading this properly? What I’m reading here is that we’re implementing this so that we may eventually measure its success but without a clear plan or intent on measuring its success? Also, an inferred admission that the reason we can’t do a “real” reorganization is because it’s too big a job for us to handle internally. But regardless, we should hurry up and rush this through.

The last time we were told that the only way to see how good something would be would be to rush it through was the charter review. Then, like now, the focus of our politicians was primarily on the concept that it would make their jobs easier but that we could only see that benefit after the toothpaste was out of the tube. Also, then, like now, we were asked to buy into the idea that it was true that we weren’t really coming up with an optimal solution but instead, a “good enough for now solution” that we could massage after the fact.

I will repeat. I have zero objection to Harry Rilling making his job easier. It’s not an unreasonable ask. Everyone wants an easier job. I have zero objection to giving his assistant a raise if she has asked for one. Who wouldn’t want a 40% raise year over year. Those are benefits to Harry Rilling and his assistant.

In order for me to be on board with benefits to Harry and his assistant they need to demonstrate to me, clearly and directly, what the benefit will be to me as the guy who’s paying the bill. That’s it.

The idea that this is all based on “what the council wants” is wrong headed. This shouldn’t be a compromise between the council and Harry Rillings office. It’s the council’s job to represent the tax payer’s best interest. Period. Not to find a way to give the Harry Rilling something “close to what he wants.”

There’s no reason whatsoever to pursue this in its current evolution. Let alone rush it through in the next 13 business days. The City of Norwalk takes more than 13 days to pickup my Christmas tree from the sidewalk and Norwalk taxpayers spend more time planning a $7500 trip to Disney World.

Hugh Sling June 12, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Norwalk tax revenue subsidizes apartment construction and resultant necessary infrastructure upgrades which benefit only the developers and contractors (and the police who earn heavy overtime for lounging around at the sites). No amount of City Hall job-jockeying will change this, nor will it clean up the eternal pile of crud that is the Wall St. area.

Norwalk native June 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm

If Rilling really wants to help the City, he should tender his resignation to Laoise. THEN, he should offer to forgo one or more of the dozens of Public Pensions he has accumulated through the years like so many nickels and dimes from his various no-show Public Union jobs. THEN, we should have a free and fair vote on Laoise for Mayor.

Patrick Cooper June 12, 2018 at 4:25 pm

When past is prologue – it’s always good to look back to see if our elected officials are consistent – or filppy floppy.

From Non – Nov. 16th 2016 – regarding the hire of Ms. King.

“King is the new mayor’s assistant, Rilling said to NancyOnNorwalk, not a chief of staff”.

Now he says – she’s really a Chief of Staff, not an assistant.

From the same article –

“There are those who would like Norwalk to be 1950’s Norwalk,” Rilling said. “Unfortunately, we are not there anymore. Norwalk needs to be run more like a business, we need to have more people, we need a focus on the things that need attention.”

Now when pressed by Doug Hempstead to look at this reorg from a business point of view –

It’s a difference of public versus private, Rilling said. “Your goal is the bottom line, looking to increase revenue,” Rilling said. “When we are reorganizing in the public sector, it’s to increase the delivery of services or make it more efficient.

Seems pretty flippy floppy to me.

Can’t recall a single article about how services are the issue in this town. Financial performance? Land use fiascos? Lack of transparency (“executive sessions” – appointment process, etc.), 1-party rule – these are the issues.

Got to hand it to Nancy – love the picture. There is Harry – fumbling and bumbling through his effort to sell a process he – and Ms. King – have purportedly spent a year preparing – and can’t provide a morsel of evidence, he can’t sell it. And there is the Independent candidate – Lisa Thomson – watching from the gallery – only thing missing was a bucket of popcorn and the gadget that makes the Bronx cheer sounds.

Common council – I know there will be party pressure to save this tired old man from self-inflicted humiliation – but time to cut bait. Or be warned – his weighty failures will soon be the lead life preservers you wear to the polls in 2019.

Lisa Brinton Thomson June 12, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Correction: berth, not birth. I should have known better, I’m a boater. Then again, it was early this morning 😆

PIBerman June 12, 2018 at 6:10 pm

Curious our Mayor doesn’t see a positive way out for his proposal to leave a leagacy for a City known for challenged high cost provision of municipal services. Rather than rely on the limited managerial/administrative expertise of his own “Team” why not seek out expert opinion to lay out some alternatives. Then after they’re presented together with Common Council select one that’s yields both cost savings and is readily implementable. Hiring well recognized consultants would provide the alternatives. And remove much if not all the uncertainty surrounding the in house efforts.

An alternative effort is to request volunteers with major leave management skills/experience in the private sector to do a management assessment of City Hall. Given the lack of participation of such individuals (for well known reasons) that’s not likely a doable option.

Having observed City Hall for several decades and read innumerable documents I have no doubts that Norwalk could substantially lower its costs of providing current City services. The missing ingredient here is major league management skills focused on saving monies at every opportunity. Rather than always rewarding everyone doing the same service with higher pay year after year after year.

Mayor Rilling and most political leaders really misunderstand how leadership works in large well run organizations. The CEO’s stand on the shoulders of the best talents they can fine. And its those talents that ensure a well run organization. With top talents Mayor Rilling would have a far easier job and not have to worry about numbers of reports. Maybe he needs spend a day or two with a CEO of a large well run organization to see just how they’re run. With a strong team the CEO is the best seat in the house.
And they usually get to go home for dinner on time with the family. Just ask around.

Debora Goldstein June 12, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Awwww. How cute! The mayor has learned a new catch phrase “span of control”. Like most bumper sticker slogans, this is not the basis for decision-making. As for Mr. Burney’s assessment that the ideal span of control is 6…like most big decisions that Norwalk makes, it is working off of past trends. Land of steady habits and all that… https://www.economist.com/node/14301444

Instead of doing a bottom up analysis to first try and identify redundant activities by the downstream reports, and analyzing FIRST whether the previous changes (like adding a mayor’s asst) had added any value/efficiency to the organization, we go straight to the idea of consolidating the department heads to make meetings more manageable for the Mayor.

The council is right to be pushing back on this, but they will only remain in the right if they reject the premise in the first place. This is a solution in search of a problem.

The mayor has been doing this job for over four years with the current structure. In fact, the council has already given him help by allowing for the hire of Ms. King. Either he is admitting he can’t handle the job (even with full-time help) he sought election to, or it doesn’t need to be done shotgun-marriage style.

The presentation to the personnel committee a couple of weeks ago looked a lot like this meeting–with a lot of the same questions being asked, and none of the information gathered in the meantime–a head-scratcher (to be generous). At that meeting, and apparently again last night, it was suggested that this plan had been in the works for a year now.

Was it really fair for voters to be asked to elect a floundering mayor to a third term by hiding this plan from them this past November? Shouldn’t they have known that electing Harry Rilling included consolidating responsibilities under fewer (non-resident) department heads with higher salaries all around?

The problem here is that some of the organizational fixes need to happen at the charter level first, but the proposed Charter changes were as unrelated to solving Norwalk’s woes as this plan is. And, having been burned once, instead of going back to the voters with viable changes that will work for THEM, the Mayor has turned his efforts to actions that can’t be vetoed by the voters.

A well-planned reorg may make sense, but it should be connected to improving services/reducing costs to the tax-payer. There is no data that suggests this will do that for us. Absent that? Well, very few of us get to reorganize our working conditions to our own convenience. An election shouldn’t change that for those who serve the tax-payer.

Jlightfield June 13, 2018 at 12:29 pm

I’m surprised that all the people fearful that this reorganization might raise property taxes instead of the proposed innovation district which guratantees that local poroperty taxes will go up. Misplaced priorities?

Lisa Brinton Thomson June 13, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Jackie, On the record AGAINST the Innovation District 🙂 There is just so much chaos being shoved down our throats, perhaps you missed my earlier critique! 🙂

U.S. Blues June 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm

How about the 100k’s of additional salaries and pensions will definitely drive up taxes.

Not misplaced priorities

PIBerman June 14, 2018 at 11:33 am

Here’s a way out for Mayor Rilling facing re-election in our One Party City with opposition rising from Common Council to his self created Reorg Plan giving his assistant a major salary and title boost to Chief of Staff. Why not hire a Management Consultant firm to propose Reorg Plans that would actually save City taxpayers major cost savings. That way the Mayor gets reduced reports and better “efficiency” or whatever that term means. And citizens get serious reductions in the City’s budget.

And to dispel that politics and re-elections are not behind the Plan our Mayor could ask several residents with major league corporate management experience to review the plan and if it meets approval recommend that it be adopted. That way we do something that’s not been done in modern times – have experts review how our antique City Hall management team does its costly business.

The above strategy would be a win win for th City, Mayor Rilling, the Common Council and oh yes the City taxpayers.

Eno Pride June 14, 2018 at 1:20 pm

This meeting displayed City Hall’s restructuring’s lack of research, preparedness, direction and definition and did not instill the public’s confidence. It exposed that for this restructuring, there is no well fleshed out business model in place, even though Mayor Rilling has said in the past that the city needs to be run like a business. The flippy floppy, ill-defined, “in theory” plan smacks of a private versus public approach with too much grey area for many well informed residents to stomach. The mayor and his council members need remind themselves that public service is exactly that, PUBLIC SERVICE, and therefore processes implemented should never be too abstract, too “in theory”, too private and shrouded in mystery, before they are hastily passed through. Conducting business this way is a disservice to the taxpayers who care and who fight passionately for a better Norwalk. Another outcome of the meeting was the obvious justification of shutting down any consideration to bring in outside consultation, which many business savvy residents feel is a glaring mistake.

This meeting also prominently exhibited that the concerns of the council members who have talent and expertise in the business world are quickly dismissed by Mayor Rilling, which is unfortunate, as a successful leader acknowledges his team’s talents as strengths and utilizes these talents and skills accordingly for the betterment of all. Mr. Hempstead stated his case about his concerns on the barely fleshed out restructuring from a business perspective, only to get talked down, and then he resigned to a wait and see approach on the restructuring “in theory” process the mayor is proposing. So many of us wish Mr. Hempstead and the others didn’t back down. A while ago, a writer posted that she wished there were some more bellicose council members in place to be stronger advocates for the public. I would agree with her… We could have used some healthy antagonists here at this meeting. Who is fighting for us?

It appears that the mayor and the council members are going with the “throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks” approach here. I am curious if they are concerned that from the outside world, they are perceived on this restructuring as overwhelmed, unorganized and inefficient, and that many discerning Norwalk residents of business acumen who are more than qualified to solve this restructuring dillemma are sitting with their hands tied, watching squirmishly. Norwalk is a city which, according to a recent article, has a high density of households whose family members are highly educated, top 5% earners in the nation, are of corporate and executive business backgrounds career wise, hold MBA’s, etc. In other words, these sophisticated, business savvy residents of the corporate world have MUCH higher expectations for this restructuring, and could lead this restructuring in a more methodical, structured, comprehensive way then what is going on right now. Just beyond frustrating… Please, City Hall…

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