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Norwalk zoning commissioners say mayor pushes will on members

Norwalk Zoning Commission 030-20130220

Zoning Commissioner Adam Blank asks questions at a recent Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

Updated: 4:55 p.m., comment from James White.

NORWALK, Conn. – Zoning Commissioner Adam Blank has not been reappointed by Mayor Richard Moccia, and Blank is calling it payback for failing to be a rubber stamp for the mayor’s preferences.

Blank, who was praised for his work on the commission by Republican members last week, said Moccia instructed him to vote for an amendment that would make it possible for big box stores to be built in Norwalk. Blank voted instead for a compromise that would affect only Connecticut Avenue, where the Lowe’s store is now expected to be built, but not Main Avenue, where BJ’s Wholesale Club is seeking approval to build.

“The mayor wanted people on the Zoning Commission that he can control,” Blank said. “I was going to remain independent.”

The controversy comes at a time when Norwalk is defending itself from a federal lawsuit over the decision not to approve plans for a mosque on Fillow Street.

Blank said Moccia would “sporadically contact me when something came up that he thought important.”

Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak brought up Blank’s situation at the end of last Thursday’s Zoning Committee meeting. Mushak congratulated commissioners Emily Wilson and Jill Jacobsen for their reappointments, but then said he wanted to put on the record the reasons Blank gave him for the mayor’s decision.

“Somebody on this commission told him that Adam would not let them speak but would encourage Nate and me to speak,” Mushak said, and “wouldn’t let Jim and Joe speak.”

Mushak’s remarks caused a brief verbal melee.

Wilson quickly adjourned the meeting. In the course of the brief discussion, Alternate Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, a Republican, said he was shocked that Blank wasn’t reappointed. Wilson, also a Republican, said Blank was “very good.” Santo, a Republican, said Blank was “a good member.”

Blank offered his version of the discussion with Moccia.

“He did indicate that one of his reasons was that I was not standing up enough for Emily (Wilson), Joe (Santo) and Jim White and, when they were being attacked by Mike (Mushak), standing up too much for Mike when he was being attacked by Joe, Jim or Emily.”

He said that was annoying because he had always tried to act as a moderator, not taking sides.

Asked by email why he hadn’t reappointed Blank, Moccia said, “I wanted to give some new people the opportunity to serve. It is my appointment, not Mr. Mushak’s.”

In addition to Wilson and Jacobsen, Moccia reappointed James White over the objections of those who said the city charter indicated the appointment was against the rules because he had already served two terms.

“Mr. White was legal,” Moccia said in an email. “I am making an appointment of someone new. That is all I have to say.”

Blank said Moccia contacted him about a year ago before the vote on the zoning change that was widely described as a “Big Box Amendment,” as it revised the minimum height requirement of retail buildings that contain more than 80,000 square feet.

“He very much wanted us to all vote for that,” Blank said. “He expected that’s what I would do. He called me afterwards and expressed his displeasure that I would make a compromise that would be just Connecticut Avenue, not Westport Avenue and Main Avenue.”

It was the “same kind of story” with other issues, he said.

“I know he wants the BJs project approved,” he said.

He did not return a follow-up email asking if Moccia had tried to influence the mosque decision.

Zoning Commissioner Harry Rilling, a mayoral candidate who wrote an op-ed piece opposing favoring big box stores over other developments, said at last week’s Zoning Committee meeting that he had been instructed by Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan to recuse himself from the BJ’s hearings and decision.

“Based on this advice — even though I may disagree with it because I’ve heard public comments from other people on this board — but based on this advice I have decided to recuse myself from participation in any review or action in this particular development to make sure that my previously stated opinion is not either a political distraction or a legal excuse that could conceivably harm the interest of the Norwalk community,” Rilling said at the meeting.

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Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak questions the water runoff plans for the BJ’s Wholesale Club proposed for Main Avenue, during last week’s Zoning Committee meeting.

Mushak said the mayor had never called him to influence his vote, but mentioned things when they ran into each other at social events.

“I can’t comment on the mosque application because it’s in litigation,” he said. “… I can’t really address that issue, but I think it’s common knowledge that the mayor has tried his best to control the Zoning Commission through his appointments, which he has every right to do. That’s the way the governance is set up.”

He said his own reappointment had been threatened in 2011 when two Republican members told Moccia that he didn’t believe in property rights.

“They lied to the mayor,” he said.

He demanded a meeting with Moccia and “made a deal with the devil,” he said.

That meant not openly supporting Andy Garfunkel in his bid to unseat Moccia. Mushak donated money to Garfunkel’s campaign but could not hold a fundraiser at his home, as he recently did for Rilling.

“It was a nasty backroom deal that I needed to do” to stay on the commission and “counteract …  the bullying that was going on,” he said.

Blank is the “best commissioner that the Zoning Commission has had in years,” he said.

White also said Blank was good.

“Although I didn’t always agree with him, I did think Adam was a good commissioner,” he said in an email.

Blank was appointed Jan. 10, 2012, to fill the seat vacated when former member David McCarthy won election to the Common Council. His term expired July 1.

Mushak was re-appointed July 12, 2011. His term ends July 1, 2014.

Blank said he is disappointed and irked by the reason given, that he wouldn’t allow Republicans to speak.

“I’m annoyed because I typically play the role of mediator, the guy who tried to cool everything down,” he said. “Often that involves me really annoying Democrats or Republicans. He made this into a partisan issue.”

Blank wanted to work on revising zoning regulations, but “There’s plenty of groups in Norwalk that need help.”

34 comments

Al Raymond July 16, 2013 at 8:35 am

What a sin, what I just read is a bunch of BS. The people of Norwalk deserve better than that. Yes I know the Mayor makes the appointments & that is as far as it should go. Any commissioner that would let someone else influence there decision should not be on the board. The commissioners are there for the people of Norwalk & to focus on what is good for Norwalk & the people that live here,if anything the commissioners should be listening to the people not city officials.Being on the zoning commission is a thank less job. So let me say thank you to anyone who has ever served.
Al Raymond

Kay Anderson July 16, 2013 at 8:40 am

Adam Blank brings a thoughtful approach to zoning — one badly needed in Norwalk. We’re fortunate he’s going to continue to find ways to serve. So who lost in Moccia’s faiure to re-apppoint him? The legacy and beauty of Norwalk that is constantly threatened in no small part due to out-dated and byzantine zoning regs.
-Kay Anderson

LWitherspoon July 16, 2013 at 9:42 am

I agree with Al Raymond, the people of Norwalk deserve better. The Zoning commission should be an apolitical body, reviewing applications and dispassionately deciding on whether or not they comply with existing rules. Instead we seem to have the same sort of petty factionalism, dealmaking, and bomb-throwing that appears on the Common Council. This sort of behavior undermines the legitimacy of the Zoning Commission and might even expose Norwalk to legal damages somewhere down the line. If I were disappointed with the approval or denial of an application, I could use the information contained in this article to claim that it was due more to politics than to neutral interpretation of the rules.
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I respect Mike Mushak and agree with many of his opinions, but don’t think it’s appropriate for any Zoning Commissioner to be launching broadsides at elected officials the way that Mr. Mushak so often does. Perhaps this is why the Mayor considers what faction an appointee will support, rather than the person’s qualifications and ability to do the job. It certainly doesn’t reflect well on Mayor Moccia or Mr. Mushak if in fact it’s true that they both agreed that Mushak wouldn’t raise money for Andy Garfunkel in exchange for re-appointment.
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Whatever the case, let’s have less by way of politics on the Zoning Commission and from Zoning Commissioners.

oldtimer July 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

Moccia controlling how commissioners act is hardly news, he has been doing it for years, and that is why it is way past time for change.

M Allen July 16, 2013 at 10:18 am

What is with the disingenuous surprise here? This isn’t a Moccia issue, its a political issue since, well, forever. Do you really have an expectation that a political appointee is expected to act independently of the mayor/governor/president who appointed him? They are appointed because the mayor believes they will operate on his behalf. When they cease being useful in that regard, they are expendable. Nothing new here and it isn’t just our current mayor.

NorwalkVoter July 16, 2013 at 11:07 am

Adam Blank is a thoughtful, intelligent member of this commission and will serve our city well in any position. Yes, for the moment this is a loss for Norwalk but not for long I think.

Al Raymond July 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

Just a thought. How about any position held in the city of Norwalk must be held by some one that lives in the city,pays taxes in the city has to be a steak holder in Norwalk. We have people that are in upper management, heads of city dept. that don`t live here & could care less what happens here cause at the end of the day they go home to there nice little house in the woods pay taxes there and don`t care what happens in Norwalk, too me that is wrong. If you are on a board a commission anything that has to do with the city of Norwalk you need first to live here.If you have people that live in Norwalk & are working for the city in anyway shape or form they will tend to do a better job or take more pride in what there doing at least I would hope. Anyway just a thought.
Al Raymond

Mike Mushak July 16, 2013 at 1:20 pm

LWitherspoon, I agree with you that we should have less politics on the Zoning Commission, but that is currently impossible since the planning and zoning system in Norwalk is highly dysfunctional, is wasting millions through lost revenue and unimplemented plans that taxpayers have paid for, and is not serving the residents and businesses of Norwalk well since it is being “managed” so to speak under the careful intentional negligence of the GOP, without the transparency, accountability, and professionalism it needs to be in a city like ours with its many complicated urban planning issues.

This is why I “launch broadsides” at elected officials as you mention. This is also why I had to regretfully make a deal with the mayor in 2011 to overcome the lies he was being told against me by the two notorious GOP bullies on the Commission who are basically the mayor’s “enforcers”. I could not be controlled by them, which was the real reason they did not want me on, which only energized me to fight for the position to work hard for the residents and businesses of Norwalk that are being shortchanged by this corrupt process.

The mayor could not control Adam Blank as well, as he stated above, which is why he has not been reappointed even though he was one of the best commissioners we have had in years.

So, to your point LWitherspoon, we can’t help but let politics get in the way of our business on the ZC when Mayor Moccia and the GOP continue to play with the rules, ignore by-laws requiring accountability including performance reviews of staff (they ended in 2006 when Moccia was elected, go figure, and Dave Mccarthy recently said the ZC by-laws don’t matter, which is shocking for a public official to say about city by-laws), and when bullying and lack of civility has become the norm from the GOP thugs. Joe Santo even has gone so far at one point to tell staff to ignore my request to add a conversation to the minutes that actually happened which is a serious ethical violation as it constitutes tampering with official records, but which I never pursued because the ethics rules have been gutted to such a degree under Moccia that I knew it was a stacked deck against me. Mr. Santo thought it was totally fine to have the minutes not reflect what was said in a meeting, which only indicates how corrupt the entire planning process is and why it needs a major overhaul beginning with a new mayor.

I also fought hard to be re-appointed in 2011 because as a licensed landscape architect in CT, NY, and NJ, I was, and continue to be, the ONLY licensed design/engineering professional on the Zoning Commission (meaning architect, engineer, certified planner, or landscape architect), which is a shocking fact in the city the size of Norwalk.

I bring my expertise to every meeting, and ask a lot of questions of applicants (another fact annoying to the GOP and the mayor as they have said it many times to my face.) My goodness, we don’t want zoning commissioners who ask too many questions of applicants, now do we! It’s funny if it wasn’t so sad at the same time.

When Harry Rilling made his first vote on the Commission last year as a newly appointed commissioner to keep affordable housing on site on a project in SoNo, the first words our of Joe Santo’s mouth after the meeting was adjourned were “the mayor is going to be very upset with you,and will want to talk to you about this.” As if Mr. Rilling should have voted the way the mayor wanted him to out of gratitude for being put on the commission! The joke is, everyone knows Mayor Moccia tries to run the city this way, using thuggery and retaliation instead of actually managing the city the way it should be, and so it will continue until he is replaced.

The joke of Moccia as mayor all these years would be much funnier to those of us who roll their eyes at his repeated thuggish antics, if it did not directly translate into a diminished quality of life for residents, a reduced tax base (due to poor management and lack of proper marketing and a poor parking policy), a well documented anti-small business attitude in the P and Z department, professional plans that are ignored with impunity on roads like Beach Road and West Avenue (compromising public safety which is morally unacceptable and exposes taxpayers and visitors to serious injury and death as well as potential catastrophic liability claims) and a city that is falling decades behind other cities in the northeast on so many planning benchmarks, cities that we have to aggressively compete with in this new economy for businesses and residences to keep our tax base growing and our schools and services well funded.

In other words, Moccia is running the city into the ground with bad decisions and lack of management, yet he and his GOP friends pretend everything is going well. A few projects going up around town is not a sign that all is well with the city, as any planning expert can tell you and which we are told time and time again in the plans we pay for but which Mayor Moccia intentionally ignores.

Until Mayor Moccia is replaced, as well as long-entrenched staff who lack any professional planning certifications but who are responsible for planning our city (an issue for another article perhaps), we will not have the much needed reform in our broken zoning code and planning system. I know this very well as I work with other planning professionals from other cities closely in my profession, and Norwalk is often held up as an example as how NOT to plan a city. When we do hire professionals at great taxpayer expense to help us create plans which city staff should be doing much of themselves, the studies are often ignored anyway.

This explains how we have become the LAST city in CT to have on-street bike lanes, or a true multi-modal transit hub, or updated drainage standards to protect the Sound, or reduced parking requirements for residential projects in walkable downtown areas, or a Sustainability Plan, just to mention a few areas where Norwalk is years behind other cities.

Mr. Greene most recently approved a parking lot on Crescent Street that drains dangerous pollutants directly into Norwalk Harbor, where the winter flounder have just returned to breed. This is just outrageous that he gets away with it, and yet he has nothing to fear as long as Moccia is mayor since any performance reviews of him have been cancelled since Moccia took office.

The GOP members of the ZC including Chairwoman Emily Wilson ignore the by-laws that require monthly financial statements and accountability by staff to the ZC, ignoring the fiduciary and supervisory responsibility over staff that the City Charter has entrusted to the ZC. So Greene and other P and Z staff are guaranteed raises no matter how badly they behave, which is just bad management and a huge disservice to Norwalk taxpayers.

The P and Z system in Norwalk has not functioned to create a smart and sustainable future for all of us as it should, ever since the break-up of the Planning and Zoning Commission into 2 separate entities by GOP Mayor Esposito in 1988, in order to wipe out all the previous appointments of the former Democratic Mayor Bill Collins, and which allowed Esposito to more easily manipulate the commissions under, guess who, Mike Greene who is still there manipulating and blocking reform with impunity (even though he doesn’t even live in Norwalk, I mean, why would he?)

The planning disaster and traffic nightmare that Norwalk has become is directly a result of the fact that we have a planning system that is easily manipulated by insider politics instead of best management practices, being run by under-qualified bureaucrats who work harder at limiting their work load then they do at making Norwalk better. This must end soon if Norwalk has any hope of becoming a vibrant and successful city again with a good quality of life. Of course it will take decades to fix the planning and zoning mess that decades of bad decisions have left Norwalk with, but it will happen eventually, and sooner rather than later if Moccia is replaced this November.

I could elaborate on this for days with dozens of bad planning decisions Norwalk has made mostly under mayors who made back room deals with developers and manipulated the system, but suffice it to say our system is currently very broken and poorly managed, and will not change until there is change at the top, a change in staff, and a respect for by-laws with a commitment to professionalism, accountability, and transparency that is currently sorely lacking.

Suzanne July 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm

L Witherspoon, It would be nice to have a dispassionate Zoning Commission passing or rejecting developments based on “existing rules” but that is part of the problem: the Zoning Commission haphazardly at best follows “rules” that are far behind the times we live in especially concerning environmental, transportation, parking and building requirements. (This is by comparison to other urban areas of a similar size located near a significant body of water like Norwalk.) They do not take into consideration the pressures on our waterways, for example, leading to building in flood plains and wetlands and polluted run off of non-permeable surfaces like parking lots directly into an already polluted Sound, as mentioned by Mike Mushak above. The regulations themselves need complete evaluation and revision in addition to a re-working of staff and leadership. It is sad when politics trumps the consideration of future generations and the quality of life in Norwalk now but there you go. I can never figure out why these people take positions of service only to feed their own power and egos. It affects all of us yet some even defend them. The back side of human nature is a mysterious thing.

Joe Espo July 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I am appalled at the prevailing political ignorance of this group of commenters. Of course this Mayor will have input in important zoning issues, as well as other issues that intersect with his agenda and political pledges. EVERY other mayor in the past has done it, and every future mayor will do it. Do you honestly think that Harry Rilling, if elected mayor, will hold back on lobbying HIS zoning appointees or any holdover democrats if a big box store issue comes up? For Christ’s sake, he is running on that issue and if he doesn’t follow through he might not get re-elected. Do you honestly believe that Alex Knopp held back from influencing the planning commission’s capital budget decision-making for rebuilding Norwalk schools. He ran on that issue, which was key in ending Frank Esposito’s long tenure as mayor. Esposito ran and won many terms on the promise of keeping taxes low. I doubt he played wallflower with the BET.
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If Mike Mushak were to be elected mayor, do you honestly believe he wouldn’t appoint and influence his commissioners to tear up every road and turn the city into one big combo bike lane and nature trail?

M Allen July 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Mike – Assuming you’re right about everything you stated above, does any of it really change with the election of a different Mayor from the current slate? I’m not saying that serious, fundamental change isn’t possible with the right person supported by other like-minded change agents. I just discount whether it can be done with the people Norwalk seems capable of putting up for the jobs (plural) because it isn’t the fault of, nor solvable by, any one person.

cc-rider July 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm

M Mushak is saying that the people on the commission don’t have the credentials to be there. Teachers in town are required to have current certification. It really isn’t a political commentary, but rather a black and white point about the backgrounds of the current commissioners.

M Allen July 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Teachers are required by law to be certified. Civilian government officials typically don’t have those certifiable qualifications and are certainly not required to hold them. I don’t intend to demean Mr. Mushak by any means, but being a certified landscape architect is not quite the equivalent of being a certified commercial builder, let alone certified in city planning. He obviously has some insight, but let’s not stretch the entire debate too far. We can do better. We should do better. I think we can agree on that. But be honest with yourselves and recognize that won’t change with this next election.

Suzanne July 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Oops! M. Allen, you do not know the training and discipline required to be a Landscape Architect by your comment. I have an unrelated undergraduate degree but took a rigorous graduate program as well as a four section board exam that included principles of engineering, grading and drainage, materials knowledge, water quality and water determination issues, soils, as well as native and ornamental plant materials, environmental issues, brown field and Superfund site remediation, among the many subjects with which a Landscape Architect must not just be familiar but expert. It is an often misunderstood profession I realize but it requires no less training than an engineer, architect or, as you put it, a “certified commercial builder.” In fact, as to the last job title, I would challenge the knowledge base any day to that of what is required of a Landscape Architect – LEED standards as well as those of the ADA are required knowledge as well as the tectonics of building materials. Any “civilian” government would be lucky to have a trained and board certified Landscape Architect on their Planning and Zoning Commission.

Bryan Meek July 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Having degrees and certifications does not guarantee an ounce of common sense or sanity. Sitting on a commission for a number of years that you think is fully dysfunctional only demonstrates your inability to negotiate, collaborate, influence, and lead. Hostile outbursts and 5000 word essays probably won’t “win friends and influence people”.

Mike Mushak July 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Joe Espo, thanks for the humor when you suggest I would “tear up every road and turn the city into one big combo bike lane and nature trail”! Truth is I love to drive my car, and actually see the possibility that cars and bikes can easily coexist on our roads as they do in cities across the country and around the world, with proper standards and a motivated staff who will make it happen. Al;m ost every shed, garage, and condo storage areas have bikes stored in them already, gathering dust beacuse no one wants to ride on our dangerous roads full of speeding traffic. Bike lanes are coming, which will benefit riders of all ages and abilities including children and elderly, and Norwalk under Moccia can only fight it so long before we become the laughing stock of Fairfield County, which we already are in many professional circles as we fall years behind. What a shame.

M Allen, your description of landscape architecture as a profession not being the equivalent of “certified builder” or “urban planner” is highly inaccurate, in fact not based on any evidence at all, as well as your comment that civilian government officials are not required to have certifiable qualifications which is absurd considering our own DPW requires licensed engineers, our Finance Department requires a CPA, and our legal department has actual real lawyers (I think.)

Landscape architecture and certified planners are both licensed professions requiring a minimum Bachelor’s Degree, professional experience under other licensed professionals, and rigorous exams that generally takes months of intense study to pass, similar to lawyers, doctors, teachers, architects, and engineers. The state requires a minimum number of continuing education every year, and the profession of landscape architecture which I am most familiar, having been licensed for many years, is highly regarded among the professions as havinga strong multi-disciplinary approach that involves a knowledge of engineering, drainage, soils, botany ecology, and design.

Almost anyone can get a builder’s license if they prove to the state they have the proper insurance and business credentials, and promise to maintain certain standards. That is not meant to diminish the need or importance of certification of builders, but it is not the same as a licensed profession with a different set of standards.

From Wikipedia:

“Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes. It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. The scope of the profession includes: urban design; site planning; stormwater management; town or urban planning; environmental restoration; parks and recreation planning; visual resource management; green infrastructure planning and provision; and private estate and residence landscape master planning and design; all at varying scales of design, planning and management. A practitioner in the profession of landscape architecture is called a landscape architect.

Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, incorporating aspects of: botany, horticulture, the fine arts, architecture, industrial design, geology and the earth sciences, environmental psychology, geography, and ecology. The activities of a landscape architect can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for campuses and corporate office parks, from the design of residential estates to the design of civil infrastructure and the management of large wilderness areas or reclamation of degraded landscapes such as mines or landfills. Landscape architects work on all types of structures and external space – large or small, urban, suburban and rural, and with “hard” (built) and “soft” (planted) materials, while integrating ecological sustainability. The most valuable contribution can be made at the first stage of a project to generate ideas with technical understanding and creative flair for the design, organization, and use of spaces. The landscape architect can conceive the overall concept and prepare the master plan, from which detailed design drawings and technical specifications are prepared. They can also review proposals to authorize and supervise contracts for the construction work. Other skills include preparing design impact assessments, conducting environmental assessments and audits, and serving as an expert witness at inquiries on land use issues.”

Norwalk has never instituted these basic minimal standards for professional certification of our planning and zoning staff as most other cities have. Neither our P and Z Director, Assistant P and Z Director, nor our Senior Planner are actually AICP certified planners, which is absurd when you think about it. Just as absurd as having no lawyers in our legal department, no accountants in our financial department, or no engineers in our DPW. This why Norwalk is so poorly planned, and why staff have little regard for modern planning concepts that are occurring in most other cities in the country.

We are falling years if not decades behind, which is tragic, especially as we pay out millions of taxpayer dollars every year in salaries to staff who have been on the payroll since the 1970’s and 80’s and do not have a clue how to plan a modern city for the 21st century. I would feel better if they at least were curious to learn, but all of my attempts to bring in experts and improve their skills and knowledge have been thwarted with nasty antagonism by the GOP members of the ZC and by the staff, who circle the wagons when much needed change is recommended. We can’t even make small adjustments to the zoning code to make it more small-business friendly without a major battle and repeated sabotaging by the staff with impunity. Someday I will share with whoever wants to know, how ugly and childish this situation has become, to the point my business and even my church have been targeted by this crowd who clearly resent a spotlight being shown on the broken system and the whistleblowing I am doing as to how corrupt the system is.

Here’s one example: When I mentioned to Corporation Counsel Maslan that we should change the job description of our senior planning staff to actually be planners like all other cities have, and that I thought the Personnel Committee of the Common Council should be involved, he laughed it off and said he doesn’t even believe planning is a profession.

This sadly is the reality of what the Moccia Administration represents, which is a celebration of mediocrity and incompetence and poking fun at professional certifications and best management practices. It’s really like the insane are running the asylum, or better yet, like a bunch of unprofessional yahoos running the city!

This is why we need new leadership across the board, starting with the mayor because as the old saying goes, a fish rots from its head down.

Joe Espo July 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm

@Bryan Meek …and continuously slandering Mike Greene probably will get Mr. Mushak a 5000 word libel complaint and get Mike Greene a whole lot of GREEN!

Mike Mushak July 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Mr Meek, your comment came in while I was typing one of my famous “essays”! Your point is well taken, and proves only that Mayor Moccia has so thoroughly succeeded in controlling the ZC and staff that it is next to impossible for me to get any change done. When I suggested a performance review of Mike Greene be completed after a 7 year absence since Moccia was elected, after Greene lied blatantly about official business to me and the Commission, the entire ZC was threatened with legal action by Mr. Greene himself as he stormed out of the room, which indicated he was removing the only oversight possibility by anyone in City Hall since the ZC has the only authority to supervise Greene.

Nice work if you can get it, meaning you can rake in $150k a year, get 6 weeks paid vacation, and have no boss and no accountability and can do whatever you want including make things up, lie to the public, and ignore regulations that protect the public health, safety, and welfare. And you think I am the crazy one here? LOL! … I wish the usual GOP apologists would stop singling me out, and realize we have a huge problem in the P and Z department that is stifling our economy and our tax base and helping keep our property taxes high. I would think that would be a GOP issue they would love to solve, but it means actual hard work at reform, which no one seems to care about too much on the GOP side of the aisle, probably because Moccia can control Greene and have him do his dirty work for him. Nero fiddles as Rome burns, basically.

(This comment has been edited to conform with our comment guidelines)

NorwalkDinosaur July 16, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Moccia’s appointment policy: Replace smart qualified people who occasionally disagree with me with worn out hacks who do my bidding.

Don't Panic July 17, 2013 at 2:10 am

M Allen, I disagree. We CAN change things with a change in the Mayor’s office. Mr. Miklave is calling for exactly this kind of reform. He is seeking the same kinds of accountability that Mr. Mushak is calling for. And he will get at exactly the kinds of wasteful spending that everyone is deriding. To get change, we all need to commit to change.

M Allen July 17, 2013 at 8:44 am

Mike – I was in no way trying to denigrate your chosen profession. You seem very knowledgeable, albeit I question whether you can get along on a personal level. That aside, I agree that the actual professionals employed by the city, especially the department heads, should be required to have advanced degrees and certifications in the urban planning and engineering fields. Norwalk should strive to attract higher caliber talent as it has reached the point where part time knowledge from yesteryear just isn’t going to cut it. Experience is a wonderful thing but it needs to keep up with changing times.

Also, my initial remarks may have been taken a bit out of context. My comments were primarily directed at citizen members of commissions. These individuals are not required to hold certifications, although I agree that we would be lucky to have more members who did.

M Allen July 17, 2013 at 8:58 am

Don’tPanic- You can disagree all you like. First, Mike Miklave isn’t going anywhere with regard to becoming Mayor. So narrow your field of vision and answer the question again.

Second, everyone on the outside claims to seek reforms and accountability. Otherwise, what would be their purpose in running in the first place. But please be honest with yourself, it doesn’t change like that when reality sets in. The machines that put these individuals in place aren’t about increasing real accountability nor are they about significant change. I’m just saying to temper your expectations because I don’t see this crop of replacement candidates as anything other than different faces spouting campaign promises. Some people want to make this a a war about Evil Moccia versus these Democratic Defenders of Virtue and Common Sense. The fact is they are insiders seeking to push their own skewed agendas, and in the end very little will change for the average Norwalk taxpayer. Case in point: do things feel all that different for you after 5 years of Obama? Other than a war, which didn’t effect many of us anyway, the country is basically on the same path that so many denounced from the previous guy. The lot of the Norwalk taxpayer isn’t going to change in any noticeable way with the election of any of these candidates. So don’t get your hopes up.

EDR July 17, 2013 at 9:45 am

I do not know Mr. Mushak and would not recognize him if he stood next to me. I only know what I read and hear. I believe that Mr. Mushak he is a reasonably intelligent man who believes in what he says and that is good. Passion is good as is lively debate.

Unfortunately he has morphed into an overbearing bloviator who believes his positions are far superior to those of his peers and he dismisses them as inferior. Like many advocates like him he only sees his positions and sees conspiracies when people disagree with him. He does not seem to trust anyone or anything. That is unfortunate.

I suspect that if he would actually try and start to work with staff and commission members and stop criticizing everyone and everything he actually might be heard and be taken seriously. Maybe I am wrong but 25 years of being a manager has taught me not being part of a team puts you in a position that no one cares about you or your positions and minimizes any contribution you could make. Unfortunately a man who has much to offer has been minimized through his own behavior. What a waste.

cc-rider July 17, 2013 at 10:07 am

EDR- if your “team” was full of people who were not qualified to be there would you still recommend the action you suggested?

M Allen July 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

Not to answer for EDR – but the answer is yes. You work with the team you are a part of in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Not perfection, but best possible under whatever circustances you find yourself. Other options are to leave in protest or alienate yourself into irrelevance.

EDR July 17, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Turkeys are noble animals! Really it is what M Allen said- work for the best collective outcome. Everything now is so hyper political that commissions are not even allowed to do their work without having to defend themselves at evey turn.

LWitherspoon July 17, 2013 at 5:18 pm

@EDR
Agreed! Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who wanted America’s national bird to be the Turkey instead of the Eagle?
.
@Mike Mushak
I appreciate the response, even though it took several days to read. Seems like you’re trying to provide supporting evidence for your claims, and that’s great. It would be nice to see more of that around here. I would love to hear a response from the accused, but that seems unlikely. Absent that, I’ve only got one side of the story, and it’s hard to tell whether or not your concerns stem from genuine concern over the way things are done, or partisanship. Maybe it’s some of both, but it’s tough for this layman to separate one from the other.
.
Whatever the case, I really dislike hearing about these political games on a Zoning Commission. Same goes for your “deal with the devil”. Frankly I was surprised the first time I read a newspaper article which mentioned party affiliations of zoning commissioners. I can accept that Mayors will try to influence zoning commissions, but how much leeway does the commission really have? I must confess to being somewhat ignorant on this, but isn’t the ZC’s job largely to decide whether or not proposals conform to existing rules? Can you provide specific examples of ZC and Mayoral cronyism that benefited developers?
.
Where do Rilling, Mangiacopra, and the other Dem mayoral candidates stand on the question of replacing existing ZC and Planning staff, as you suggest?

M Allen July 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Nobody is asking you to soar with the eagles right away. Prove you can work together to get off the ground and land safely and you’ll probably hear cheers from the cheap seats in gratitude.

cc-rider July 17, 2013 at 11:17 pm

So one person on the commission has actual qualifications for the job, but teamwork is the real issue?

Suzanne July 17, 2013 at 11:47 pm

L Witherspoon, To reiterate, the “existing rules” for Zoning in the City of Norwalk are outdated and in dire need of reform. I have attended Zoning Commission meetings and I cannot tell you how disappointing they are. The last was to find out more about a development in my neighborhood. We were told that every permit to build had been granted the builder, that the meeting was the required formality to allow affected neighbors only to speak, that by “affected neighbors” they meant only those within 100 feet of the new development. These neighbors were supposed to have been notified of the meeting about the intended development a certain number of days in advance which had been severely shortened because of the weather and postal delivery. Further, any newspaper notification was not in a Norwalk paper but in the adjacent community of New Canaan because a small portion of the land was located in that town. That part of the land, however, because of its size and zoning laws could not be developed. When it came time to vote, the Commission said all non-commission members had to leave – we later found out this was not only untrue but not in keeping with correct governance of public meetings. Zoning is never a simple issue, especially when there is so much pressure on the small bits of undeveloped or potentially re-developed land that is left. It requires a knowledge base beyond the rules and regulations that Norwalk continues to semi-follow (if the vote is not influenced by outside parties) and those rules and regulations do not address contemporary issues not in existence the last time they were evaluated (like saving the last bit of natural urban remnants that are left – a developer will always win because of this administration’s love of “tax base”, a misnomer if there ever was one since so many tax credits and breaks are given to eagerly sought for developments that, somehow, allow land to be destroyed but never developed.)

EDR July 18, 2013 at 7:34 am

They are all qualified. Folks use to work together just fine until politics and ego got in the way. There are a lot of good things going on in town now with respect to new construction and more to come. It is hard to imagine anyone really trying to compare Norwalk to Stamford because they are entirely different. I suspect once 95/7 gets started again and Waypointe is finished the look and feel of the city will be entirely different. With regard to the retail boxes on Route 7 and Route 1 what are people going to build on those sites but that? A basic understanding of urban land economics would tell you that. Maybe if the local pols got us a gross receipts tax that we could use locally for public schools people would feel differently. But that would require leadership.

Don't Panic July 23, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Adam Blank will be sorely missed by the community. He has been accessible, reasonable, honest and respectful of the public. All commissions and even the council would benefit from emulating Mr. Blank.

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