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To the Editor,
Last month, the majority of Norwalk’s Common Council voted to table an item without first discussing it.
Because tabling motions cannot be debated, the council has maintained a tradition of not making such motions until after there has been some discussion. This legislative courtesy not only provides the public with information about the goings-on of the body, it also allows members to make their views public before the agenda item is removed from the public eye.
However, on Oct. 9, I voted to immediately table a resolution that was presented to the council by five Democrat members. The resolution called for the Police Commission to rescind its decision to eliminate the position of captain in the police department and to begin promoting officers to that rank. The resolution rejected the recommendation contained in a study done by the International Association of Police Chiefs in 1997, and updated in 2007, that urged the city to eliminate those positions by attrition.
According to this study and the update, eliminating captains would create a flatter, more agile organization better able to deal with gun-related crimes. The Norwalk police chief has stated that elimination of those positions would ultimately allow the department to deploy more officers on the street.
So why did council members violate the tradition of allowing discussion prior to making motions to table?
Some members believed the captain issue was none of the council’s business and that it should never have come before the body. I disagree with that view because over the years a variety of resolutions have been debated and voted on by the council that did not relate to the usual business of the body. These were generally recommendations for other legislative bodies, what I call “sense of the council” resolutions.
Other members noted that the resolution contained a number of factual, even absurd, statements, such as comparing the organizational structure of our police department with cities of 3 and 4 million people. The resolution also ignored the fact that the responsibilities of captains in other cities are far different than in Norwalk, that in many cities captains are part of upper management. (In Connecticut, captains must be part of the police union.) Still, I do not believe factual errors, which can be easily removed during debate, are sufficient reason to stifle debate on an important matter.
My concern with the resolution, and the primary reason I voted to immediately table it (instead of allowing debate and then voting against it), was only partially related to jurisdiction or content. I believe the majority of council members, along with a large section of the public, plus other city officials, were deeply disturbed by the ugly tone of recent council “debates.” We were tired of the insults, interruptions and name-calling.
This is my fifth term on the council. Although I have been involved in a fair number of heated discussions, I have never witnessed anything close to the nastiness of current members. I have never seen nastiness become a substitute for reasoned discussion on such a regular basis.
For me, the question was straightforward: In light of all the recent ugliness, why follow tradition and extend the legislative courtesy?
Common Councilman, District D