Rilling backs transparency in Norwalk superintendent search

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday that he stands by comments that he made during his 2013 campaign – the search for a new superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools should have an element of transparency to it.

“I think the community should be involved, absolutely,” Rilling said. “I think there should be a process where at the right time people should be made aware of who the finalists are and perhaps even have an opportunity. We need to have kind of a town hall meeting with the finalists to see who they are comfortable with. So I think it should be open and transparent.”

Rilling said he had urged transparency as the search that netted Manny Rivera as superintendent went on, and admitted that he was “really, really pleased with the outcome,” even if it was done in secret.

“I don’t think the outcome would have changed if we had had kind of a town hall meeting when there were two or three finalists,” he said.

He also said he understands the need to “keep the finalists names quiet or out of the public arena for a while,” so as not to cause problems by endangering their current employment. But although “it’s a very delicate situation and you have to deal with it as well as you possibly can and under the right circumstances,” the public can get to meet the finalists, he said.

Rilling said he had gone to meetings that were held during the last superintendent search.

“They were good and I think the public did have input into the selection of Dr. Rivera. It would have been nice if they got to meet him before the selection was made and I understand why it wasn’t,” Rilling said.

The subject came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, as a Request for Proposals for superintendent search firms was considered. BoE members Shirley Mosby and Rosa Murray said the community should have more of a say this time, but Mike Barbis said there had been many meetings with a “broad spectrum of Board members” and educational experts. “I’m not quite sure how you’re going to add any more input,” he said.

Jack Chiaramonte said the Board “did a pretty damn good job,” as the result was a great superintendent. Anonymity is important to attract the best candidates, he said.

“We need to have a conversation to correct what taken place in the last process,” Murray said.

In spite of the disagreement, the RFP proposal was approved unanimously.

Sherelle Harris asked if Rivera would help with the search. Chairman Mike Lyons responded, “Dr. Rivera has offered to me to give us whatever assistance he can in recommending names and helping us go through the process while he is here.”


20 responses to “Rilling backs transparency in Norwalk superintendent search”

  1. John Hamlin

    If you want to attract the best candidates, the process has to be handled discretely. If you want to select the best candidate, the decision needs to be made by a few people with judgment and the confidence of the community and the taxpayers. (Not the unions or the people trying to keep the status quo.) If you try to please everyone, or if the decision is made by a committee of a thousand, you are doomed to hire mediocrity. The system worked last time. We should do so well again! Why fix what isn’t broken.

  2. MarjorieM

    Transparency is needed. This is a public position that needs much more input. The community needs to be heard so that they feel they have a vested interest in the person hired.

  3. LWitherspoon

    I agree with John Hamlin. I’m confused as to Mayor Rilling’s position on this issue, or whether he even has one. Rilling supports a town hall meeting with the finalists, but he understands the need to keep the names of the candidates out of the public arena for a while. He thinks it’s ok for the public to meet the finalists “under the right circumstances”, yet he understands why it wasn’t done in the search for Dr. Rivera. What are “the right circumstances?” Does Mayor Rilling believe confidentiality should be an option for applicants who want it? Did the Mayor support a town hall meeting with finalist candidates for Police Chief?

  4. Piberman

    Mayor Rilling certainly knows why a professional search for Supt is required. He’s appealing to the unions and South Norwalk Democrats who want “their say” rather than empower the BOE to make the search in a professional manner. Strange that Mayor Rilling has opinions on how to do the Supt search but remains silent in the discrimination claims against the BOE and refuses to convene a panel to examine their validity lest the Democrat BOE members be embarrassed. Please be a Mayor representing all Norwalk even in an election year. Was the Mayor dissatisfied with the departing Supt ? Or how the BOE conducted its search ?

  5. cc-rider

    Any candidate who is currently employed wouldn’t want their current employer to know that they are applying for other positions. Any worthwhile search firm or headhunter would say it should be done confidentially.

  6. Joanna Cooper

    This article suggests that the outcome of the last vetting process was flawed. It wasn’t we ended up with a top notch superintendent. Standard practices should be followed and with discretion. Careful Mr. Mayor we have seen public meetings turn into a circus. We don’t want to chase away quality candidates.

  7. Oldtimer

    The assumption that every candidate is applying in secret from their present employer may not be valid. I suspect that any BOE knows that their employees, including superintendents, are always looking to improve their positions. Being an applicant somewhere else sometimes prompts a BOE that is very happy with an employee to re-examine the employee’s compensation package and make an effort to keep him/her by improving the benefits.

  8. Piberman

    Mayor Rilling knows full well the last 3 finalists would have withdrawn their names if the search process was “open” per his preference. And he knows neither the “trio” (2 members didn’t support Dr Rivera’s selection) nor the unions supported Dr Rivera’s appointment. So it doesn’t take rocket science to understand Mayor Rilling is not supporting the BOE in its new search.
    He’s apparently the supporter of special interests in selecting a new Supt. And refuses to examine the bizzare discrimination charges by dissident Democrat BOE members. Lest his supporters be embarrassed. Was Mayor Rilling elected to be mayor of all the people ? Not those who cheered his candidacy ? Let’s encourage the Mayor to focus in reducing Norwalk’s drug and gang related crime rather than dictating to the BOE how it should select a new Supt.

  9. Yankee Clipper

    Hear hear to Piberman, Joanna Cooper, cc-rider, Lwitherspoon and John Hamlin! The Mayor is totally pandering to special interests. He should get some backbone and stand up to them instead of trying to placate them.

  10. Norwalk4Life

    I am very disappointed witht the Mayor on this. I thought we wanted the best possible superintendent. With this move I am afraid we have just shrunk our pool of good candidates. Mayor Rilling, please reconsider.

  11. Lisa Thomson

    A transparent and inclusive superintendent search process (which we had) versus the entire town weighing in on the short list of candidate finalists will most certainly result in a circus like atmosphere with many candidates dropping out. Mr. Mayor, you are playing into the hands of the status quo – tread carefully.

  12. anon

    @MarjorieM translation-
    “Transparency is needed (for Unions). This is a public position that needs much more (Union) input. The (Union) community needs to be heard so that they feel they have a vested (controlling) interest in the (union-approved) person hired.”

  13. Bill

    Does Rilling have any spine? Does he ever have an actual opinion? He speaks out of both sides of his mouth and adds almost no value. Why is this guy who won’t lead in charge?

    Time for someone new in 2015!!!

  14. Debora

    There is a reason why our FOI rules exclude executive level search committee activities. Calls for transparency are misplaced.

  15. Kathleen Montgomery

    The social context of transparency implies openness (honesty), communication and accountability. It does not mean that everyone has to be involved in a process. I believe it is a huge mistake to consider that final candidates meet with parents. The process that is currently in place IS transparent. This is an executive search, not an election.

  16. A_Taxpayer_And_A_Citizen

    I have as much interest in the success of this school district as anyone, but I don’t believe I have a right or even a need to be at the table during the vetting of candidates for superintendent. Board of education members are chosen to make such decisions.

    At least some (I’ll avoid the risk of overgeneralizing by not saying “most”) of those who are demanding a role are in this for the blood sport (at worst) or a soapbox for self-serving egomaniacs (not much better).

    I remember well the transparent process that resulted in the hiring of Victor Herbert, and I remember how his selection soon proved disastrous. Likewise, Sal Corda’s process was transparent. The difference is only that Sal took longer to wear out his welcome to the extent that the board wouldn’t renew his contract.

    If people want a voice, it would be appropriate for the board to have a forum to allow people to express their thinking about improving the schools, and the board can use the people’s ideas to inform its thinking.

  17. Gloria Tenofsky

    During the last search, public feedback was elicited and informed the profile used by the search firm. In this way, the public weighed in on what mattered. This is not an election. It is a highly selective executive search in which we hope to attract a top candidate. We risk turning candidates away with the prospect of a public vetting. Perhaps we should follow best practice.

  18. piberman

    Calling for an “open search” means Mayor Rilling and Democrat Party Chiefs do not trust the BOE under Mike Lyons leadership. They’d rather placate the 3 dissident BOE members who charged the BOE with discrimination – a serious crime – in the forthcoming election year and bring about old fashioned Democratic control of the BOE. By supporting an “open” rather than the professional closed search Mayor Rilling ensures we’ll have a 2nd rate Supt inasmuch first rate candidates never respond to open searches. No doubts why Dr Rivera is leaving town early. He’s a fast learner.

  19. Grandma

    We elect people to represent and attend to the public’s interests and business. When folks say transparency is needed, that’s not some hollow partisan demand. It is a democracy and the hiring, of one of the most important city executive positions, certainly the highest compensated, of course, there must be transparency.

    That doesn’t mean the public has to be involved in the entire process beginning to end but it does mean for the next guy to succeed, he/she must have the support of the community.

    There is nothing wrong with having a meet and greet with one or preferably two finalists. If that’s an issue for an applicant than maybe we are not a good fit. In fact such a quasi informal meet and greet in the community room, like Dr Marks did, will go a long way to help everyone feel included and help the next super gain the support needed for continuing to move forward.

    Pulling the curtain back and announcing; “ta da,” here is our super, like it or not, is not adhering to democratic principles and in some communities is actually a violation of sunshine laws, nor is it in the best interests of the district or our community as a whole.

    With the childish antics we been forced to endure by many, can we really trust these untrained volunteers, many with personal and political agendas and axes to grind, to make one of the most important decisions for the entire town, without the community’s consultation and support? Is that not a recipe for failure?

  20. MarjorieM

    Grandma is the voice of reason here. Thank you, Gram.

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