Watts, Hempstead respectfully disagree – sort of

NORWALK, Conn. – An assertion from Councilman David Watts (D-District A) that his minority party had been “bulldozed” Tuesday caused a rare outburst on the part of Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large).

“For once, I take offense,” Hempstead said, not long before banging the table in front of him.

The issue was a new council bylaw, written to provide some rules for spending the $5,000 appropriated by the Board of Estimate and Taxation for council members’ expenses. Watts said he didn’t like the clause that allows the council president, majority leader and minority leader to approve expenses. That doesn’t work for his caucus, he said, ignoring the fact that they are in fact the minority – and still would be even if the entire Council voted on expenses.

Watts made a motion to table the vote on the by-laws to allow more discussion. The motion failed 7-6, with every member of the Republican caucus voting against it.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A)
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) listens as other Norwalk Council members debate his objection to a Council bylaw last week in City Hall.

“What you did was, you just approved something in a partisan way that affects our caucus. You know what? That’s wrong,” Watts said. The word “partisan” was used three times in this speech. “You just did what I had concerns of, that you would use your majority to bulldoze the minority and that’s wrong. This is a document that affects both caucuses,” he said.

“I’ll tell you why I take offense. … If you had a suggestion you could have made a suggestion. This went through a Finance Committee in which you were present and a member of,” Hempstead said. “At that time you made a suggestion. … That suggestion was incorporated at the time. This has been circulating at least, officially for lack of a better term, probably about the last six weeks.”

Hempstead said that the decision had been made at the last Finance Committee meeting to send the matter to the full Council for discussion. That had been done by email, he said.

“It’s been circulating and I haven’t gotten one comment back from anybody,” Hempstead said. “… Nobody has texted, emailed, marked up and sent back, or picked up the phone and said I’ve got concerns, would you mind changing this part.”

Hempstead said there needs to be something on the books, as the $5,000 had come the Council’s way on July 1, when the new fiscal year started.

“It’s $5,000 of expenditures, but once you put in the Mason’s rulebooks that we need and the keys and all the other things that we need, if we want to have a couple of meetings somewhere there’s not going to be much left,” Hempstead said.

Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he didn’t understand what the issue was, as a procedure had been set up to deal with working out a new bylaw.

“We’ve had this procedure in place for a long time and I don’t think this is a debatable issue,” he said. Voting down the motion was not partisan, he said, and an amendment could still be introduced and voted upon. “I don’t think what we have here is such a big crisis or any kind of partisan grab,” Kimmel said.

“I normally would have called a recess, but there’s been some rule changes on recess,” Watts said.

Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said the bylaw had been talked about in May. At that point, some Council members said they hadn’t seen it, so everyone was given a draft, he said. There were changes made in July, he said.

“I really do believe that, at this stage, this should come to a vote,” he said, adding that it could be changed at every Council meeting, if members wished. “Rather than just kicking it down the road, hopefully this will get the wheels going,” Petrini said.

Every member of the Republican caucus voted for the bylaw. Watts and Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) voted against it. Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) and Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) abstained.

Was this grandstanding on the part of Watts, who is running to be a state representative?

“That’s simply not true. Especially over bylaws. I mean … there are other way to get attention and that’s not the way to do it,” Watts said. He laughed. “If I want to get attention I’ll release a video. I’ve got my own ways of doing things when I want to make a statement.”

It was reasonable to try to table the motion as nothing would have happened in the next two weeks anyway, he said. “Both caucuses get to decide how the money is spent,” Watts said. “If one group is ready to go on it, why force it? That’s what they did. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”


18 responses to “Watts, Hempstead respectfully disagree – sort of”

  1. One and Done

    It’s time to start ignoring Watts for the child he is.
    Grow up and pay your taxes already.

  2. Casey Smith

    If Mr. Watts had indeed contacted Mr. Hempstead about his concerns before the item came to the floor, no one would know about it. This way, he objected on the floor, portraying himself as the great protector of the minority party.
    It’s also interesting to note that Mr. Watts and Mr. Simms are on the Finance Committee. Was this concern discussed there?

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    One of the problems is that the Democratic council caucus rarely meets to discuss the various items on the agenda. Thus, when someone from their caucus makes a motion to table, most of the council, from both sides of the aisle, have no idea why the motion was made. And in this case, we knew that the Democratic caucus had not met to discuss the proposed budget.
    Plus, when Watts made the motion to table, he did not explain why he wanted it tabled — he just said a couple more weeks were needed to tweak the language, but did not say what needed to be tweaked. Thus, we voted it down. Only after the vote did he explain why he wanted it to be tabled.
    There is a small inaccuracy in the article: At the committee level, Watts wanted the entire $5,000 split evenly between the majority and the minority caucuses. We pointed out how that would not work going forward, since one or the other party might have a large majority. At that point, he agreed that the funds should be apportioned based on the division of the council.
    Watts said he would have called a recess, but that the council changed the rules for recesses. We did not change the rules; what we did is start enforcing the rules by requiring a vote to go into recess. The reason we began to enforce the rules, at my urging some months ago, was that too much caucus work was being done via recesses instead of in actual caucus meetings.
    On a number of occasions, Democratic caucus members — because they had not discussed the agenda in a regular caucus — called for recesses during a full council meeting in order to discuss an item. This was not fair to members of the public, who were forced to sit and wait while the Democrats hashed out their position in their caucus room. Thus, we began to enforce Mason’s Rules regarding caucuses. (I should add that it was also not fair to members of the Republican caucus, which often meets for hours to discuss the agenda.)
    Interestingly, if Watts had requested a recess, I am fairly certain that we would have voted in the affirmative.

  4. EveT

    Typical of many Norwalk boards and commissions: the draft was circulated and the chair asked members to submit comments, suggestions, markup, etc. No one submitted anything, not even to say “I’ve read it and I see no need for changes.” We elect these folks to represent our interests, and that should include reading and responding to proposed bylaws.

  5. Suzanne

    $5,000.00 in petty cash, basically. Mr. Watts made his points. A vote was taken. Move on.
    The City needs Council services more than they need a protracted discussion about how Council members will spend a tiny fraction of a budget that needs implementing.
    These videos would qualify as bad theater, Mr. Watts the seemingly reasonable buffoon embellishing the topic and back pedaling when it was pointed out he had plenty of time to comment on his concerns as did any other person on the Council.
    The rest? A waste and an insult to taxpayers who expect something substantial to come out of these meetings that affect our lives.

  6. EastNorwalkChick

    Mr. Kimmel thank you for your post, they are always very informative and honest.
    Maybe the Dems on the council should read your post and take a hint to start acting responsibly, meet and discuss agenda items prior to council meetings.
    Now I’m beginning to understand why you don’t caucus with them, as a registered Dem, I don’t think I would either…

  7. R(obot) TC

    One guy bangs on a table which is an act of aggression. The other guy makes a motion to table is grandstanding?

    What a joke and clearly dishonest.

    Mr. Hempstead should work on his anger management. However, Republicans are willing to overlook this unprofessional behavior.


    What you’re really saying is African-Americans should shut up.

    Keep it real!

  8. LWitherspoon

    @R(obot)TC aka David Watts
    Suzanne’s post had ZERO to do with anybody’s race. Please stop playing the race card every time you are unable to answer legitimate criticisms of your numerous failures as a Councilman.
    The only category in which you seem to excel is spending taxpayer money for your personal benefit. Hard to forget the time you were quoted saying that Council members should have personalized stationery at taxpayer expense. In this latest episode you appear to have grown upset because of restrictions that might prevent you from spending more taxpayer money for your own benefit. What I want to know is when will you pay your overdue taxes, interest, and sewer fees, which are delinquent stretching back to 2012? Why are you spending personal funds to rent an apartment in a different district so that you can use taxpayer money to run for state representative there? Why not just use your personal funds to pay your overdue taxes?

  9. Suzanne

    Thank you, L. Witherspoon. I happen to believe that claiming racism to a perfectly reasonable comment is used when no other substantial argument can be employed. I could care less if Mr. Watts was green, purple or red, the fact remains he successfully wasted valuable Council time by not doing his research and claiming undue partisanship. Of course, as reasonable as he can be at times, this posturing is, unfortunately, not unusual.

  10. Rick McQuaid

    Can not sit back and read comments about Doug Hempstead being an angry person. Doug has been one of the hardest working and dedicated members to ever serve the city. He has been a mentor too many on both sides of the aisle.Leadership is by example and Doug has prove this over the years. Learn the city history before throwing stones.

  11. Nicole Spiropolis

    Shouldn’t taxpayers be more upset that city councilors want to reimbursed for “expenses”? I’ve seen city council salaries creep up in lots of places I’ve lived. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them lowered.
    I’m sure no one runs for the Norwalk Common Council for the meager pay and expense money. I doubt anyone would be discouraged if it weren’t offered. So, why pay it?
    I don’t think the Board of Education representatives receive any reimbursement (maybe they’re paid in surplus tater tots for all I know). Shouldn’t the same rules apply to all our elected officials whose meetings don’t prevent them from holding full-time jobs?

  12. Kathleen Montgomery

    Working groups always seems to have people who don’t do their homework and expect to use meetings so they can be informed while taking valuable time from agenda items. It is beyond frustrating for members who are prepared to do the tasks at hand, especially when the unprepared member does this myriad times. A hand bang on the table is not an “aggressive act”, but rather an act of frustration from having one’s time wasted over and over.

    Oh, and playing the race card in this situation is just ridiculous. It’s about doing what you are supposed to do and nothing else.

    Call them on it every single time they are not prepared. Put this in the minutes and add it up. Publish the minutes in NON. Taxpayers need this information when deciding whom to vote for. Kudos to those doing their homework. Anybody who isn’t, resign.

  13. anon

    The Common Council shouldn’t get any taxpayer funding. It’s a volunteer job.

  14. Joanne Romano

    @ R(obot) TC – really?? Doug should work on his anger management??? Really?? He did nothing more than express his frustration for what has become the norm during council meetings. Please!! Perhaps attending committee meetings etc. should take priority…Again…committee work should be done in committee not as a dog and pony show on the Council floor. Doug Hempstead is one of the most even tempered open minded people I have ever met. Even when we disagreed we never argued or raised our voices. I can say that it was Doug and Rick McQuaid who I went to for information and advice while on the council. Doug has dedicated most of his adult life to the betterment of Norwalk and it’s residents so kindly think again before you make such statements…perhaps others should figure out there needs to be rules and regulations when it comes to council procedures and someone needs to be in charge. There is no partisan decision here since there is a minority and majority leader which means both sides have input in all decision making. Why is it when someone doesn’t get their way they cry partisan or some other label for a situation?

  15. peter parker

    David Watts, say what you will about him. Love him, or hate him. He certainly keeps people on their toes. Keep up the good work David you are an asset to a lazy, lack luster, status quo paralyzed council.

  16. One and Done

    SpiderWatt’s alter ego is calling this council lazy.
    I guess his definition of a hard working council person includes not reading packets, regularly skipping committee meetings, blowing hot air at the meetings you decide to make, and most importantly being a dead beat on your taxes all while taking government funding for pure self promotion.
    Get lost already, please.

  17. Whatever

    Peter Parker sounds an awful lot like Vinny M. Just read recently that political consultants monitor press/blogs and post comments like this on behalf of candidates who pay for this service. Ugh.

  18. One and Done

    @Whatever. Vinny M is not in his financial disclosures.
    However, Wendy’s, East Ave Pizza, and Silver Star are.

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