NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Common Council appears set to finally take action on a proposed anti-bullying resolution Tuesday and Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) is not backing down.
Problem for Kimmel: Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and Councilman David Watts (D-District A) are listed as being among the sponsors of the resolution.
“I’ve already said on several occasions that it should be changed so the entire Council is listed as sponsors of the resolution,” Kimmel said in an email. “Now it’s time for other Council members to address this blatant hypocrisy and offer an amendment. If that does not happen, I will vote against the resolution. A large majority of the Council agrees with me privately; let’s see what happens in full public view.”
The resolution is also sponsored by Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) and Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B). The resolution has been tabled three times.
Whereas, Bullying is a pervasive problem that can have negative consequences for the climate and for the right of children and adults to exist in a safe environment without fear, and one that can have negative lifelong consequences, both for those who bully and for their targets; and
Whereas, Bullying is comprised of direct behaviors such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting, intimidating and stealing that are initiated by one or more people against a target, as well as indirect behaviors such as spreading rumors and acting in other ways to cause a person to be socially isolated through intentional exclusion, with such behaviors, direct or indirect, amounting to physical or psychological intimidation occurring repeatedly over time to create an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse; and
Whereas, Bullying others and being the target of bullies are considered risk factors for violence by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other relevant organizations, and bullies whose behavior goes unchallenged risk ending up escalating, engaging in domestic violence and child abuse; and
Whereas, Bullying for too long has gone unchallenged, with parents and others, who are often unaware of the bullying problem in school and in the community, neglecting to talk about it with their children; with targets feeling that outside intervention is infrequent and ineffective and will only bring more harassment from bullies; and with many viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage that is best ignored; and
Whereas, Those who stand by passively watching or actively encouraging bullying are also affected by these hostile acts; they encourage bullying by creating an audience, they may become desensitized to cruelty, they may learn to imitate bullying behavior and become bullies themselves, and/or they may be fearful for their own safety, adding to their own insecurity; therefore be it
Resolved, That Common Council of the City of Norwalk supports policies and programs that address the prevention, intervention, and elimination of bullying; and
Resolved, That Common Council of the City of Norwalk shall endeavor, via all means available and appropriate to bring about an atmosphere of zero tolerance for bullying behavior, and an attitude that bullying behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in homes, schools, playgrounds, buses, school activities, city events and meeting, nor in the community in general; and be it further
Resolved, That Common Council of the City of Norwalk work with the appropriate agencies of the city and state, as well as any national organizations, to inform the general public about the risks and cost of bullying for both the bully and the target, as well as those who witness bullying, and bring about a change in societal attitudes toward bullying.
Kimmel is not the only person to publicly object to the bullying resolution in the context of who is sponsoring it.
At the three previous meetings that had the resolution on the agenda, Diane Lauricella has spoken against it.
The first time she said she “thought it ironic and sad in that a party has been seen as being a bully to many of us, especially myself” is listed as a sponsor. She said the second paragraph of the resolution was relevant to that issue.
On Nov. 18 the local newspaper published an op-ed written by McCarthy that attacked Lauricella without naming her, beginning with the phrase “irresponsible actions on the part of a local activist.”
“The thing is that people like me have been really hurt by this happening from our elected and appointed officials,” Lauricella said to the Council on Sept. 23. She asked that the Ordinance Committee come up with an ordinance that would include censuring for a Council member who bullies. The Human Relations Council could perhaps train the Council about bullying, she said.
“The last thing I wanted to say about this because I am on record with some thoughts about censuring members that do bully after this resolution is passed, and I hope it is passed, I would like to see the entire group be listed as the sponsors,” Lauricella said on Oct. 14. “That is something that I heard would occur. Because some of the people who have drafted this have displayed bullying activity and I am hoping we can all go forward and they can be held accountable.”
Watts looked angry. “Mayor, I am going to object to that,” he said. Mayor Harry Rilling nodded and held up his hand to stop Watts.
“Excuse me Mr. Watts,” Lauricella said, continuing on to another topic.
A related matter is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. Kimmel said in late September that he was not participating in the Republican caucus because of McCarthy’s “political intimidation tactics” and bullying of caucus members. Kimmel said he would not join the Democratic caucus because Watts had destroyed it. Watts “conducts personal vendettas, and he cannot be trusted,” Kimmel said.
At the last Council meeting Watts and Simms asserted that Kimmel had left the Republican caucus, moving to change the balance of power to a 7-Republican, 7-Democrat and 1-unaffiliated split. Kimmel said he had not officially left the Republican caucus, and had rejoined it that evening.
“Under FOI, when caucus members make a public declaration that they are leaving can they go return under FOI?” Watts asked, referring to the Freedom of Information Act. “I would like to get a legal opinion on that but I think that is pretty sufficient evidence that he has claimed he will no longer caucus with the Republican party and we should investigate under FOI can he return or can he make those statements and then decide they can go back,” Watts said. “… If he can return then it’s all moot and we go back to business as usual. If he cannot return then that leaves the Council at 7-7-1, where it’s seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent or unaffiliated, whatever he would be. That would basically put the caucus as – we would now have two majority leaders because the Democrats would no longer be in the minority.”
The matter was tabled so that Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola could look into it.
“I don’t know why it is not on the agenda,” Kimmel said in a Sunday email. “My guess is that everyone now considers the point moot, though I could be wrong.”
Kimmel said he called FOI Commission public information officer Tom Hennick early last week.
“He told me that technically I never left the Republican caucus simply because I was not allowed to under FOI rules,” Kimmel wrote. “Elected officials in Connecticut are allowed one caucus change per term and, according to Hennick, I used my caucus change when I submitted paperwork to the City Clerk right after the 2013 elections indicating I, as a Democrat, would be caucusing with the Republicans. My affiliation was what counted, not the fact that I ran on the Republican ticket. Irrespective of what I do or don’t do for the remainder of the term, I am a member of that caucus for the rest of the term.
“Hennick also said the composition of legislative bodies are not determined by FOI, but by the municipality’s past practice,” Kimmel continued. “In Norwalk, as far as I can remember, our past practice is to divide the committees, as best we can, according to the ratio of Democrats and Republicans on the Council. However, the elected Council president has been the member who decides who chairs those committees. Thus, even though the body is currently split 8 to 7, Doug Hempstead decided that all of the chairs were from the majority caucus. That seems to be our past practice.”