(Nov. 4, 1 p.m., updated editor’s comment: Council member Bruce Kimmel denies making the statements attributed to him in this letter. NancyOnNorwalk could find no record of the comments attributed to Mayor Harry Rilling.)
To the Editor:
Someone is trying to confuse Norwalk voters over the charter revision issue.
In the last council term, it was Councilman Bruce Kimmel who effectively ended all discussion of charter revision when he pointed out that no one from the public was asking for these changes and that it was only politicians and outside business interests who were calling for an extended mayoral term.
He was right then, and he would be right now. However, a highly partisan Council has changed his mind. Let’s get to the facts.
The proposed charter changes, if adopted, will not save one cent, because elections cost money to conduct and will still have to be held. Off-year elections will not have a “head of the ticket,” so voter turnout will plummet. The party in power will have a vested interest in using its mayor and fundraising to campaign hard for its candidates, resulting in lopsided councils in every off-year cycle. This proposed change is intended to exploit that and to change the balance of power away from the citizens’ representative body, the Common Council to a puppet master mayor.
The Board of Ed also will face difficulty in getting voters to turn out, which means that extremist candidates, or candidates running with a special interest, may find it easier to win, enabling them to derail positive change in our school system in favor of potential monetary gain.
The pay raises for the council are a simple matter. Every other board and commission in the city, including the Board of Ed, is composed solely of volunteers. That is a good thing, and my hope was that the council would make themselves the same rather than seek to make themselves each mini-mayors collecting a percentage of that office’s salary.
Contrary to claims, the Chamber of Commerce never made any reference to “a dearth of planning” when they asked for the change. As documented in several news stories at the time, the Chamber’s goal was to create a stable environment for outside business to come in and negotiate deals. To some ears, that sounded like “BJ’s”, and it sounded like mayors getting “flexibility” to do things that were unpopular with citizens but favorable to a developer. Personally I support business, but I don’t think relinquishing that sort of local control is in Norwalkers’ best interest.
Bottom line, the only argument for changing the mayor’s term is to allow mayors to do things that people don’t want them to do.
At different times, Mayor Moccia, Mayor Rilling, and even mayoral candidate Kelly Straniti all endorsed the term extension, but they all favored it only with other associated changes in the way municipal elections are conducted. Each noted separately that the mayor’s term should not be changed without addressing the term and election of the council, the board of education, as well as other offices such as the taxing district officials. It is an egregious omission to cite the endorsement without that caveat.
The fact that Harry Rilling, our current mayor who would love another four years of city salary on top of his retirement dollars, is actively raising money to support this change is a clear conflict of interest. The fact that Mr. Kimmel’s wife is the chairman of the PAC that was organized IN AUGUST to advocate for these changes, has not been addressed at all. This is curious in that Mr. Kimmel has announced loudly that if and when Mayor Rilling doesn’t run for the office, he will. That the treasurer of the PAC is also the president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, the largest public union in the city, which supposedly would be “the other side” in eventual contract negotiations with the city seems awfully cozy. It suggests that something larger is afoot here.
Even those who want a longer term for the mayor, either because they don’t like campaigns or don’t want to donate, or something else, should VOTE NO to this change as proposed, because it has been structured poorly and will have major negative consequences for Norwalk. The only ones pushing for it are the ones who will directly and personally benefit from it now. That should be duly noted. The entire thing needs to go back to square one and be done right.
Former Common Council member
(Continued editor’s note: NancyOnNorwalk has not heard Bruce Kimmel say that voters did not demand charter revision and cannot find a record of such a statement. Asked Wednesday about mayoral aspirations, Kimmel said, “I have no intentions of running for Mayor, nor have I said to anybody anything indicating I would. It’s been a non-issue for me for a number of years at this point. I have no idea why Mr. McCarthy would conjure up such a statement and say I made it.” NancyOnNorwalk has never heard Kimmel say he wanted to be mayor.
Mayor Rilling, in a 2013 League of Women Voters debate, said that he favored 4-year terms for the Mayor and the Council, but did not link the two concepts or express the idea that they should “only” be done in concert with each other. NancyOnNorwalk can find no record of him saying he favored 4-year terms for the Mayor only if there were other associated changes.)