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Norwalk Republican leader, Democrats spar over Rilling’s record

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling is taking credit for the work of others, Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano said Tuesday in response to Rilling’s re-election announcement on Sunday and the release of the proposed 2015-16 operating budget on Monday, a response that was solicited by NancyOnNorwalk.

And while Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons enthusiastically agreed with the RTC chairman on at least one point, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) called Torrano’s take on the BoE budget “a trifle absurd.”

Budget/BoE

Torrano wrote:

“The budget and its small marginal tax increase is responsible.  The thanks for that should be placed exactly where it belongs… with the chairman of the Board of Education, Mike Lyons. Without Mike’s work to rein in the Board and its budgeting process over the last four years, Mayor Rilling would have likely been facing an out of control 5 or 6 percent increase. Tom Hamilton has done a great job of keeping the city side in check, but that has always been the case.  The reasonable BOE budgets of the last couple years, which have actually continued to improve, have had no input from this mayor, nor has he played any part in their approval. Again, the mayor has let wild accusations of racism hang out there from members of his party, while Mike Lyons continues to do the work that makes Harry Rilling look good.”

“Speaking of budgets, what’s the best thing that ever happened to Harry Rilling?” Lyons wrote in an email. “Me, Rivera and Rudl – giving him the smallest budget increase for the BoE in living memory (covering 60% of his budget).  You’re welcome, Harry!    :-)”

Rilling, in his speech, spoke of the goodwill now existing between the BoE and the city, which blossomed into full view of the public in January 2013 with a joint meeting of the Common Council Finance Committee and school officials.

NoN asked Kimmel, the Finance Committee chairman, for his take on Torrano’s comment above:

“In Norwalk, as in other towns, the budget belongs to the Mayor. It was Mayor Rilling who provided Tom Hamilton and the city’s finance department with the guidelines, or limits, regarding taxes and spending. The Mayor has made it clear from the start that he was looking for property tax increases under two percent, and that is exactly what Hamilton and Bob Barron, the budget director, produced. The finance department would not have recommended fully funding the BOE budget request if it had come in between four and five percent. It would have been slashed in order to achieve the Mayor’s goal. That’s how it’s always worked.

“As chair of the Council’s Finance Committee from 2001-2005 and currently (I have been a member of that committee for all of my 12 years on the Council), I have always worked for a closer, more trusting relationship between the BOE and the Council. Last year and earlier this year, the Finance Committee held special joint meetings with the BOE to discuss the operating budget. Every member of the committee, both Democrats and Republicans, participated in these meetings. And this year, I invited members of the BET to the joint meeting. The goal is to foster a constructive working relationship among all the city agencies involved in crafting our budgets – the Mayor’s office, the BET, the Council, and the BOE.

“Mike Lyons, who has done an excellent job as Board chair, would be the last person in the world to take credit for the city’s current operating budget request. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with how the BOE crafts its budget realizes that the driving force behind this year’s request was Dr. Rivera, with Rich Rudl, the BOE finance director, doing all the big and little things that facilitated the modest 2.74 percent increase.

“I understand that Town Chairs of political parties tend to be overly partisan as elections approach, but the notion that Mayor Rilling – unlike Mayors Esposito, Knopp, or Moccia – has not had a critical impact on next year’s operating budget tends to be a trifle absurd.”

 

On the move?

Rilling, in his speech, said, “I am proud to say that Head of the Harbor South is ready to break ground in the spring and Wall Street Place is on the move with demolition and a foundation permit that they have secured.”

Torrano wrote:

“The mayor’s comments on his re-election bid demonstrate that he has done a complete U-Turn with respect to the city and how he views it. Developments that were ‘stalled’ are now ‘on the move’ even though the mayor has done nothing to help or hinder them and nothing has really changed.  The major development in Norwalk, PoKo, should have been placed in default five months ago, and now that the final deadline has passed, the mayor chooses to make excuses for the developer rather than step up and protect the citizens of Norwalk.

“The Head of the Harbor project, which was well underway during Mayor Moccia’s administration, and all of the plans now being executed were agreed to by Mayor Moccia, and are not moving any faster than they would have without Mayor Rilling’s lack of action.  In this case, as with all development work in town, the council shoulders the burden and Mayor Rilling makes irresponsible comments to pander to his base.”

Head of the Harbor South LLC managing member Michael F. DiScala did not respond to attempts to contact him Tuesday.

The advancement of the long-stalled Head of the Harbor project was heralded in an August press conference, an announcement that an agreement had been worked out to allow DiScala to buy Smith Street in exchange for $660,000 of public improvements and other arrangements.

“I would like to thank the mayor and all the various department heads, working very closely together, in harmony, I might add, for the last several months in order to bring this project to where we are today,” Discala said, at the press conference.

Historical Commission Chairman David Westmoreland was also at the press conference, and spoke of a collaborative effort to work out the issues surrounding the delay.

On Wednesday, he elaborated in an email:

“The progress towards construction of the Head of the Harbor project is directly attributable to Mayor Rilling’s leadership.  Soon after his election, he requested all of the stakeholders involved get together and resolve their issues to get the stalled project moving. These stakeholders included developer M.F. DiScala, the Redevelopment Agency, DPW, Planning & Zoning, Corporation Counsel, and the Historical Commission.  He also established a weekly meeting to discuss the progress of the project, which is still ongoing. Soon after this strategy was put in place, long-standing issues, such as parking, land disposition and infrastructure improvements were quickly resolved and the project has moved through the city approval process without controversy. Construction is expected to begin this summer.”

 

Public safety and department heads

“Crime has continued to spiral downward and it’s because of the dedication of the men and women of our police department,” Rilling said in his speech. “The racial diversity of our police force greatly reflects the makeup of our city and we are committed to do that. We are committed to do that not only on the police department and to keep it that way but on the fire department as well, and to make sure that all the employees in our entire city represent the great diversity of our community, the diversity that makes our community as great as it is.”

“Crime does continue to go down in Norwalk, as it does in almost every city in Connecticut, and in fact most of the United States.” Torrano wrote. “Meanwhile, the mayor has done nothing to refute allegations of discrimination in both the police and fire departments and, in fact, seems to be firing one of the most admired fire chiefs in the state because of inflammatory comments made about a lack of minorities in that department. Supporting his department heads and using them to achieve the goals of citizens, and not unions, seems to be unthinkable to this mayor.”

The Norwalk Fire Commission recently declined to renew Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy’s contract but left open the possibility that a new one will be drawn when the terms of his employment run out on May 1.

Four African American Council members are on record as saying they support McCarthy’s ouster.

“As a Council Member, individuals with direct knowledge have brought some things to my attention regarding certain practices of the Fire Chief and at least one other individual,” Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said in an email.  “I believe at this point the majority of the Common Council has been made aware. Given this information, I take the stand not to support the renewal of Chief McCarthy. If new information is brought to my attention I will consider that as well.”

Members of the African American community assert that there are racial problems in the fire department, but few will go on the record.

 

Stuck with Rilling

“The mayor has steadfastly refused to make a comment or take any action on issues of importance in over a year in office,” Torrano concluded. “He has few if any achievements to his name, and now takes credit for work that is being done because of his predecessor’s actions.  We are faced with chaos in City Hall, department heads who don’t know whether the building is even open or not, and irresponsible comments in the press which have created a potential opportunity for dozens of baseless lawsuits to be filed against the city. This mayor is very good at getting people to like him, so good he strikes fear into his political opponents, who know that he will likely get away with doing nothing for another year or two before the average citizen catches on to him.”

32 comments

Wants to waste taxes February 12, 2015 at 6:23 am

The mayor wants police promotions even though there are no open positions. This will cost taxpayers $300,000.00 per year. Why?

EveT February 12, 2015 at 6:41 am

It would be interesting to know the specifics behind these pretty serious allegations: “We are faced with chaos in City Hall, department heads who don’t know whether the building is even open or not, and irresponsible comments in the press which have created a potential opportunity for dozens of baseless lawsuits to be filed against the city.”

John Hamlin February 12, 2015 at 7:22 am

So run against Rilling or bring back Moccia to run against him. See how Rilling does in either contest. You can kvetch about Rilling all you want, but nobody is going to care or listen very long unless you bring us an alternative candidate — and one who is better. So far we haven’t seen any Republican with a pulse willing to run against him. And so your kvetching is really not only useless but also embarrassing for your party. No candidate, no ideas, just kvetching. Is what’s happening at the state level starting to happen at the local level?

Jason White February 12, 2015 at 8:49 am

According to the Hour, Moccia is 1) no longer living in Norwalk and 2) is facing some serious health issues.

Oyster February 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

Beg to differ Mr. Hamlin. This is the opening salvo in Mr. Lyons’ run for mayor, providing former Rep. Cafero and Councilman Hempstead are not persuaded to run in Mr. Torrano’s toxic political messaging environment against the wildly popular incumbent Mayor.

LWitherspoon February 12, 2015 at 9:15 am

I’m sure that Bruce Kimmel’s comment about the BoE budget process is accurate. However wasn’t it Mike Lyons who led the board that found Supt. Rivera? And wasn’t it Mike Lyons who supported creating the CFO position, which was filled by Elio Longo. Mr. Longo if I recall uncovered a financial mess that had been papered over for years by questionable bookkeeping. Longo was ultimately hired away by Westport Schools – when does that ever happen? – and his replacement is Mr. Rudl.

My question for Mayor Rilling would be “what tough decisions have you had to make with this budget?” Or was the extent of the Mayor’s involvement confined to dictating the level of acceptable tax increase and leaving the rest to Mssrs. Hamilton and Barron? It would also be interesting to know to what extent the spending growth, or lack of growth, is driven by contracts that were settled prior to Mayor Rilling taking office.

piberman February 12, 2015 at 10:00 am

Why not recognize that Mayor Rilling has pulled quite a surprise with a 2% tax hike with a fine assist from BOE Chair Mike Lyons. That makes re-election highly likely in line with our long standing tradition of giving first term mayors a second term. Who would have thought that then candidate Rilling who spent scant attention to finance would knock the ball out of the park on his first budget with a 2% tax hike. One has to go back to long term Mayor Esposito to see that kind of long ball hitting. Mayor Rilling has done what the City GOP has long promised – really low taxes. Surprise.

RTC Chair Torranno would be better served by seeking out the best qualified GOP candiddates for the Council and BOE rather than chastising the Mayor. Timing is everything in politics and this really looks like Mayor Rilling’s year. Despite being in “political novice” the Mayor is demonstrating he understands how the “game” is played. By hitting a “home run”. Arguably nothing is more important to the City’s future than restraining the budget and punitive tax levels so that homeowners have real prospects for future property appreciation.

Bruce Kimmel February 12, 2015 at 10:02 am

Torrano, apparently, is not aware, or doesn’t recall, or is simply ignoring for partisan reasons, the circumstances around the Council’s decision last summer to provide POKO another five months to get its finances in order.

Regarding the extension: The Land Disposition between the city and POKO was so poorly written that the city would have probably lost in court should it had declared POKO in default last August. We should also remember that the developer was not able to do much of anything until 2010 because of a lawsuit and our rather slow zoning procedures.

The extension enabled the city to strengthen its hands considerably should this issue end up in court after a declaration of default. It was the only responsible move to make, and the majority of both Democrats and Republicans realized that.

We are now examining whether POKO has met the terms of the extension; specifically, whether he has secured the financing for the long delayed project.

Don't Panic February 12, 2015 at 10:34 am

Mr. Kimmel,

They have not, and council should already know that. By suggesting this issue is still somehow open, you are effectively garanting an extension and running the risk of waiving your right to enforce.

What are you going to do if Mr. Olsen comes into City Hall waving a closing document dated with yesterday’s date?

Bruce Kimmel February 12, 2015 at 10:52 am

If Mr. Olsen has proof of financing, and if that proof is supported by city staff and our lawyers, when the issue comes before the council, I will vote in the affirmative.

Sassy February 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

Which business has Rilling lured to Norwalk? Still see weeds on West Avenue. Waste of open space and still nothing in the future either.

Oldtimer February 12, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Only a fool underestimates Harry Rilling. Pete Torrano worked with Harry long enough to know that. Sure, he cuts a lot of ribbons and helps celebrate openings of new businesses. That is part of his job and he revels in it. I don’t know where he gets his energy, but he manages to be there when invited. He must put in ridiculous hours.

Torrano is having a hard time finding a viable candidate because most are pretty sure Rilling will get a second term no matter who runs against him. RTC chair is not an easy job, Torrano needs to get a more satisfying hobby.

MWebb February 12, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Is Mr. Kimmel a councilman or a spokesman for the Rilling campaign? There is a quote from Mike Lyons stating specifically that he, the superintendent and Mr. Rudl had worked on the budget and achieved the relatively low rate of increase. That the mayor is the beneficiary of this cannot be denied.

On the same token, the mayor could have then taken spending to a 5% increase and accomplished something, so he did make a choice. He chose to keep things at a minimum, and services will be curtailed, and he will have to take the heat for that.

The Head of the Harbor plan was put into place in 2009. The agreement was made then, and the Historical Commission lauded the trade off of improvements for land. You can see that at the Hour http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/discala-unveils-development-plans-for-head-of-the-harbor/article_4a6686de-a78d-591c-820a-a05485a1486a.html I think having a few people continuously make comments that the mayor is somehow accomplishing something may be a part of the campaign. Mayor Rilling has done nothing, and DiScala is now ready to build and things have moved forward.

Sue Adams February 12, 2015 at 1:27 pm

If the mayor has established a more trusting open relationship with the BOE, why does he leave the chairman out there to dry, having been accused of Racism and threatened physically by Shirley Moseby? Lyons still delivers a good budget and Rilling still sits and does nothing.

Maria C February 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

The mayor does put in ridiculous hours, but they are not making any decisions or undertaking any work, that’s for sure. He will likely get reelected, but that will be that. The Alex Knopp 4 year rule comes into play. You simply can’t make enough people mad to get voted out in 2 years. Harry is making a good run of it, though.

The admission of guilt and banning of the road treatment is a good example. A guy has a heart attack and dies driving his car, well, or course it goes out of control. Our mayor simply admits it is the city’s fault and cuts off road treatment that the rest of the state is using? No evidence, just react?

Also, is city hall open or closed? The snow storms have caused the schools to be closed, but half of the people who work at city hall don’t know whether they should be at work or not, and the mayor is no where to be found. He can’t even make an announcement for the workers?

Taxpayer Fatigue February 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

No one, including Mayor Rilling, did more ribbon cuttings and kissing babies than Mayor Moccia – and Mayor Moccia was lauded for it. The Hour had a picture of Moccia at some event on page one or page three almost every single day for eight years! At least when we have republican mayor, if you had an event, coverage in The Hour was guaranteed if you told them that Mayor Moccia would be there. For those of us involved in non-profit organizations in the city, having the Mayor of the City show up is important and provides goodwill to the volunteers and donors who actually do real work for our city. The press coverage, at least in the Moccia days, also helped publicize the good work that many of these organizations do, often at no cost to city taxpayers. Why anyone would criticize this is beyond me – it is part of the expected role in most any mayor’s job. I find it both ironic and hypocritical that republicans criticize Mayor Rilling for trying to meet the high standard that Mayor Moccia set for supporting organizations and businesses in Norwalk.

Harold February 12, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Don’t attack Mayor Moccia…he was visible, but he was also able to tell people no. He didn’t just promise everything and deliver nothing like Rilling. Let the public stuff go.

This mayor refuses to step up for his board of ed chairman, he lets members of his party get away with wild accusations, like the police are out of control and Shirley Moseby voting on her brother’s contract! It must stop.

Poko is the latest mistake. There is now a hole in the ground and no way to move forward. He is in default and that is that. The 5 months were a mistake and now everyone will know!

Bill Dunne February 12, 2015 at 2:06 pm

As often happens in politics, Mayor Rilling is proving to be a deft game-player while taking advantage of the work of others to camouflage his AWOL-style administration. In an earlier comment the estimable Peter Berman seems to suggest that such instances of good timing and slickness at game-playing are qualities that merit high praise. This is odd.

To be sure, Harry has been lucky in getting away with his studious invisibility whenever various controversies raged (e.g., the mosque, the shameful slandering of the BOE and other municipal department heads) or his participation in the race hustling that threatens the ability of our fire and police departments to keep us safe. As Torrano accurately shows, we have a lucky mayor but not the mayor we have needed — a mayor who would protect the reputation of our City from unfounded smears, a mayor who would defend his department heads when publicly slandered — the people whose good accomplishments, most of them carried forward from his predecessor’s administration, he is now able to pop up and take credit for.

Ribbon Cuttings February 12, 2015 at 2:21 pm

In all honesty, it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to welcome new businesses and be involved with ribbon cuttings.

Perhaps there might have been more coverage on ribbon cuttings or there might have been less businesses opened in one particular year.

To say that one Mayor was involved, more than the other is just silly.

I’m not a fan of either Mayor, but you just can’t fling such a silly comment around.

RIBBON CUTTING: The Mayor’s Job. PERIOD.

Taxpayer Fatigue February 12, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I wasn’t criticizing Mayor Moccia, he did a great job showing up at events and set expectations high for every succeeding mayor. The Hour’s very diligent coverage each day of Moccia at events was very helpful to all the organizations that he showed up to support.

The mayor’s job is more than ribbon cuttings of course, and saying otherwise is just more nonsense. He has hiring and firing authority over the personnel director and the DPW director and sets the direction for most of the staff (although the staff is very adept at ignoring directions from whomever the mayor is whenever it suits them, whether it was Moccia or now Rilling). Like it or not, he set the direction for this budget, though the BOE does whatever they want anyway until the Council sets the cap.

I guess its an amazing achievement to “only increase” school funding by 2.74% – that’s still well over $4M. I guess under three percent is the new definition of fiscally conservative in Norwalk – I suspect Republicans outside of Norwalk would disagree with that. So we’ll spend over $170M this next year to give our kids a ” C minus” education on average according to the test scores. Well done!

Kevin Di Mauro February 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Former Mayor Moccia was able to do all his ribbon cutting and dirt shoveling WITHOUT having an assistant mayor to help him. He eliminated that position when he was elected.

Since there has been recent talk about the need to restore this position, I think some alternatives should be considered. Adding high paid personnel doesn’t necessarily increase efficiency, but it does increase expense.

piberman February 12, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Criticizing Nowalk’s mayors remains a time honored tradition. Looking backwards over the past several decades none of our Mayors have been demonstrable “leaders” or “visionies” or “innovators”. Our City, for better or worse, is governed by the Council and BOE. We’re fortunate to have the most competently run BOE in memory. It’s a team effort. That makes Mayor Rilling’s job that much easier, especially as regards the budget. And he’s taken advantage of that opportunity to do something that escaped both Mayors Knopp and Moccia – keep the tax hike virtually unchanged. Like everyone else I have a long list of stuff I’d like Mayor Rilling to do. But nothing is ever more important to a City’s future than keeping spending and taxes affordable to its taxpayers. What’s wrong with recognizing that Mayor Rilling understands the importance the restraining spending/taxes ? He had Mike Lyons “lucky pass” and ran with the ball. Surprising just about everyone. That’s not the whole game but its a worthy accomplishment. If the GOP is going to make for a meaningful contest they’ll have to come up with better ideas than claiming that the Mayor had a “lucky pass”.

Now my good friend and superb wordsmith Bill Dunne accepts the Mayor’s good fortune but notes some ofthe Mayor’s deficiencies over the past year. Such as not standing up for unfairly criticized City officials. But truth be told I don’t recall RTC Toranno or any other City official of either Party coming to the defense of Mike Lyons and the BOE and demanding an immediate investigation of the BOE discrimination claims. Nor do I remember a demand by GOP leaders for an investigation of the awful NEON charges of malfeasance. Nor do I remember a similar demand to the NAACP President
to explain why he fears a Ferguson incident in Norwalk. In short there’s lots of disappointment in City leadership from both Parties to go around. For my two cents the failure of the City’s leadership to support the BOE and Mike Lyons against the bizzare discrimiantion claims was the low point in City governance over the last 4 decades. The GOP’s leadership just let Lyons and his team swing in the breeze.

Here’s a suggestion for Bill Dunne. How would a GOP Mayor re-organize City Hall with new hires ?
Would all City Department Heads automatically receive yearly bonuses ? Would there be effective ceilings for City administrators ? Are there areas where the City and the BOE could work together to save funds ? Suppose the City had legal counsel as adept and able as the BOE’s Tom Mooney. What might they do in terms of forging lower cost City contracts ? And above all Bill, what would a GOP Mayor’s City budget look like ? In short, show us what a GOP headed administration in City Hall would look like. That’s going to take some work. Its a lot easier to take pot shots at our current Mayor. But that’s not a real platform to attract voters. In closing its kind of odd that Mayor Rilling has done what GOP Mayors used to do in Mayor Esposito’s time – keep taxes low. Of course, he had a “lucky pass”. But why criticize a lucky pass. Show us what the GOP team would do if they had the ball. After all one of their heavy hitters is a paid “pitchman” for the mall developers. Is the GOP team behind that effort ?

Kevin Di Mauro February 12, 2015 at 8:20 pm

@Taxpayer Fatigue

I don’t think there is anything pathetic about reporting the news, and it was reported here at NON that Harry Rilling is considering reestablishing the position of assistant mayor,although not immediately.

I made two comments suggesting alternatives that might be less costly to the city’s taxpayers.

Mark Chapman February 12, 2015 at 8:31 pm

@ Kevin
So much news, so little sleep. Not sure if it got mentioned, but the mayor abandoned the idea of adding an assistant because he could not justify to himself or the taxpayers adding a position when other economies were being sought from other departments. A careful look at the budget shows many of the new positions and initiatives that were discussed — some prematurely by political opponents — are not included in the budget.

Taxpayer Fatigue February 12, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Yeah, it really sucks when the first democratic mayor in eight years is proving to be more fiscally responsible than the republican who held the office for the past eight years. Kind of hard to keep a negative narrative going, huh? Let’s see, let’s try attacking him for all the ribbon cuttings – oops, no that didn’t work. Let’s go after the head of the harbor development, whoops! That doesn’t stick either? Okay, how about crime? Oh, that’s down too. Darn. I know, this is brilliant – let’s blame Mayor Rilling for Obamacare! That one always works…

anon February 12, 2015 at 9:45 pm

2% tax increase for same service budget, even with lower budget numbers from Board of Ed.
Rilling gets no credit, except for not doing much to keep Rivera here.

Taxpayer Fatigue February 12, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Do the math anon – your point only works if the BOE budget came in at under 2% – oops- the BOE came in at 2.74%. Facts really suck, don’t they?

LWitherspoon February 12, 2015 at 10:26 pm

I’m surprised at the degree to which discussion of this City’s $300 million-plus budget is glibly reduced to one number and one number only – the amount of the tax hike.

What I’d like to know is the nature of the tough decisions, if any, made by Mayor Rilling with this budget. What proposed spending, if any, was omitted to keep taxes low? What new spending was added?

anon February 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm

@Taxpayer Fatigue, you missed the point. Taxes are increasing this year …% (fill in the blank), but taxpayers get same services as last year. What’s impressive about that? Rilling gets no credit for Board of Ed request, but can take credit for not doing much to keep Rivera here.

Kevin Di Mauro February 14, 2015 at 5:55 pm

@Taxpayer Fatigue

Yes, crime is down, and I think it’s because Harry Rilling has been replaced as Chief of Police.

Are you kidding? February 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Mr. Torrano a member of the fire department has come forward on the record, go talk to him. Get all the facts from all the sources before you comment, as a retired police captain wouldn’t that be the starting point to any conclusion? Are you absolutely sure it is in the best interest of the Republican party to support anyone without the proper vetting of a ten year career of insensitive remarks?

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