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Debaters Call for Staff Turnover in Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk's department heads may face more scrutiny after Tuesday's election, judging from a debate held Wednesday at Roton Middle School among four Common Council candidates for District E.

"I think there is a lack of accountability with certain department heads. I think some people may have been in their positions maybe a little too long," said Democratic incumbent Nora King.

"There are a couple of folks, not necessarily head of departments, who haven't served my communities well," Republican incumbent Andy Conroy said of those known as ordinance employees. "I have made it known to the mayor that their services are no longer needed."

About 130 people attended the debate organized by the League of Women Voters of Norwalk, the second-to-last debate in the series. Diane Lauricella was pleased with the turnout and said the series did well, with increased attendance. She praised holding the debates in the districts the candidates would represent if elected.

Before the Common Council debate, Board of Education candidates Mike Barbis and Geoff Kieburtz discussed issues that included special needs students and English as a second language.

King, Conroy, David McCarthy and John Igneri answered questions that included "What issues in Norwalk are you passionate about?" and "Are you satisfied with the level of civility in Norwalk?"

In response to the civility question, Conroy mentioned the tone of blogs and suggested that it might help if newspapers eliminated anonymity. McCarthy, a Republican, said he was proud that he had encouraged civility at zoning commission meetings, even when they dragged on past midnight. Igneri, a Democrat, said the blogs are terrible and Common Council meetings need to improve. King agreed, saying, "Sometimes on the Common Council, if you ask tough questions, sometimes they don't want to hear it."

The city's department heads are among 16 elected, appointed and nonunion officials and clerical staff known as ordinance employees. Ordinance employees may be re-evaluated after an election, according to the city charter.

McCarthy said he hadn't had much experience with department heads but agreed there needs to be a "frank and open discussion with the mayor" about them and other ordinance employees.

"For clarity, I think being a department head in the city is actually a tough job," King said. She suggested a charter revision to lengthen the terms of elected officials. Department heads currently must deal with new officials every two years.

Igneri said department heads have no accountability, and it might be time to "cut somebody loose."

"I've dealt with all of them in one way or another," he said. "Some of them are very disappointing. It's not because they didn't do something that I wanted, it's their whole attitude toward the city. You talk to many of the residents you'll find that it's the same department heads that come up. If there's smoke, there must be a fire, and I think it's time for the committee chairs to deal with those people."

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