Update, 9:28 a.m.:
The Common Council passed new language for the Flock Dam study grant proposal on Tuesday evening without comment.
Nora King, a member of the Common Council, is so perturbed about the city Department of Public Works that she says she'll sue Norwalk if a DPW employee or a consultant for the department sets foot on her property.
Acting on a state mandate to do exploratory archeological digs for a road-widening project near a house King owns, the DPW last month asked King for permission to conduct a dig. King said the digging is a nuisance and a waste of taxpayers' dollars, and she's upset about the disruption already caused by the project—especially after the public works director told them the work would not cause that much disruption.
King's complaints—particularly the accusation that Public Works Director Harold "Hal" Alvord isn't informative enough and has even lied—are part of an ongoing conflict between King and the administration of Mayor Richard A. Moccia. Alvord denied the accusation. The conflict involves harsh criticism of both sides.
Two Common Council members who were asked about the accusations said that Alvord is no liar, but they sometimes want more information from him. Council members also say that documentation for proposals brought before the council sometimes go unread before the council votes to approve them.
In a March 25 email King sent to DPW officials, the councilwoman wrote: "If anyone from the city or a consultant goes on to my property I will bring legal action. Thanks for taking note of this and ensuring outsiders stay off my property."
Mayor Richard A. Moccia said the email, coming from a member of the Common Council, was a poor example to other residents who are asked to work cooperatively with the city on public works projects in their neighborhoods.
King, a Democrat, says city Public Works Director Harold "Hal" Alvord told her and others with homes near the Rowayton Avenue railroad underpass that their property would not be disrupted.
"When we [on the Common Council] did all the approval process, we had asked him [Alvord] questions about whether or not people can be disrupted, and he said, 'No,'" King said.
Yet now the DPW has sent her a letter requesting permission to conduct an archeological dig which may become a 20-foot by 20-foot hole in the front lawn of a house she rents to tenants at 294 Rowayton Ave. King says that this comes on top of project work being done at night, the road under the bridge being closed to traffic suddenly at timesy and construction debris left by the side of the road.
"Hal lied to me and told me nothing was going to be disrupted," King said.
"So, will I get legal counsel to sue the city?" King said. "I absolutely will if they step one foot on my property."
In an interview Thursday, Alvord said, "No one lied to anybody." Two public meetings have taken place for residents about the project, and another is scheduled for Wednesday, Alvord said. The Wednesday meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in Room 300 in City Hall.
Alvord said some plans for the roadway did change during the course of the project, and the archeological survey is a state mandate that he didn't expect would be as intrusive as digging up 20 feet by 20 feet of a yard.
He said in an interview last week that his understanding was that the state was interested in exploring thin strips of land near the street where the road would be widened. If archeologists find something of importance, he believes, they want prior permission to dig further back from the street.
The language of the email sent to King, however, asked for permission to dig to an unspecified depth in a 20-by-20-foot area.
The project would also regrade neighbors' lawns once the road was lowered by as much as 18 inches, Alvord said.
Common Council members Andrew T. Conroy, the chairmain of the Public Works Committee, and Kelly Straniti, the council's Republican majority leader, did not return a telephone call to each asking for comment.
King, Alvord and others on the Flock Dam
King said she isn't the only member of the Common Council to have concerns about Alvord. According to King, at a meeting of the council's Public Works Committee last week, other council members were shocked that their authorization of a study of the Flock Dam on the Norwalk River appeared to endorse tearing down the dam.
Alvord had presented the study to the council at its last meeting, together with about 30 pages of documents describing the study, and the council voted to allow city officials to formally ask the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct it.
Councilman Fred Bondi, who was not able to attend that session of the Common Council, later objected to the language of the request.
Bondi thinks tearing down the dam would make flooding more likely downriver, and he pointed out that an official from the Norwalk Boat Club, which has a dock near the mouth of the river, also objected to removal.
At Bondi's suggestion, the Public Works Committee approved new language for the request, which is scheduled to be voted on at the council's meeting tonight. Bondi said the new language is more neutral.
Bondi said he didn't think Alvord was lying or being disingenuous with the council. The language Bondi objected to was in the documentation council members were given before the vote. "I guess some people didn't read it before voting on it—I'm not naming any names," Bondi said.
"It's not Hal's fault," Bondi said. "I don't think it's was anything where he tried to pull the wool over our eyes."
Councilman Douglas Hempstead, a Republican who was also at the Public Works Committee meeting, said he thought Alvord's original explanation of the grant proposal may not have been complete enough.
"I'm not sure whether the language in which he explained it matches the language in the grants," Hempstead said. He generally tries to question city department heads closely because he expects they will try to present any proposal in its best light, although Hempstead said he didn't do that about the Flock Dam. "I can't do it on everything," he said. "I try to focus on one thing."
But he doesn't think Alvord lied in that case or in other cases, he said. "I don't think there's any intention on Hal's part to give out any misinformation. ... I would not say 'I think Hal's lying,' to anybody, I just come at things with a skeptical eye, no matter what it is."
Hempstead said Alvord had pointed out at the committee meeting that the Common Council was given about 30 pages of documents describing the request. "I don't think Ms. King went through that document to see what the language actually says," Hempstead said.
Alvord said that if the council wants to change the language of the request, the language now proposed "isn't going to change one iota of what the intention and what the plan was." The study will still make a recommendation on whether or not to keep the dam and what, if anything, should be done at the site to protect the environment and help prevent flooding.
In a March 8 video interview done right after the Common Council approved the Flock Dam proposal, Alvord said the study was expected to support a project "to remove an existing dam." (See video attached to this article.)
King vs. city officials
King said that Alvord typically has been uninformative: "To me as a Common Council person, this is just typical behavior for the DPW that doesn't inform council members and that doesn't have their act together."
King also said, "I never seem to get the facts from Hal or Moccia."
Moccia, a Republican, said he thought King's email, which was addressed to Alvord and another public works official, showed a lack of cooperation with city department heads and officials that a Common Council member should avoid because it's a bad example to other residents.
"Nora has attacked department heads before," Moccia said. "It seems nobody can do anything right. Hal is not perfect, any more than any department had, but he has got a tough job."
Bondi, a Republican who was formerly a Democrat on the council with King, said he believes she is unfair to both Alvord and the mayor: "She picks on him and a couple of people. She picks on the mayor all the time."
Bondi said that there are times when it's difficult for him, even as a Council member, to get information from Alvord, but he believes that's because Alvord is doing a difficult job with limited resources.
"He's busy ... and sometimes you can't get all the information you want ... It takes time, but he'll get it for you," Bondi said of Alvord. "I've been on the council 18 years, and I've never seen DPW as good as it is today."
Asked about Moccia's comment about her being a bad example, King said: "I would say I've been trying to work with Hal for the last year and a half, and the mayor, but they like to do things behind closed doors, so the only way you can communicate is to be loud about it."
Editor's note: Parts of the original article have been rewritten for clarity.