NORWALK, Conn. – Over the past several weeks, NancyOnNorwalk readers have expressed a desire to know where Norwalk’s Democratic candidates for mayor stand on issues that have caught the headlines. A month ago, we began asking the candidates – Andy Garfunkel, Vinny Mangiacopra, Matt Miklave and Harry Rilling – to answer a series of questions about some of those issues.
We started with four questions, then added two more. It took three tries, but we finally got responses from two of the candidates: Mangiacopra (answered the original four questions) and Miklave (answered all six). Rilling contacted us Monday afternoon and promised his responses would be forthcoming, possibly by Wednesday. If Garfunkel respond, will will include his answers.
After the Democratic primary election Sept. 10, we will attempt to get specific issue answers from the primary winner and incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia.
We asked for specifics, not theories. We met with mixed results. Monday, we presented both candidates’ answers to the first two questions. Today, we move on to questions three and four.
Oak Hills: There are two proposals for a practice range. One involves putting it in the woods and cutting down trees, one involves making use of a different space that would require less intrusion on the environment. There is a fear that, based on one company’s past practice, the OHPA/city would front the money to build the range and hope to regain it and more through usage fees. The process, like the school superintendent search, is being kept secret. Should the OHPA be more transparent about the process? For that matter, should all of these searches and decisions be more transparent?
“When it comes to the Oak Hills and OHPA, transparency is lacking,” Mangiacopra responded in an email. “We need to make sure environmental safeguards are in order and that we keep the public apprised of what’s going on. Obviously, Oak Hills has been troubled for some time. Transparency is critical to an open, honest government that keeps citizens’ trust.”
Mangiacopra also called for more open communication throughout the government.
“My administration will seek constant dialogue with our city’s residents and facilitate that dialogue by upgrading City Hall with 21st century communications, seizing on the opportunities the Internet and new media provide us. Changes like these are long overdue.”
Miklave expressed reservations about the project’s viability, and questioned whether it should move forward.
“I love to play golf and would love to see a driving range at Oak Hills Park. But I question the ability of the current management team to build or manage it. I was distressed to watch as the Oak Hills Park Authority, after repeatedly claiming that they had sufficient cash on hand to make it through the winter, come to the city 90 days later and demand a $150,000 loan or else they would shut the course down. Now we have learned that, even though the Authority has engaged in an ‘aggressive marketing plan,’ the number of rounds is below expectations.”
Miklave said he was troubled to find that some members of the Authority want the city to pay for the cost of routine maintenance rather than by those who use Oak Hills.
“These troubling developments lead me to believe that it would be exceptionally unwise for the Authority to go deeper into debt to build a driving range of any size or in any location. I will not support any effort that increases the city’s risk or liability. I am deeply concerned about the lack of transparency involved in the operation of the Authority.”
It was reported when the city signed on for 10 years with City Carting that there was a clause that allows the city to terminate “for convenience.” Some or all of you have been critical of the contract. Would you be inclined to terminate the City Carting contract? If so, would you offset the reported savings by making cuts elsewhere? It has been reported the outsourcing save taxpayers $110 each off their tax bills.
Mangiacopra said he is skeptical that the claimed savings – nearly $17 million over 10 years – will materialize, and promised a hard look at the numbers.
“I would immediately review and audit it,” he said of the contract. “I believe it actually could be costing taxpayers over time, instead of producing savings as claimed by the current administration. If the savings don’t exist, or have been overstated significantly, then I would strongly consider terminating the contract and begin looking for real savings that will also lead to a higher quality of service.
Miklave, an attorney, said he voted against the City Carting agreements, and questions statements made in a comment on this website by fellow Common Council member Bruce Kimmell (D-District D) that the city can terminate the contracts without penalty (Find Kimmel’s comment by clicking here).
“I thought that awarding a ‘no bid’ 10-year recycling contract locked the city into a contract for far too long,” he said in an email reply. “While I have heard the some city officials claim that the City Carting contracts can be terminated without penalty ‘for convenience,’ no one from Corporation Counsel’s office has made that claim. I am skeptical that the contracts can be terminated without penalty for any reason.”
While Miklave called it a no-bid contract, the contract in question was put out to bid. While 10 companies initially expressed interest, only two – City Carting and Finocchio Brothers – actually submitted bids. Several observers questioned the bid process, but no irregularities have been reported.
Miklave has other issues with City Carting, however, that led him to vote against the deal (the vote was 9-6 in favor, with all Republicans, plus Kimmel and Michael Geake [District B] – unaffiliated at the time after winning election as a Democrat – voting in favor).
“Just a few months (before the contract vote), in response to efforts by Council Democrats to investigate single stream recycling, the administration insisted that single stream recycling was not economically viable and the technology was untested,” Miklave wrote. “Yet, 90-days later, those same officials insisted that single stream recycling was a ‘no-brainer.’ This sudden reversal alone creates a reason for doubt. Second, the recycling contract was contingent on a corresponding garbage hauling contract. I did not support linking the two contracts. Third, I was opposed to the privatization of garbage collection precisely because I thought that, once it was contracted out, it would not be economically feasible to bring it back into DPW.”
Miklave said that, if he is elected, he plans to review agreements “to assess performance under the contracts, methods to improve recycling and garbage collection, methods to eliminate or reduce offensive odors and conditions in neighborhoods, and the cost to the city of alternatives.
“Basically, I hope to conduct the unbiased, independent review of the issues which the City skipped over in its rush to implement the privatization plan.”
Read the complete text of the candidates’ answers by clicking the links below. We have included all four answers to this point.