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Norwalk administration making wrong move by laying off this supervisor

By Ken Leber • Updated Nov 3, 2017 at 5:30 PM

I am terribly disappointed that the Norwalk City Service Director recently broke the news to Stacie Strecker, Norwalk Park & Recreation Department coordinator, that she would be a laid off effective Dec. 31.

Stacie has dedicated two decades as a recreation supervisor organizing youth programs, activities and special events for the Park & Recreation Department. The news has devastated her and the department.

Programs that she has directed include softball, T-ball and other McGuan Park programs. Gymnastics, tumbling, youth volleyball, dance, indoor soccer and youth basketball also fell under her leadership. She also was involved in most of the community’s special events and operated the childcare area at the aquatic center.

Losing this position reduces the department to just four full-time employees at the community and aquatic centers. These four people, along with part-time staff, are responsible for nearly $1 million in user fees and memberships annually. That is an amazing number for our community. There were 10 employees in the department in 2010. Some have retired and not been replaced. Two of them are part of the General Services Department. Times have forced a lean budget to become even leaner, but it’s difficult to know that is still not enough.

You cannot cut 20 percent of your leadership and expect things to be the same. The worse thing is many of us don’t believe it has to happen. The department head has offered to cut other line items to more than offset what it would save it laying her off. I cannot understand why such cuts wouldn’t be considered?

I do know the mayor has blamed the layoff at council’s doorstep for not going along with plans to generate more revenues. I just don’t want to believe a 20-year employee would be used as a political ploy. She certainly deserves better.

There are several departments that are funded in part by the general fund — including offices at city hall, the safety forces, a portion of the service department and parks. This is always the part of the budget that is tightest. New revenue streams have been targeted in the past.

Significant increases in some of the department’s budgets are having a devastating effect on the general fund the past decade. Adding new positions and approving three years of raises have not helped. In the last three years alone, the two largest department’s have collectively, increased their budgets by more than $600,000, while the Parks & Recreation Department has actually held its line on expenses. I don’t understand making cuts in a department that makes up such a small part of the fund. In the past, the Parks & Rec made up but 3 to 5 percent of the general fund.

New positions have been added within the city in the past year. The administration assured council members prior to hiring they were sufficient assets. That must not have been the case. Years ago the city made a promise to the Ernsthausen folks that they would keep up the facility in a manner they expected. This will make it difficult to do. Programs that may get cut include special events and parades, youth clinics, swim clubs, winter hikes, family First Night, 5K and triatholon.

I do not understand the rationale to cut an exemplary supervisor with 20 years of service before it became a last resort. Police Chief Dave Light has always been a proponent of Parks & Recreation. I have heard him say if you are making cuts there then you had better hire more officers because if children have less to do they will often be in more trouble.

Hopefully, the community will join me in encouraging our public officials to review this plan and reconsider. I know how valuable Stacie is to the city — I hired her!

Parks & Recreation have always been very important to our community — let’s keep it that way.

Ken Leber is a Norwalk resident and former director of the Norwalk Parks and Recreation department.

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