NORWALK — With this week's announcement of a major reordering of the city staff, City Manager Richard R. Powers has made it clear that he intends to bring a new style of leadership to City Hall.
On his sixth day in office, the new city manager outlined a series of changes on a chart titled, "Let's get Norwalk moving."
Three key staffers under former City Administrator J. Richard Streng are being let go, former colleagues of Powers in Paramount are joining the staff and new administrative positions have been created.
Ripples of change are reaching the City Council as well. Hiring and capital expenditures authorized by the council last month have been frozen and cut from the budget. The council will inaugurate twice-monthly work sessions, doubling its meeting load, and council members plan a "community congress" in September, when city residents will gather for a two-day discussion of Norwalk's future.
Council members, who approved the staff reorganization in a meeting last Friday, indicated this week that Powers is doing exactly what they hired him to do.
"I think it's great," Councilwoman Grace Napolitano said. Mayor Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez said it was to be expected that a new manager would rearrange the staff to carry the city into a new era, one characterized by an aggressive pursuit of new commercial development and accompanying sales tax revenue.
Powers, who has a reputation as a talented redevelopment manager, will take over redevelopment tasks with his new assistant, Sanford M. Groves. Michael J. Wagner, the Redevelopment Agency's director since its inception 3 1/2 years ago, is leaving, along with his assistant, William H. Nevius, who has been with the city five years.
Both men have done a "fine job," Powers said, adding that he told Wagner and Nevius that he would write letters to that effect. He said their positions were being eliminated to allow for a more efficient management system.
Longtime city employee Lloyd Croom, who served as assistant city administrator under Streng, will also leave, although Powers said Croom will stay for a few months to help with the transition. Streng, city administrator for the past two years, recently retired.
Although Powers said he does not plan any other high-level management changes beyond those he announced this week, he indicated further reshuffling is in store for the rank-and-file city staff. "I believe the organization is not as cost-efficient as it should be," Powers said, adding that some city offices are over-staffed by as much as "a third."
At the same time, Powers said other areas had been neglected. Thus, although staffing in some offices may be cut, workers might be shifted elsewhere. Should he decide that the overall staff needs to be trimmed, Powers said he will attempt to accomplish that through attrition.
Under the new staff arrangement, there will be three deputy city managers. Jeffrey A. Bruyn is leaving his job as Paramount's planning and zoning manager to become deputy city manager of community development, a department that will incorporate planning functions. Ernie Garcia, who worked as Streng's executive assistant, has been named deputy city manager of community services. And Robert Avenatti, who directed parks and recreation, has been named the deputy city manager of public works.
Donald Rouly, who headed the Planning Department, is joining Daniel E. Keen in the administration of the new Office of Strategic Planning, which will develop planning policy. Keen was community development manager in Paramount, where he worked under Powers, who was the community development director and the deputy executive director of the Redevelopment Agency before moving into Norwalk's new city manager position.
Groves, who will start in September, also worked in Paramount as assistant city manager before taking his current job as a deputy city manager in Richmond, Va.
2 Spots Still Open
Two new administrative positions--in public safety and building and safety--have not been filled. The building and safety chief will oversee the city's building inspectors, assuming duties now performed under contract by Los Angeles County personnel. The public safety administrator will monitor Norwalk's dealings with the county Sheriff's Department, which provides law enforcement services to the city under a $5.7-million annual contract.
Sheriff's services absorb one-third of the city budget, Powers said, and deserve closer scrutiny. Powers also indicated that more attention will be paid to residents' complaints about police performance.
Powers said his actions will save the city about $900,000, the bulk of which stems from the hiring freeze. Fourteen existing positions and eight recently approved positions will remain vacant, reversing council authorization to fill them under the city's new budget.
"We're living beyond our means," Powers said, noting that the council approved a deficit budget last month that called for the use of $3 million in reserve funds. In addition to saving $669,000 through hiring freezes, Powers has cut $300,000 in capital expenses allotted for such items as office furniture. Eliminating the Redevelopment Agency staff will save $157,000 a year, although the new postions will cost the city an additional $210,000 a year, Powers said.
Wagner and Nevius declined comment on their firings. "We don't know what to say," said Wagner, who was cleaning out his desk Monday. About $150 million in redevelopment projects have been approved or constructed during his tenure as agency director, including two major grocery stores and an apartment complex near the Civic Center.