Police department snow problem prompts debate for Norwalk council

Norwalk Common Council Miklave Moccia
At left, Mayor Richard Moccia listens as Common Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) makes a point, right, at Tuesday’s meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – A miniscule portion of Norwalk’s next capital budget got a maximum amount of attention Tuesday evening in a sometimes contentious Common Council meeting marked by bursts of laughter and a discussion that resembled a mayoral debate.

The purchase of a $32,000 pick-up truck for the Norwalk Police Department was sharply questioned by Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A), one of four men vying to be the Democratic Party challenger to incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia this fall. Moccia shot barbs back at Miklave, as well as Councilman Michael Geake (U-District B) and Fred Bondi (R-At Large), who both took exception to parts of the budget, or the process it was developed under.

Deputy Police Chief David Wrinn said in  an early March Planning Committee public hearing that the pick-up truck purchase was needed for snow plowing. Asked by Miklave at that time why the Department of Public Works didn’t plow the lot, Wrinn said, “It’s just more efficient for a small lot like ours that gets used all the time, it’s more efficient to do something like that than to try to pull somebody off the street,” he said. Crews can hold off and plow the schools at night, he said, but the police operate 24/7 and don’t have the option of waiting for it to be done later.

Tuesday night, Miklave called DPW Director Hal Alvord to the microphone and asked about the pick-up truck purchase, but he got the predictable answer: “That’s not my department.”

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), chairman of the Public Works Committee, said he had called Chief Thomas Kulhawik and asked for more information following the public hearing. The truck would be used for snow plowing, he said, which “wasn’t any different from what we heard.”

McCarthy said having the police handle their own plowing would not take manpower off the street. Instead, he said, it would “help get them on the street.”

He said the truck would also be used for more traditional work when not in use as a plow.

“In events where there were arrests made, where there were large items, as there have been in the past, that needed to be transported from one part of the city to the police department or potentially from the city to Hartford, or many other uses for the pick-up truck, this would be incorporated,” McCarthy said.

Miklave said he would have liked to have heard that at the hearing.

“I have to say I’m pretty shocked with that statement,” he said. “I’m shocked because that wasn’t the testimony the police department gave at the public hearing. … It raises a question in my mind about the information we are getting as the result of the public hearings that we have.”

There is another reason DPW trucks cannot be used to plow the police lot.

Alvord explained with his self-described “diplomatic skills” that the inside of the police station is designed better than the outside – DPW snow plow blades are 11 feet wide; the gate is 10 feet wide, he said. Also, there are more vehicles in the lot than there are marked spaces, he said. There is no where to put the snow and the aisles aren’t set up for a snow plow.

Miklave wanted to know who handled the plowing this year and how much it cost. Alvord, who said the DPW leaves a Bobcat  – a small front-end loader – at the station throughout the winter, said plowing the lot was subcontracted to Guardian Services, but he didn’t know how much the contract was for.

The mayor said he thought the contract had been for $24,000 to $25,000, though he wasn’t sure. The contractor cannot stay there 24 hours, he said, and the wind may blow the snow back in.

“We need the officers back out on the street,” he said. “I don’t want to get into a debate. We have an $18 million capital budget here and every dollar counts. This is $32,000 on a pick-up that could be used in cases of necessity to plow snow. I don’t know what was said at the public hearing. The chief is not here tonight; I don’t think he thought this was going to be a cause cèlébre.”

“I’m not trying to make this a cause cèlébre, Mr. Mayor, but the thing I am having trouble understanding is this simple line,” Miklave said.

The city has duplicate snow plowing services with no coordination, he said, causing Moccia to say, “I’m not going to agree with you that we’re not going to coordinate.”

Miklave said he had been interrupted. “When I stop talking that’s the signal that I’m finished,” he said. “I’ll stop talking now.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Moccia replied, going on to repeat the problem of drifting snow – and throwing in a debate-like jab.

“We need to get our police out,” he said. “If you want to talk about that, you were on the council and you approved the design of the police station, maybe you should have made it 12 feet wide and we might be able to get something in there. I don’t agree with your comments, that’s all.”

Bondi then raised the mayor’s hackles, questioning the purchase of a new prisoner van, as Moccia looked up the minutes of the public hearing where Kulhawik had explained that the old van was rusted.

Bondi persisted, repeatedly saying cops should stay on the street, not plow snow in the lot. Councilman Nick Kydes (R-District C) said patrol officers wouldn’t do that, and Moccia said desk officers or the maintenance man would come out.

“They have to come from somewhere,” Bondi said.

“They’re in the building!” Moccia said. “ … I gotta be a weatherman, too.”

Another member of the Republican caucus then became a thorn in the mayor’s side, asking Alvord about the need to fix the City Hall roof, which was not approved for funding.

Geake asked if mold would sneak in before it could be done, or if electrical systems might be damaged.

Alvord said no mold had been found yet.

“We do have leaks on occasion,” he said. “The most frequent one was a pretty little waterfall dripping into the atrium from the top of the third floor. I don”t think most of the city staff see the risk there because most of the leaks land on Tony Daddona’s desk. Then we get a call and we go deal with the leak.”

Geake said he wasn’t criticizing Alvord. “It just concerns me that we have a roof that needs replacing,” he said. “Forgive me for being blunt; this seems like an asinine process where we request part of the money and we accumulate part of the money for years. Then we finally fix a leaky roof. I’m just railing against what I see as utter stupidity, when you’ve got a leaking roof, you fix it.

“That’s not directed at you, believe me.”

“It must be directed at me,” Moccia said, causing laughter.

“It’s directed at the process,” Geake said.

Moccia said he had approved when former Mayor Alex Knopp had gone into debt to finance $2 million in school expansions, but said he is concerned about overburdening taxpayers.

Geake said he was ranting about the process, and the possibility of “goodies like mold or compromised electrical equipment.”

“You should have proposed I eliminate $2 million from Common Core and put it into the roof,” Moccia said.

Kydes pretty much ended the debate.

“This has gotten out of hand,” he said. “I wish there was this much debate when we were passing the operating budget. I was the only one who voted to lower the operating budget. This capital budget is a good budget.”

The budget passed unanimously.


15 responses to “Police department snow problem prompts debate for Norwalk council”

  1. M. Murray

    This one was really a “no-brainier “. Anyone looking at the lot can see that it was not designe for larger plows. The islands and unusual shaped corners designed to maximize parking spaces do not make it conducive to having larger plows. This is also not like a commercial lot where it is empty for any period of time so that it is easier to plow. Even during the lighter shifts, te lot is almost at maximum capacity. Cars have to be moved to plow and then moved again so other areas can be plowed. During continuing storms, even major ones, this process has to continue without a real break because of the need to get these cars in and out on an ongoing basis. DPW would have to have a three man crew stationed at the police dept through the entire storm. Additionally, as anyone owning a large business knows, having a pickup is a nice convenience for times when large items need to be moved. Should the police quad, or motorcycles need to be transported for repair, the truck would be adequate. Also, an attorney would understand potential issues in having DPW transport large pieces of evidence. While it can be explained in court, a good attorney could make issue of chain of custody should these items be transported by non law enforcement. While the officer should follow the truck and keep it in sight, an attorney could always raise that issue at trial. Should the officer ride in the DPW vehicle, then DPW personnel would have to wait with police taking up their time, and potentially leaving a non secure police vehicle on the scene.

  2. oldtimer

    Even with the pickup, the lot was not laid out with any space for piles of snow. In a heavy snowfall, they will lose parking spots.

  3. David McCarthy

    I did not say I called Chief Kulhawik. I said I called police officials and asked about the use of the vehicle, but it was not the chief. This is a no-brainer, Mike, you are right…redundant simple services to keep the police on the street are appropriate. We don’t have exactly the number of cars and guns we need, we have back up, etc. etc.

    If Mr. Miklave didn’t hear something during the Planning Committee(the minutes reflect that it was discussed) then shame on him for not asking a follow up question then. He brought it up at PW, so I followed up, but to bring it up as his biggest “issue” with the budget, having done nothing to understand the real need, is just ridiculous.

    Mr. Miklave, again focusing on minuscule portions of the budget and only speaking about the bit he wants to cut, as opposed to the part we keep (i.e. the exact opposite of his campaign speech) showed almost no understanding of the process after almost ten years on the council. I guess running into meetings at the last minute after coming home from defending the management of large companies from labor (again, the exact opposite of his campaign speech) must not allow you to pick up the details.

    Mr. Miklave is against the Fire Dept, we know. He is against SWRPA and applying for grants. Now he is against the Police Department. He is just against common sense, it isn’t a political stance, it is an inability to understand and define himself.

    Matt…you have to do better!! You are the second most entertaining candidate on the D side, all the R’s are rooting for you!!

  4. Tim T

    The police now want a pickup truck. Why don’t they just put a plow on the crime scene vehicle they purchased 2 years ago. It clearly is serving no purpose with solving any of he shootings, killings, or stabbings of the last several years.
    will the cops driving the truck get time and a half as they seem to for most everything in Norwalk?

  5. Don’t Panic

    Here’s an idea. How about the police park their vehicles in one of the public lots like PW expects everyone else to do. Here’s another. The city just forked out money for yet another plow blade–trade it in for one that isn’t 11 feet wide.

    Is there no other vehicle capable of having a small plow blade affixed–maybe the van referenced in the article?

    It seems excessive to be paying for a vehicle on the excuse of plowing snow, when it is clear the bulk of its use will be for other things at other times of the year. It also sounds excessive to pay $25,000 for a contractor to do it. The city brochure quotes $5,000 per hour to remove snow from the streets of Norwalk. Seems like an hour’s worth of snow removal in a little lot should be a lot less and $25,000 could be paying for a lot of hours.

  6. Tim T

    More and More waste. It wasn’t that many years ago that old police vehicles were handed down to DPW, zoning, and the mayor vehicle. However we cant do that now because we provide a car to every cop working a side job at 65 plus an hour plus gas for the running vehicle with this the PD needs to keep a larger fleet of vehicles. It seems the city has become out of control with vehicles under the Moccia administration . However let us not forget we will be getting the 4 percent Moccia tax increase.

  7. M. Murray

    Included in that 65 dollar per hour is a 12% fee. The city makes more money per hour than they spend on gas, wear and tear, and administration combined. Almost all contractors include the price of police in their construction bids, whether tey hire the officers or not. If they don’t hire the officers, or hire flag men, they pocket the extra money. The risk to them is te added liability if something goes wrong.

  8. LWitherspoon

    @Dave McCarthy
    If Miklave is the second-most entertaining candidate on the D side, who is the most entertaining?
    I have been very critical of Miklave in the past, and I feel those criticisms are all still factual and valid. However I like to see elected officials questioning the need for expenditures of taxpayer money. I don’t think that necessarily makes Mr. Miklave “against the Police Department”.
    Unfortunately this line of questioning from Mr. Miklave is probably little more than an attempt to redefine himself as fiscally responsible. Miklave needs to redefine himself since he fought against numerous cost-saving initiatives that were opposed by Municipal Employee Unions.
    Mr. Miklave and his supporters say that Mr. Miklave can’t possibly be too close to unions, since he makes his living fighting against unions on behalf of large employers. To those supporters we have to ask – has Mr. Miklave ever used any of his vast professional expertise in negotiating against Unions to help the City of Norwalk reach a better deal with its employee unions? If not, I have to wonder whether or not Mr. Miklave is sincere in his claims that he wants to help Norwalk taxpayers.

  9. Tim T

    LWitherspoon keeps talking about Miklave basically being in bed with the unions but has provided ZERO proof of this. On the other hand Miklave supporters have provide links Miklave professional website which states the exact opposite of what LWitherspoon claims.

  10. spanner

    keep officers on the street?

    Last storm 8 officers waited to go the the DPW yard and pick up cruisers with chains on them for over an hour into the shift,come find out only two cars had chains the others sat there without over at the DPW compound and the DPW staff had gone home.This left officers with no cars with chains and a city waiting for cars to respond to calls.This was a rumor how could this be?The DPW is in charge of police cars?

    Mild winter according to Moccia yet 25 grand for snow removal?

    The question still remains Rilling used the parking garage why doesn’t Tom?

    A bobcat is the best machine to use when you can’t push the snow anywhere else.So why not a bobcat this all seems so simple.

    Miklave and Geake are showing us now how things are done,recently Bondi asked if the contract to do work in Norwalk had already been done before the vote and DPW said yes,this is not how a city is suppose to run is it?Who does work before the city passes the contract?

    I guess when you have a Mayor who fights the taxpayers we can have a council member fight for us.

  11. Tim T

    M. Murray
    The math is pretty simple a cop is 65 per hour, a flagman or traffic agent is 15 per hour. The flagman unlike the Norwalk cop does not require a city car or city gas. The flagman unlike the Norwalk cop actually directs traffic unlike the Norwalk cop on Strawberry hill on Thur who was setting in a running city car at 65 per hour playing on his phone while cars were almost running into each other, which is the norm when a Norwalk cop is at a construction site at 65 per hour. The strange thing is other towns cities and Moccia urban centers that do use cops, which are fewer and fewer do not provide a city car and city gas like the cops for example in Stamford who actually are directing traffic.

    Also as far as the 12 percent charge that does not even come close to covering which is basically an additional fleet of vehicles for overtime assignment, plus gas, plus tires, plus wear and tear, plus insurance, plus registration, plus additional liability due to extra vehicles on the road.

    As far as how the bids are figured your information is incorrect they figured with the actual cost of cops or flagman or traffic agent and they do not figure for one and pocket any money if they provide another. If they are for some strange reason someone that is signing off on these contracts needs to be fired.

    If Norwalk like most other towns, cities, and Moccia urban centers went to flagman at a cost saving of 50 per hour for the person and the cost saving for the car and gas we could possibly save millions a year.
    Plus the added benefit of the flagman actually directing traffic vs the cop sitting in the car doing God knows what.

    The issue is no one has the you know what to do this as the mayor and candidates are so concerned about the worthless police union endorsement as most cops don’t even live in Norwalk thus cannot vote for Norwalk.

  12. Hey Tim,
    Here is an idea..if all you state is true about the Norwalk cops at play while at a construction site – why not record and post on You Tube? That will be the proof to all the ranting and raving you do (that is unsubstantiated).

    Instead of show me the money, show us the proof!

  13. Mr Norwalk Ct

    Irish Girl
    I have observed the exact same thing that Tim is complaining about with polic officers at construction sites.
    Reading thr Paper
    Playing on the phone
    Talking with others
    Sleeping thats rigtt sleeping
    Talking on the phone
    And this is the best
    Police car no police officer as in the officer left the site
    hopefully now that it’s been substantiated you will sleep better tonight

  14. Tim T

    Hey Irish Girl
    Here is an idea.. If you don’t like my posts don’t read them. Pretty simple. I have seen your unsubstantiated ranting and raving on this site and other sites towards anyone that does not walk in lock step with your has been, antiquated far right wing views.
    Here is a suggestion try taking your own advice as I have yet to see you show any proof on any of your posts. However I do see you attacking other posters and even the owners of this site. Try adding something to the conversation and maybe you will not be such an angry person.
    Mark and Nancy I am sorry if this is against the TOS but I cant take her attacks on everyone any longer.
    Also Irish Girl do not expect me to reply to your posts any further as you are not worth the bandwidth.

  15. Tim T

    Mr Norwalk Ct
    I can top your observation
    I was walking my dog one night around 11 pm and in the parking lot of a gas station on East Ave, a cop was sound to sleep in his car. This wasn’t even a construction site but his regular shift. One other issue with the cops having unlimited overtime is they are to sleepy to actually be productive on their regular shift. This may account for the dismal results of the NPD. Even given the fact that the cops do Zero when on the construction site overtime jobs just being awake for so many hours will effect performance. Its time we limit cops to max of 8 hours per week overtime except in case of real emergency.

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