NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling appeared to rattle the saber toward Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) during his State of the City speech Monday morning at City Hall.
NEON was among “significant challenges” his administration has faced in his first 100 days as Norwalk’s mayor, he said.
“We are struggling with our community action program,” Rilling said in his address. “Efforts are still under way to resolve that situation. NEON employees have been paid and meetings are being held to determine the future of the community action program in Norwalk.
“It is my promise to stay on top of this issue in order to ensure social services are delivered to those in need,” he said. “We need this to happen sooner rather than delaying this process any longer. We can’t wait. There are people in the community who need those social services. Those services are not being delivered while we continue to have discussions. Well, I’m going to move forward and make sure that we do the right thing for those people and that they finally get the services to which they are entitled.”
Rilling said he was on a conference call with NEON leaders Sunday night. “We have to get moving forward sooner rather than later,” he said. “As we speak about it, people are going without social services to which they are entitled. I want to make sure that we put something in place that will be effective and will be delivering those services to the people that need it. It’s my desire become fruitful sooner rather than later.”
Other significant challenges for the new mayor include the snowy weather — “probably in the top five or seven of all time for the city of Norwalk” — and being dropped into the budget process with a revaluation under way.
“Assuming office in the middle of a budget cycle certainly can be challenging indeed,” he said. “However, working closely with the Finance Department and department heads … we put together what we consider to be a very lean budget recommendation.”
While the 2014-15 operating budget is $9.4 million more than its predecessor, $7.6 million (or 84 percent) is due to contractually mandated expenses and pension funds that were negotiated before he came on board, he said.
“Reviewing the budget with Mr. Hamilton, I cut more than $3 million from department head requests,” he said.
The resulting budget fully funds the Board of Education, said Rilling, who called Superintendent Manny Rivera’s budget request “reasonable.” It also provides for library hours on Sunday during the school year and School Resource Officers at the high schools and middle schools, he said.
Rilling promised to have official city email addresses created for the volunteers on city boards and commissions, and said city government may stop going through so much paper.
Council members will be provided devices to download agendas and back-up materials in a pilot program Rilling is hoping to start in the next week or two, he said. The city email address will ensure privacy for the volunteers.
“It has nothing to do with the recent issue of a commissioner’s email being subpoenaed,” he said. “This is something that I mentioned going in. I know that if you use your private email for city business then everything within your private email can be open to scrutiny if they were looking for certain things within your email.”
A subpoena would allow lawyers to search for key words in emails even if the majority of those emails were personal, as long as the email address was being used for city business, he said.
“I want to protect the privacy rights of people who serve for virtually no money at all. … I felt that for a long time, even when I was a police chief,” he said.
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