Attorney Peter Nolin, head of the city's law department, said his unofficial opinion is that council members cannot vote by phone.
"Mason's requires somebody to be there," Nolin said, referring to the Mason's Manual of Legislative Bodies, which the council uses. "I think the chairman of a committee certainly has the right to allow someone to listen in by phone, but I don't think that qualifies as a (meeting) quorum or a right to vote."
But Council President Michael Coffey points out:
"We are living in a world where every form of communication has changed over the last decade or so," Council President Michael Coffey said . . . "It's an antiquated notion that, every time, people need to be there in person," said Coffey, a Democrat. "You've got people who work full-time jobs and have tremendous responsibilities that draw them to other parts of the country. . . . It would make sense to allow attendance to be construed more broadly."
It would be one thing to have attendence via some web based video conference tool, but that's not quite what happened or possible according to the Norwalk It Director.
Norwalk Information Technology Director Karen Del Vecchio said city hall's "old and limited telephone system" limits options for teleconferencing.
When Poruban phoned the Public Works Committee, for example, he had to call the cell phone of the public works director. The cell phone was placed on speaker phone and left in the middle of the meeting table.
Today's Norwalk papers detail the soggy tail of over 60 residents who cam to the Norwalk's Public Works Department to complain about persistent flooding. The centerpiece was a Norwalk resident who brought video of her home being flooded.
On Tuesday night, Margaret Peterson showed members of the Common Council's Public Works Committee videotape footage of flooding at her property at 6 Gwendoline St. About two dozen other Norwalkers with similar flooding problems nodded in empathy.State Rep Chris Perone D-Norwalk urged Governor M. Jodi Rell and the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for increased municipal aid from the state’s Clean Water Fund to improve Norwalk’s aging sewer system. Rep. Perone said, “The bottom line is Norwalk needs more funding to study and improve our antiquated sewer system. Norwalk’s sewer system is supposed to weather 25-year storms, but because of development and trash thrown into the system, the system has a tough time handling the excess water. This is a huge problem that adversely affects people’s quality of life and needs to be addressed"
"I'm making an effort to work with the city. They say, 'We're working on it.' In the meantime, we're living in a sewage hole. I'm going to get flooded every time it rains. The city hasn't done anything to help me out," said Peterson, who acknowledged that her property lies in a low area. "These drains don't work. When it's raining, the water is coming out the drains. These waves are like whitecaps on my driveway.
"There's not enough drains and the pipes in the drains aren't big enough," Peterson said.
Complaints of backed-up storm drains and flooded backyards and basements are, to be sure, not new to the Public Works Committee. But heavy rains Aug. 27, followed by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto drenching the region last weekend, may have brought the complaints to a record.
After the Aug. 27 rainstorm, up to 60 residents came to City Hall to complain, according to Director of Public Works Harold F. Alvord.
. . .
Speaking to The Hour earlier Tuesday, Alvord traced flooding to two problems: Stormwater drainage system capacity and maintenance. According to Alvord, the system is antiquated and in many cases undersized. Further, he said his department has neither the equipment nor manpower to maintain the system.
Said Committee member Douglas E. Hempstead: "It's time and money. That's really what it's going to be about."
Meanwhile it turns out that due to increased revenues from property conveyance taxes, Norwalk for the first time in years achieved a budget surplus.
"The city ended up with a $500,000 surplus. A big driver on the revenue side was the conveyance tax once again. That came in about $3.8 million higher than what we budgeted for," said Fred N. Wilms, Board of Estimate chairman.Having a surplus is a good thing, but it seems that the price of previous years of neglecting infrastructure leaves Norwalk creaking under 20th century decisions in a very 21st century world.
The board anticipated $8.2 million coming to the city through the local real-estate conveyance tax. The actual year-end total will run $12.1 million, according to the Finance Department. Wilms said the figure does not include recent transfers, such as the sale of the former Perkin-Elmer property on Main Avenue.
Stamford Advocate Council considers voting by telephone, Brian Lockhardt, 09/04/06
The Hour* subscription required, City: Flood relief will be costly, when it does come, Robert Koch, 09/06/06
The Hour* subscription required, Report: City ends fiscal year with $500K surplus, Robert Koch, 09/06/06