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Watts puts Norwalk Police Chief Kulhawik on spot over $11K ‘free money’

Norwalk Council meeting 15-0210 016
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik talks to the Common Council on Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Council members were again treated to an explanation of police pay issues on Tuesday in response to questioning by Councilman David Watts (D-District A).

Watts asked Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik some of the same questions he asked Sgt. David Orr on Jan. 16 – resulting in an explanation of police overtime costs in relation to hiring new officers – before becoming the only Council member to vote against the new police contract. This time, Watts was the only Council member to vote against an $11,231 transfer from the “increased revenues” account to the police department to cover overtime.

“That may have been a record length of time for an $11,000 item,” Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said as the meeting moved on.

The 19-minute conversation included a reference to a goofy television ad character, Mayor Harry Rilling telling Watts he was off topic, and two mentions by Kulhawik that it would cost Norwalk $1 million more to hire more officers than to use overtime to cover the shifts.

Norwalk Council meeting 15-0210 030
Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) argues with Councilman David Watts (D-District A) in City Hall after Tuesday’s meeting.

Watts, who usually spends a lot of time talking at Council meetings, was quiet except for this issue. After the meeting, Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B), Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) and Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) argued with Watts. One of the three told Watts that they told him not to do “that.”

Simms was heard to say, “I don’t get paid for this …”

After the argument, Simms refused to share with NancyOnNorwalk’s readers what it was about.

The $11,231 was a reimbursement from the federal government to cover overtime costs incurred in a joint drug investigation carried out from July to October, Kimmel said. Norwalk paid the officers and was getting the money back from the feds, he said.

Watts’ questioning was originally short, but after Kimmel asked Kulhawik to clarify, Watts began anew.

Kimmel asked Kulhawik if it was fair for the public to assume that whenever the agenda says money is coming from the “increased revenues” account it was coming from the state or the federal government.

Kulhawik said that was correct.

“If I were in court I would object, ‘leading the witness,’ but this is the Council chamber,” Watts said, before continuing his questioning about the “problem with overtime.”

“I even talked to some of my colleagues and asked them privately, in their own private fields, does overtime exist, and they admitted to me privately that very rarely are there these funding requests for overtime and the amount of money that is spent on overtime. It seems to me the argument, and I could be wrong, is ‘we don’t need to hire new officers’ or ‘maybe we do have to hire new officers but it is cheaper to pay officers overtime rather than hire new officers.’ I don’t understand it. Maybe the average person on the street doesn’t it understand it as well,” Watt said. “It seems to me that overtime is simply out of control.”

“I think we are going off topic,” Rilling said.

“It is not off topic,” Watts said. “I can speak about any issue that pertains to overtime. I am just asking why every time we turn around there is an issue in overtime and a special appropriation.”

Kulhawik said it wasn’t a special appropriation.

“This is free money we are getting from the state or federal government,” Kulhawik said. “We have never asked for a special appropriation so far this year.”

Mathew Lesko.
Matthew Lesko. (Photo by Flickr user Nakeva Corothers.)

“I never heard of free money before,” Watts said, going on to mention Matthew Lesko, who can be seen in infomercials wearing a blazer covered with question marks.

Time to tweak the budget, Watts said; time to be more prudent to rein in spending.

Kulhawik said increased overtime has been recommended by the Finance Department for the 2015-16 budget. “I just got it this morning,” he said.

“Is there anything you can think of that would help curb overtime?” Watts asked.

“The issue that we deal with is balancing, as you said, balancing the cost of hiring new officers versus the cost of overtime to fill shifts,” Kulhawik said. “Every three years for accreditation I have to do a staffing survey, which I went to school for, many years back. So it’s a complicated formula but we take all of our staffing issues, our calls for service, time spent on calls, put that all into an Excel spreadsheet and it tells me exactly how many officers it takes to fill one shift, based on their benefits, time off, workers compensation, sick time, administrative leave, jury duty, any of those things. We get that shift relief factor and then use that to calculate how many officers it takes to fill our minimum staffing levels.”

The last 3-year survey was done in August, he said.

“If we were to staff our patrol division without overtime, and just hired more officers, it would cost about $1 million more per year than what we pay in overtime costs to staff it with current staffing. So it can be done, but it’s actually cheaper to do it with overtime than it is to hire enough officers to hold the staff to that level,” Kulhawik said.

For instance, you need more officers on the midnight shift on weekends than you do during the week, Kulhawik said.

“It allows us to put enough officers in place when we need them and the overtime is a cheaper way to do that,” Kulhawik said.

“So what you’re saying is there is no way to reduce overtime?” Watts asked.

“There is… But that cost would be exorbitant,” Kulhawik said.

“So unless the city hires more officers we are stuck with overtime, that’s what you’re saying?” Watts asked.

“If the city wanted to spend $1 million more than we’re spending now, then you wouldn’t have overtime, but that is not prudent,” Kulhawik said.

“I feel there has to be a way from the top down that you start to determine how you can control overtime because it can’t be the city is a cash cow.  And you just, it’s just this magic key, you’re a police department and therefore the money is endless,” Watts said.

Bowman asked how much the overtime is going up. Kulhawik said he thought it was going up $300,000.

The 2015-16 budget put forward by Finance Director Thomas Hamilton calls for an increase of $409,181 in overtime wages to address “both the contracted wage increase and the trend of overtime utilization.”

Bowman said if more police officers were hired, and if they lived in Norwalk, the money would be spent locally.

Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) called the reimbursement a win-win.

“From my understanding, what we are being reimbursed for Special Services, drug busts or whatever may have gone on, kept our city safer and we are being reimbursed for it,” she said. “So to me it seems like a no brainer, win-win.”

After arguing in public for perhaps five minutes after the meeting, Watts, Simms, Bowman and Stewart went into their caucus chambers and closed the door.

Comments

13 responses to “Watts puts Norwalk Police Chief Kulhawik on spot over $11K ‘free money’”

  1. Stephanie

    I’m embarrassed to call myself a Democrat! Norwalk needs better elected officials that will work for the city and not for press headlines. Shame on you!

  2. John Hamlin

    I wonder how many Democrats question their party affiliation after reading accounts like this one. It’s such a shame. But the current form of government makes this kind of circus on the Council almost inevitable. Reform the Charter and move the center of power away from the gang of midgets.

  3. Carlos Rodriguez

    Nancy great job. I am a Democrat and enjoy reading NoN. The political theatre is wonderful. Keep it up Watts.

  4. LWitherspoon

    One wonders about the impetus for Mr. Watts’s newfound interest in “fiscal responsibility”. After all this is the same councilman who put on a Union t-shirt at a Council meeting where he fought outsourcing that has produced real savings for taxpayers. It’s also the same councilman who spoke with dismay about “the mess on the BoE” that led to a bipartisan coalition re-electing a reform-minded Republican chair who has advanced a historic number of money-saving initiatives while at the same time improving Norwalk schools.

  5. Casey Smith

    @ Carlos – Pass the popcorn!

  6. Tim D

    Amateur hour.

    What does Watts know about budgets, deadlines etc through private employment. He’s never disclosed his own work history.

  7. Sassy

    Watts, give your idea to curb overtime. Seems to me the government assisted norwalk with 11K to assist the finances. What don’t you understand? You don’t seem to mind your pressure to spend $350,000.00 of tax payers money to advance unnecessary promotions! Wow I’m really flabbergasted at watts’ financial knowledge

  8. Low Wattage

    Get rid of the low-wattage light bulb – replace it with someone ‘bright’.

    This man is an embarrassment to Norwalk. He doesn’t even dress appropriately to a city meeting.

    Norwalk – the new Bridgeport.

  9. Steve Serasis

    It’s pretty straightforward stuff here in regard to a business decision. An OT cost of $300,000 is far less than $1 million in hires. I’m very happy to have a knowledgable Chief that can explain the mechanics of the process, as well as the financial benefit to the city.

  10. Low Wattage

    @Steve,

    I couldn’t agree more, however, Mr. Watts is either a pot stirrer or doesn’t have the capacity to understand.

    Therefore, under those two assumptions, Mr. Watts should be removed from his position. If someone can’t comprehend simple mathematics, he/she should find another hobby.

  11. Oldtimer

    The Chief showed remarkable restraint when being questioned like that. Most of us would eventually get angry and show it. Could that be the response Watts was trying to provoke ?

  12. WOW just WOW

    Thank you Council member Watts for attempting to hold the police Department accountable . It seems that the NPD thinks it has a tree that grows money. In the private sector as in the real world managers are held accountable for overtime, as it is a sure sign of poor management.
    ALSO let us not forget about the millions of dollars of police overtime that is hidden in construction contracts, which the taxpayer is paying .

  13. Joanne

    I see the dog and pony show continues!!! Excuse me WOW..but perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the budget process. Apparently you have a problem with the police department and feel the need to champion Mr. Watts’ obvious behavior against them. His one man crusade is getting/has been tedious at best. I guess you feel the need to jump on the bandwagon at every turn. The savings is as obvious as the disdain. Perhaps showing up for committee meetings would help with the understanding process because all of these things are discussed and dissected in committe before ever getting to the council floor.

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