NORWALK, Conn. – Apparently, not everyone in Norwalk is a fan of Norwalk Police Sgt. Lisa Cotto. And when a citizen voiced a complaint directed at the sergeant, Mayor Richard Moccia immediately went on the defensive.
For this week in Seen and Heard, we present to you the Feb. 25 Norwalk Police Commission minutes:
“A member of the public was in attendance and said he wanted to know how to express a concern. Deputy Chief (David) Wrinn stated that he could call his office at any time and gave he him the phone number. Commissioner (Pete) Torrano asked for him to state his name and address for the record:
“Mr. Peter Smith, 26 Hunters Lane, Norwalk asked who the press spokesperson was, and deputy chief replied that it was Sgt. Lisa Cotto. Smith stated that she does not come across very well, and her New York accent bothers him. He said he feels the Police Department could find someone without such an offensive accent as a press person – someone without a Brooklyn accent that makes a better image.
“Mayor Moccia stated that he finds this very offensive and that he takes exception to this personal attack of an officer and what should be important is the performance and dedication of the men and women that put their lives at risk every day in protecting our residents. Commissioner Torrano stated that he wanted to clarify Mr. Smith’s concern is with the presentation and not any behavior or actions on the part of the officer. Commissioner Torrano stated that he appreciated the comments and will make it a point to note this.
“Chairman (Daniel) O’Connor thanked Mr. Smith for his comments.”
Digging to the bottom of the BOE shortfall …
Part of the discussion of a BlumShapiro Consultants presentation of a focused operating review of the Board of Education finances at Thursday’s Common Council Finance Committee meeting revolved around the $632,324 that was transferred from part of the Board of Education budget to the special education department in 2012 to cover deficits.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) asked, “Is a revision of over $630,000 excessive from an accounting pointing of view? Something that would raise a red flag?”
Dominic Barone of BlumShapiro, replied, “Six new families could have come in. Three new families could have come in, with a very high cost. There could be a lot of ways to explain it.”
Jeffery Ziplow of BlumShapiro said, “Special ed is an issue in many school districts today, in other communities outside of Norwalk. This is not solely an issue with Norwalk. There are many communities within Connecticut that are struggling to figure out the model. … Its’ a moving target and there are quite a few variables that you can’t account for. …”
Barrone said, “I would be more concerned with money not being transferred.”
Kimmel: “A budget so large, without an official contingency, for a number of years I have wondered: Well, how on earth can you possibly do it without having contingency funds somewhere else?”
Apparently they could not. But, instead of setting up an official contingency fund, figures were moved from item to item to cover shortfalls.
“We did argue occasionally from the city side that a contingency was necessary,” Kimmel said. “But the folks from Board of Ed believed, well, it would be the first thing we would cut in the reconciliation process. We would just be going around in circles.
“The other possibility was going the special appropriation route. But there was hesitancy to go that direction because the relationship between the Board of Ed and the city wasn’t that good.
“We found ourselves, as a result, in a situation. No contingency. Expenses that could fluctuate so we needed money somewhere. We had to find it, whether it came from insurance or other accounts. The fact of the matter, what could be looked at as troubling, was that that money was there to be had.
“If not for the insurance issue, which we have gone through, if there were other accounts where there is money to be had — I guess you would call padded accounts — to deal with whatever emergencies were near.
“I guess that’s OK in a certain sense but the fact of the matter is it’s going to create problems every year if you are still operating the same away. I’m not surprised the special education ran shortfalls. … What is surprising is what the ease they were covered.”
Not in the mood to blame, but …
The budget review covered fiscal years from late 2009 to spring 2012.
Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A): “There are a lot of reasons why the superintendent might have reduced the budget by that number. We don’t know why the superintendent might have done that. It might have been done because the superintendent at that time had a good faith but wrong belief that that reduction was justified. They just made a mistake. … Or another reason the superintendent might have done that was because the superintendent was under pressure, the budget was being cut and they had to find some way to make the numbers work. Right?”
Miklave: “And we have no idea which one that was.”
Dominic: “Correct. I mean – You’re right to a point, and I – yes, you’re right. We don’t know.”
None of these years is just like the other…
Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large): “I hope somebody is going back 10 years looking at the number of students, dollars per students, overall costs and saying what is the trend?”. Is the trend like snow removal in Norwalk? Two years ago we had record snow or over a year ago we had no snow, or this year it seems more of a normal winter. Kind of continual trending. … I’m just asking because it begs that question. If its a growing trend, it’s a growing trend.”
Ziplow: “The reality is it needs to be. We can’t just be budgeting for what we have. I think we need to be looking at what we have in the future.”
Miklave: “Do you have any evidence that the staff of the board of education was aware at the time that there was a $1 million deficit? Or was it undetected?”
Barone: “Thoughout the year or at the end of year?”
Miklave: “At the end of the year. Over a million bucks off. Do you have evidence that they knew it?”
Barone: “I think they would have had to know it, by looking at reports. The system would tell them. You would see a deficit.”
Miklave: “But do you have any evidence they ran the report?”
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