NORWALK, Conn. – Reluctant “yes” votes carried the day last week as the City of Norwalk agreed to bail out the Oak Hills Park Authority – at least one more time.
Papers for the $150,000 bridge loan will be signed Tuesday at a special OHPA meeting, where another significant achievement of the past week for the authority will also take bloom: the RFP (request for proposals) for a controversial driving range.
Public input had more impact on the RFP than on the loan.
Former Common Councilman Bill Wrenn held up the vote at Tuesday’s meeting when he questioned the language that had been written. “Why can’t they shorten the course?” he asked. “Suppose they want to shorten the course 100 yards. Why would that be a deal breaker?”
Ernie Desrochers, chairman of the driving range committee, said the RFP was written to encourage potential bidders to look at other locations than the one chosen by the authority, then said, “Why don’t we just see what happens? This is basically a fishing expedition.”
Wrenn suggested throwing a wider net, and Desrocher changed it from “In no way can an alternative location of the practice range reduce the length of the course” to “In no way can an alternative location of the practice range negatively impact the current layout of the course.”
Member of the public satisfied.
Those protesting the bridge loan – to be paid off over 10 years at a low interest rate – at the council meeting afterward succeeded only in getting a rebuttal from OHPA members.
“This authority has a checkered history. It is not time for a loan, it is time for a thorough change in its makeup,” Scott Kimmich said. “We need fresh approaches, not circling the wagons. … It is a temporary operations loan. Why should we extend it for 10 years?”
Another speaker said she was appalled that the city might give OHPA more money.
“If the Oak Hills Park Authority was a privately owned enterprise, it would be bankrupt. … A bankrupt company defaults on its loans,” Yvonne Lopaur said. “Why, therefore, at a time when there is a well-documented decrease in the demand for golf, are you considering loaning my money and the money of other taxpayers to a poorly managed golf course that has twice tried to restructure the loans already made to it?”
Diane Lauricella thought a “wise idea” for troubled South Norwalk anti-poverty agency NEON would also be a “wise idea” for OHPA.
“Don’t approve this loan unless there is a written provision in it for a financial audit and operational audit,” she said.
“Many of the things you heard tonight about the mismanagement have been in the past,” OHPA member Clyde Mount said. “We think we’re beyond that now.”
The authority is independently audited and shares its books with the Board of Estimate and Taxation as well as Norwalk’s finance department, he said. “We would welcome a management audit but that’s going to take money,” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for that.”
Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) seemed to be with a majority of council members when he said, “I will hold this nose and vote for this loan … I don’t like any of this but I will vote for this because the repercussions to the city will be worse if we don’t.”
Councilman Michael Geake (U-District B) said the debt service on the park would be there whether the council gave it more money or not. Layoffs would cost money, too.
“I have a very big problem with a loan for operating expenses. It seems like a bad deal,” he said. “… In this case it does make sense.”
Only Anna Duleep voted against it.
“The best investment we can make as a community, as a nation and a city, is universal pre-K, and we are going to fall very, very short of that goal,” she said. “Then why are we not hesitating nearly enough to cut a $150,000 check to a business that, to my mind at least, has not proven to us that they know what they are doing at this point. I would say that if the city is going to take a tough love approach to groups like NEON, involving Head Start funding, with our children … then the very least we can do is hold our golf course to same tough love standard.”
Mayor Richard Moccia had some words for those who have consistently spoken against OHPA.
“I hope Mr. (Bill) Krummel, Gina (Krummel), Bill Wrenn, and a couple of the other people can sit down and talk in a rational way of how they can offer some ideas to make that part more attractive to other users,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has ever said no.”