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Norwalk BoE, sans Barbis, takes heat over NAACP snub

Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams speaks to the Board of Education, Tuesday in City Hall.

Board Vice Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux, Tuesday in City Hall.

Updated, 8:26 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – NAACP members had strong words for empty chairs Tuesday as they called for the resignation of Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, who was not present.

Barbis was attending a funeral and Board members Mike Lyons and Erik Anderson were absent due to other obligations, Board Vice Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux said. LeMieux led the meeting and delivered her own apology for hurt feelings caused by the revelation that Barbis suggested Board members skip an NAACP fundraiser, as reported two weeks ago in a NancyOnNorwalk story.  

“I want to apologize for the very deep sense of division and disconnection that has grown between the Board of Education and the members of the black community in the last few weeks,” LeMieux said. “… I want you to know that we are listening, that we are committed to improving our partnerships and our relationships to best support our students in Norwalk because I genuinely believe that we do our best work when we work together.” Continue reading Norwalk BoE, sans Barbis, takes heat over NAACP snub

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Opinion: BoE Chairman Barbis should resign from the Board

This is a statement read Tuesday by multiple Norwalk Branch NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. 

The Norwalk NAACP, whose mission includes upholding the Civil Rights of all Norwalk Citizens, in partnership with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship of Norwalk and Vicinity, does hereby request the resignation of Mr. Michael Barbis from the Norwalk Board of Education.

For the following reasons:

1)         Mr. Barbis’ letter dated Oct 5, 2018 to fellow BOE members recommending that they do not attend the 2018 Annual NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. This banquet is historically attended by district Superintendents, BOE members and Central Office Administrators since the primary purpose of the event is to raise scholarship funds for Norwalk Public School students; a district that is predominantly minority in racial composition. Another is to recognize citizens and organizations who have contributed to promoting justice, equality and celebrating diversity in our community. It is an important event that reminds us of the history and the price that was paid, and continues to be paid, to advance African Americans in a nation and city that has undeniably needed to overcome racial and economic bigotry and injustices. Continue reading Opinion: BoE Chairman Barbis should resign from the Board

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Opinion: NAACP slight shows NPS administration’s self-defeating tendency toward groupthink

This statement was read by Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. It was unanimously approved Tuesday at a general membership NFT meeting, she said. 

The vision of the NAACP is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. The local organization sponsors scholarships for our students and brings speakers, discussion and attention to important issues. NAACP members are not always right and they are not always wrong, but they are always trying to address real problems.

Mr. Barbis’ recommendation to encourage others to not attend the 2018 NAACP gala put his personal agenda ahead of the needs of the people of Norwalk, especially the ethnically diverse students that attend our schools each day. Continue reading Opinion: NAACP slight shows NPS administration’s self-defeating tendency toward groupthink

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Opinion: Loose use of term ‘blight’ is wrong and will no longer be tolerated

This is an open letter sent  by Attorney Candace Fay to the Common Council Ordinance Committee on behalf of real estate broker Jason Milligan. The Committee is holding a public hearing on the Real Estate Tax Agreement for the Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood plan, formerly called the “Innovation District,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday (today) in City Hall room A300

As set forth below, we urge you not to vote on the Real Estate Tax Agreement for the Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood plan at this time and to require further substantiation from the Common Council.

Section 99-2 sets forth the objective of the Ordinance and specifically sets forth in subsection (b) to “improve the Plan Area’s physical condition, which is recognized by the City of Norwalk as blighted and substandard.”  Section 99-4 sets forth the definitions of the Ordinance.  Section §99-4 (m) defines the “Plan Area” as “The Wall Street – West Avenue Neighborhood Plan Area, as set forth in the Plan Area map approved by the Common Council.”  As of today’s date, there has been no determination by the City of Norwalk of blight.  Further, there is no “Plan Area” map that has been approved by the Common Council.  Continue reading Opinion: Loose use of term ‘blight’ is wrong and will no longer be tolerated

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Norwalk political notes: A $1 million rumor

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling in June advocates for his proposed reorganization of City administrative staff, in City Hall. Watching are Donna Smirniotopoulos and Lisa Brinton.

The election is Nov. 5.

Correction, 9:45 p.m. Feb. 20: Smirniotopoulos was not asked about $1 million reorg; information added. Updated, 3 a.m. Feb. 20: links added; photos of protest; 8:19 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s some political news for you:

  • Some question reorg’s pricetag
  • YMCA land transfer approved
  • Aquarium restructuring approved
  • Rock crushing behind Ely is for tennis courts

Continue reading Norwalk political notes: A $1 million rumor

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Norwalk ‘Innovation District’ coming back to public hearing, possible vote

A view of West Avenue from the roof of The Berkeley on the corner of Maple Street and West Avenue and across the street from The Waypointe. The Berkeley and its sister building, Quincy Lofts, were built by Belpointe Capital.

Updated, 9:46 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposal to create tax incentives for development in Norwalk Center has a new name and may be voted on Tuesday.  What was initially termed an “Innovation District” is now a “Real Estate Tax Agreement” and may be voted on Tuesday.

Common Council members are holding a public hearing on the ordinance which applies to specific boundaries in Norwalk Center. The agenda calls for them to “discuss and vote” on the drafted ordinance, which is connected to the Wall Street – West Avenue Neighborhood Plan.

The maximum amount of incentives to be offered is now $10 million total over five years, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said Jan. 15 at the Ordinance Committee meeting.  That’s a reduction of $5 million from the $15 million figure discussed as recently as August. Continue reading Norwalk ‘Innovation District’ coming back to public hearing, possible vote

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Holocaust survivor to Norwalk children: ‘Take care of each other’

Holocaust survivor Werner Reich talks to Norwalk children, Jan. 22 in the Family & Children’s Agency Ben Franklin location.

Updated, 9:54 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – The good people did nothing, Werner Reich said over and over again recently to Norwalk children, explaining a trauma of his youth.

“Today I am going to talk to you about what happens when we don’t take care of each other,” the Holocaust survivor said Jan. 22 to ASPIRE afterschool school program students in the Family & Children’s Agency Ben Franklin location.

Reich, 91, went on to quote Winston Churchill as saying that “since the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 16th century there has never been extermination of such a scale,” and struggling to come up for a term of the murder of millions of people in the 1940s. He hid in an apartment with resistance fighters when he was 13- to 15-years old, but one day there was a knock on the door and the Gestapo – the German secret police – took them away and beat him, he said.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story Continue reading Holocaust survivor to Norwalk children: ‘Take care of each other’

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Opinion: We don’t need more gun laws that don’t work

Craig Hoffman

With the regularity of Punxatawny Phil emerging from his burrow on Groundhog Day, the state legislature in Hartford has begun a new session with yet more gun control legislation at the top of their “to-do” list. Never mind that Connecticut is near the top of the list with 89 gun-related laws already on the books.

Every time something bad happens, the knee-jerk reaction from certain legislators is to pass yet one more law so that “this will never happen again.” This is a totally unrealistic approach to anything, as a perfect world filled with rainbows, lollipops and unicorns cannot be achieved through legislation. Continue reading Opinion: We don’t need more gun laws that don’t work

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Pension debt stands between Lamont and fiscal stability for CT

Ned Lamont talks to Norwalk Democrats in January.

In the context of the state budget, the pension fund for teachers is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.

The annual contribution Connecticut now must make to the long-neglected fund grows regularly — often massively. And every other priority in the budget must accommodate it.

For Gov. Ned Lamont, who insists he will end Connecticut’s cycle of budget deficits — there is no route to long-term stability that doesn’t have to navigate its way through the teachers’ pension.

“Let’s fix this damn budget, once and for all!” Lamont said in his Jan. 9 opening address to legislators. “In six weeks, I will present to you a budget which is in balance not just for a year, but for the foreseeable future.” Continue reading Pension debt stands between Lamont and fiscal stability for CT

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Duff isn’t ‘standing up for us’

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Sen. Duff’s public rebuke of Norwalk’s Board of Education Chair for a letter has no precedent and raises disturbing questions. Sen. Duff remained quiet several years ago when three Democrat BOE members with NAACP support accused the entire BOE of “discrimination” but failed to submit any evidence. That accusation had no precedent in Connecticut and damaged our City’s reputation. All three BOE members subsequently either retired or were defeated during re-election. Continue reading Duff isn’t ‘standing up for us’

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Good news about Norwalk

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Someone once said bad news travels faster than good, so I’d like to share a lot of good news out there about Norwalk, including a lot we don’t often hear about:

  • Grand list is up and taxes are stabilized and even going down for the majority of residents as reported (thanks Mayor Rilling and city staff).
  • Schools are getting better with more investment and renovations (thanks BoE).
  • A new school will be built in South Norwalk, Columbus school will be renovated, and Norwalk is poised to be first district in the state with K-12 International Baccalaureate (IB) Program (thanks BoE, Common Council, Mayor Rilling).

Continue reading Good news about Norwalk

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Hamilton discusses ‘quite striking’ Rainy Day Fund

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton speaks to the Common Council, Tuesday in City Hall.

Updated, 9:57 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline

NORWALK, Conn. – The growth of Norwalk’s Rainy Day Fund over the last four years is “quite striking,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said this week, attributing the growth to “ultra conservative budgeting assumptions.”

Hamilton, in multiple meetings with elected and appointed Norwalk financial shepherds, has fielded a variety of questions about the 2019-20 recommended operating budget, many about the unassigned fund balance, or Rainy Day Fund, which has grown from $34.6 million in 2014 to $57.7 million in 2018.

The recommended budget Hamilton helped craft plans a $6 million drawdown from the fund balance. Hamilton said he personally would be comfortable drawing down $4 million next year and $2 million the year after that, to bring the fund down to $45 million. Continue reading Hamilton discusses ‘quite striking’ Rainy Day Fund

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Norwalk Council OKs Oak Hills restructuring after citizens protest ‘surprise’ deal

Golf carts lined up near the Oak Hills Park pro shop in June. (File photo)

Updated, 11:14 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. — The Common Council on Wednesday authorized the deal it has worked out with the Oak Hills Park Authority, over the protests of four citizens who said the deal had been developed behind closed doors and just became public knowledge this week.

The three-part action authorized an $83,000 special appropriation to cover the Authority’s investment in custom restaurant equipment, allowing the cash-strapped Authority to meet its payroll obligations over the winter; changed the terms of the 2005 loan, with about $2 million outstanding, to make the interest rate zero, retroactive to Fiscal Year 2017; and eliminated the yearly payment on the loan in favor of collecting $2 per round of golf monthly, beginning on July 1, 2020. The Authority will also make an annual payment of 1 percent of its audited annual gross golf revenue.

It’s the fourth time the loan has been restructured, Paul Cantor protested to the Council, charging that the deal had been made outside of the public eye. Continue reading Norwalk Council OKs Oak Hills restructuring after citizens protest ‘surprise’ deal

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