Norwalk's former police chief was getting acclimated last Friday, juggling two phones and answering emails in a big City Hall office with comfortable black furniture, bare bookshelves and undecorated walls.
"There's a lot to do up front," Mayor Harry Rilling said. "That's very, very interesting; all of the things that need to get done.
"Understanding this is Day 3," added the city's new chief executive, who had been sworn in three days earlier after scoring a victory in the Nov. 5 municipal election.
"The thing that is most surprising to me is the number of people that want to see me right away and the things that you have to do which kind of consume an inordinate amount of time," he said. "You have to cut down on impromptu meetings. You have to cut down on those unless there's an urgent need.
"If somebody comes into the office to meet with me, I may not have the time to do that and we have to set up a meeting for them. But if there's an urgent need, obviously, we have to take care of it right away and adjust my schedule."
Many of the people demanding his attention are connected to a crumbling social services agency, he said. Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now may or may not be saved by the Rev. Tommie Jackson, of Stamford, now serving as volunteer interim CEO and president for the agency, which had to shut down most of its programs two weeks ago after bouncing employee paychecks.
Rilling called Jackson as one of his first moves Friday morning.
"Is there any way I can help out?" he said in the course of the brief phone call. Jackson agreed to call back every other day with a brief status update.
Other first actions for the day included signing paperwork for the Mayor's Ball, to take place Friday, Feb. 24, at the Continental Manor; arranging for a City Hall moment of silence at 1 p.m. in honor of the late President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated 50 years earlier on that date; and methodically crumpling up pieces of note paper as he returned phone calls.
Rilling conducted three closed-door meetings before noon, including one with Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik -- his successor last year as the city's top law-enforcement official -- about negotiations regarding the police union contract and other matters.
He said he was looking to move Police Commission meetings from 4 p.m. to around 6 or 6:30 to better accommodate the public.
"It's just something that I thought," he said. "The Police Commission is an important commission. People want to come to the Police Commission."
The afternoon agenda included a meeting with Finance Director Thomas Hamilton and others, which the mayor said would be an update on property revaluation and the budget.
"I don't know the approach they're going to take to the reval," he said. "That's basically what they're talking about. We know that these are tough economic times and we know that property values have gone down. I want to see how they're going to handle that."
There also was a ribbon-cutting planned. Rilling said there are a lot more scheduled in the coming weeks and he hopes to spend less time on them than former Mayor Richard Moccia was expecting to.
"I would like to share the ribbon-cutting duties with members of the Common Council and other elected officials, that we can all participate in it," he said. "It doesn't always have to be the mayor out front. I can go to them and have the council president, or council minority leader, assist with cutting the ribbon, so that everybody gets exposure rather than just having the mayor out there."
In between, Rilling bought the staff lunch, even if City Clerk Donna King tried to talk him out of it. The treat was in honor of his first Friday, he said.
He said he plans on long days ahead.
"I'll be attending some committee meetings and commissions, going and getting up to speed on some of those things, getting up to speed on where they are and what their issues are, what they're working on, what they're confronted with," he said.
Reading the paper is one of his first moves in the morning, he said, but he hadn't noticed a critical letter to the editor from David Park, who dismissed Rilling's campaign promise to try to fix crumbling sidewalks with a comment that sidewalks are the responsibility of abutting property owners.
"I'm not paying attention to any of those things," Rilling said of the letter to the editor. "My campaign promise was to look at a lot of different things that weren't being done. One of them was sidewalks and potholes. It was expressed to me by the constituency. If Mr. Park wants to take issue with that, that's fine. There are sidewalks that are the responsibility of the homeowners, but sidewalks are supposed to be inspected on a regular basis."
Rilling's campaign press conference on Norwalk infrastructure featured photos of potholes from nine Norwalk streets in different parts of town. Potholes are among the items on his agenda, he said Friday.
The mayor plans a meeting on the issue and others with Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.
"Potholes are the responsibility of the city of Norwalk," he said. "I think I've shown quite handily the different potholes that existed, so I will be meeting with the Department of Public Works and see how we can best handle this pothole issue," he said. "There was even discussion on how we might be able to work with other communities to look at these trucks -- that if we can get a regional grant, a truck that has a self-contained heating system in it that would heat the asphalt so you wouldn't have to use cold patch.
"I may want to take a look and see if that's a doable thing and we can discuss that with Mr. Alvord."