Tempers flared at City Hall on Tuesday evening as the Common Council passed a pay raise for some employees during what council member Rick McQuaid called, "One of the most wackadoodle council meetings I have ever been at."
Democrats, led by Nora King, fought a proposed maximum 2.75 percent pay increase for non-union, elected and appointed officials, based on performance evaluations. Mayor Richard Moccia and King exchanged heated comments, including the phrases, "Don't put words in my mouth, please," and "Don't keep cutting me off."
Jim Haselkamp, Norwalk's director of personnel and labor relations, said the 16 employees had no raise last year and the raise the prior year that was offset by a week furlough. "We were the only ones who took a furlough for a week," he said.
Some council members expressed concern that the directors were making less than some of their employees. "Why can't you do no raise and no furlough days?" King asked.
"I don't think that's fair to the ordinance folks," Haselkamp said. "Everybody else in the city is getting a 2.75 percent raise. The Board of Ed employees are getting 3½ percent at the administrative level, and I think that was raised: 'We should be concerned about the Board of Ed.' The Board of Ed for the last three years, their administrators have gotten 10.5 percent. We got nothing last year, we took a week furlough."
The sparks flew when Moccia tried to convene a recess, as requested by Councilman Carvin Hilliard. King wanted to ask a question. Moccia agreed. She spoke for a minute before he interrupted her.
"I know this topic came up when we were starting our budget conversations, raising the capital budget, and our budget time, we had something to put forward, before as regarding a pay increase," she said. "My viewpoint is not that I don't think anyone's entitled to it. I just sat through, and I don't know how you can justify this to me because I don't really understand it. I sat through very emotional finance meetings, operating budget meetings, finance committee meetings, where a lot of people that are sitting before you talked about how you could not afford to let penny go out of here because we were "
"Miss, miss," Moccia said. "Ask a question. We were talking about the matrix and not a philosophical statement."
"You know what, I have a right to ask a question," she replied.
"And I have a right to ask you to ask you stay on topic," he said.
"I am staying on topic.""Then ask a question."
"My point of the conversation is that the mayor, and members of the Common Council, all they talked about was going line item by line item by line item, cutting, cutting, cutting, how we had no money, we couldn't raise taxes ---"
"Is there a question in this philosophical statement?"
"You know, there is, I am a public official just like you and I have the right to"
Moccia banged the gavel, saying, "I declare a recess, as required by Mr. Hilliard."
"Don't keep cutting me "
"And don't put words in my mouth, please."
"Don't keep cutting me off."
"Well, when you deserve it you're going to be cut off."
"Well, the same with you."
"When you get the gavel you can try it."
"I may just bring one."
"We'll see how long that lasts."
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Marc Bradley had a comment during the recess about Moccia's treatment of King: "It's just crazy to see that," he said.
Bradley said he was proud of the Democrats for fighting pay raises that were "irresponsible for the taxpayers" and had stinging words for Moccia, a Republican.
"These are elected people who volunteer their time," he said. "They come to committee meetings, spend two or three or four nights a week at these meetings, and to treat sitting Common Council people, Republican or Democrat really, in the tone or the manner that the mayor just did is disappointing, and I hope that as we go through these tough budget times, ... we need leadership that's calm, that's poised and that can bring together to get through these times together, because it's not going to happen on its own, it's not going to happen with battling between the Republicans and the Democrats, and the mayor time and time again has proven that he's not the balanced leader that we need to get through these difficult times."
King asked her question after the break, after repeating that the budget battle had been emotional. "Suddenly we're being hit with pay raises after the budgets already been approved and it's sort of died down," she said, "and I just really want to understand why people who are making $100,000, when we just went through these very bad budget cuts, and this is in the news again, why this is coming forward again?"
"Well, first of all the statement that people are making more than $100,000 is not correct," Haselkamp said. "I think 10 of the 16 people are making substantially less than $100,000. This pay plan has six directors in it and the rest of the folks are clerical and general support. Even those people who make $100,000 are making less than the unionized department heads in the city."
Asked what would happen if the measure failed, Haselkamp said it would amount to a 2 percent pay reduction because of increased health care costs.
Councilman David Jaegar proposed an amendment, asking that the vote be delayed for two weeks. The council voted against that.
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