Rilling emphasizes transparency for Norwalk

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling interacts with (from left) Elsa Peterson, Scott Kimmich and Diane Lauricella Monday in the City Hall atrium, after marking Sunshine Week with a proclamation.

Updated with additional information 6:42 a.m.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling promised a much more user-friendly city website Monday in a convivial City Hall gathering meant to reaffirm his stated desire for an open and transparent municipal government.

While Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr said recently that the city is under no obligation to post minutes and/or agendas on the city’s website, Rilling agreed with members of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) and the League of Women Voters that the website should post information – including backup materials provided to Common Council members – in a searchable format.

The gathering marked Sunshine Week, which was started in 2005 and coincides with the birthday of America’s fourth president, James Madison. Rilling read a proclamation and said a Freedom of Information Commission worker will be in City Hall soon to train staff members.

“We are doing the training for the staff and making sure that they understand that the mindset for the mayor’s office is that we are an open and inclusive,” he said.

Kate Tepper and Diane Cece show off a proclamation signed by Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

CNNA member Diane Cece read a statement on behalf of the organization, asking for timely and accurate posting of minutes, agendas and backup documents for all city and committee meetings on the city’s website in a format that allows citizens to search them, and copy and paste them.

“You have my support on that, thank you very much,” Rilling said. “We are going to be working towards – hopefully very soon – redesigning our website and making it more user friendly.”

The group of 10-15 people broke out into applause on that one.

“I know,” Rilling said.

Spahr said in a recent email to NancyOnNorwalk that the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act states that agendas will be filed in the city clerk’s office 24 hours before a meeting. There is no requirement for them to be posted on a website.

While minutes must be made available seven days after a meeting, according to the law, there is no requirement that they be posted online, he said.

“As a matter of public service the City strives to keep as much information including Minutes and Agendas posted on the City’s website – even though not required to do so by the FOI Act. Thus, the City has a practice of going over and above what it is technically required to do by the FOI Act,” Spahr wrote.

Diane Lauricella came to the Monday gathering prepared with a printout of her recent letter to the editor outlining suggestions for the city website. Afterward, she said she has had an ongoing dialogue with Spahr. Some City Hall employees think that rather than just providing documents for citizens to look at, they have to make copies for them, for which there is a charge, she said.

“That is the opposite of what the law says. So we have to do some tweaking. … It deters the public from wanting to seek and read these documents,” she said.

Cece said she felt encouraged by Rilling’s attitude.

“I think he is going to improve stuff, both with the access to the information itself and the ease of use through the city website,” she said.

Steve Cooper said it’s all about representation, responsiveness and accountability.

“I’m happy that I am living in an era that has a law like this,” he said. “It’s just an important thing as a citizen to know that at least on paper that we strive for this goals, to be responsive, accountable and representative. The people who are running for office, holding in office and appointed to office should know that this is something the public values.”

Sunshine Week Proclamation 2014


5 responses to “Rilling emphasizes transparency for Norwalk”

  1. EveT

    It sounds like the Freedom of Information law needs updating since it requires agendas and minutes to be available but not online. When the law was enacted (in what year?), city websites may not have even existed.

  2. Piberman

    Good move. Now let’s strive for posting verbatim minutes of all City required meetings and commission and board meetings. We do have the technology and Mayoral Leadership to make it happen.

  3. the donut hole

    The city’s IT committee makes sure that it meets during the day time so that no one who has a job from the private sector where accountability matters can participate. I wouldn’t expect anything to change until the attitude does. Sounds like the Mayor is listening at least. Full packets and meeting minutes shouldn’t require some law to be provided.
    If our IT folks had a clue the mayor’s office would already be equipped with a process where the agenda is immediately posted to the website when it is completed. Minutes shouldn’t be posted until approved, so I can cut some slack on that one. But there is no excuse for the agendas to not be available with an extra mouse click.

  4. Mike Mushak

    I agree with all the previous posters. The packets should also be available to the public, as much gets by on various commissions without the public ever knowing about it. ALL public meeting recordings should also be a mouse click away, which would also quell much of the abuse and bullying that goes on , and even lies that are told later on when minutes are cleansed of actual conversations that occurred which are later denied.
    It is shocking that in 2014 we still have minutes of meetings that are posted without ever getting approved, in particular the Zoning and Plan Review Committee meetings of the Zoning Commission. Staff says that’s the way it’s always been done, and the current Commission leadership agrees. It just isn’t right that minutes of these public meetings are put up in draft form on the city website and never legally approved by the Commission, and when I have disputed it I have been told to keep quiet and that’s all the law requires. I have never been offered the legal language that supports unapproved minutes from bring entered into the public record, and I doubt that it is legal. But, “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

  5. Piberman

    What’s really shocking is that the City continues to spend at a rate far greater than the increase of its residents incomes. No amount of “transparency” will obscure that blundering. Even the tooth fairy understands the consequences – years of stagnant property values and ever more punitive taxes. Surely there must be at least one official who sees why Norwalk is Renter’s City.

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