Norwalk political notes: Science matters, Himes and Blumenthal say

The Lockwood Mathews Mansion, with new LED lighting. (Contributed photo)

The Lockwood Mathews Mansion, with new LED lighting. (Contributed photo)

Correction, 1:28 a.m. Feb. 15: Kimmel said “have been briefed already.”

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we have for you in political notes this Monday:


  • Darwin Day marked by Himes, Blumenthal, with pleas for courage
  • Lockwood Matthews Mansion Board: Let there be light
  • Norwalk Finance Director weighs in on Malloy’s budget
  • Duff fights for SpEd parents
  • Kimmel: budget cycle reversed
  • Odd greeting for Mosby
  • Lavielle hopes for bipartisan budget work
  • Wood seeks opioid reform


Himes, Blumenthal mark Darwin Day

“The opposite of science is fear,” U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) said Saturday in Darien, at the 9th annual Darwin Day dinner organized by Norwalk residents.

This marked a change, one attendee said: the comments at the dinner have never been political before.

Both Himes and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) made impassioned speeches, inspired by the change in national leadership.

“Whatever we non-scientists do it must be rooted in fact, empirical method, in empirical truth…. Which by the way, sadly is a contentious notion in 21st century America,” Himes said. “… Fear makes us do awful things as humans and fear makes us do awful things as Americans.”

Science scares people, as it’s natural to crave security and over the course of 500 years science has taken that away, Himes said, listing revelations such as Galileo’s pronouncement that Earth is not the center of the solar system.

“Science generates fear and you understand why science is under siege,” Himes said. “…We have cured disease, we have warmed our homes, we have fed the hungry. We have done so much in those moments when we have turned to science.”

Tell that story, he said, to the science fans gathered at Water’s Edge at Giovanni’s, so that fear will not prevail.

“The answer to our national security problems is not to just pick on a group of people who may just be an easy group to pick on. You need to force us to those facts,” Himes said. “… Please remember that courage, of Galileo quivering before the inquisition… that is what we need you to do to make sure the progress that we have made for the past 500 years does stop here and now.”

Blumenthal also thanked the crowd for standing up for science, and not being “bullied or intimidated by an effort to establish, let’s say, alternate facts.”

“To kill an error is often as good as establishing a new truth,” Blumenthal said. “In my world, for better or for worse, there are a lot of errors to kill these days. Some of them involve some old truths, like the fact that we are all created equal, that certain freedoms are inalienable in our nation; that we are already a great nation. We don’t need to be made great again, we are a great nation because we value free expression and we protect it against government efforts to bully or silence or intimidate. That is at the core of what makes America great.”

“To try to constrain the free-flow of information is one of the great threats of scientific discovery. Today, that right of free expression along with other precious liberties that are at the core of our constitutional principles are more threatened than at any time in my life,” Blumenthal said.

Both men said they supported Darwin Day resolutions in Congress, knowing that they wouldn’t never become law.

It’s a way of saying science is important, Himes said.

“For me it is symbolic of a much larger effort,” Blumenthal said.


Lockwood Mathews lit up


The Lockwood Mathews Mansion, with new LED lighting. (Contributed photo)

“We have activated lighting that has been in place with new LED lights to highlight this piece of  Norwalk’s historic heritage. How wonderful!!!” Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum Board of Trustees Chairwoman Patsy Brescia said in an email.

“The equipment has been in place for several decades but the to cost use them was impossible to finance,” she explained. “Now with the LED lights we are hoping to be able to highlight this fabulous building during the nighttime. This has been made possible with the cooperation of the Museum Board of Trustees and the Norwalk Historical Commission. Hopefully we can keep them on and have them be a beacon for Norwalk.”


Barron weighs in on governor’s budget

Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron had this to say, after Gov. Dannel Malloy announced his proposed biennial state budget on Wednesday:

“The Town by Town report released after the Governor’s budget was presented on Wednesday reported that the City of Norwalk will receive $8.3 million more in FY 2017-18 than it will receive this year in FY 2016-17.

  • This amount is comprised of $7.6 million more in grant revenue, and
  • $0.7 million more in non-grant funds, specifically the difference between the cost of the TRS (teacher retirement system) contribution and taxes received from hospitals

“Of the $7.6 million more in grant revenue

  • “The BOE receives an additional $6.6  million increase,
  • “The grant that reduces the amount of bonded funds for paving increases by $1.1 million, and
  • “The city is slated to receive $0.1 million less in grant revenue

“Clearly, the lion’s share of the grant increase is going to the city’s Board of Education which will be a factor in the city’s recommendation for its funding in the upcoming year.”

Malloy’s budget calls for town and cities to contribute one third of the cost of teacher pensions. This would be offset by charging hospitals property tax.

Asked if he supported the property tax, Barron said, “We’re still analyzing the proposal—no recommendation as of yet with regard to taxing hospitals.”


Duff to fight Republican SpEd legislation

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) has vowed to “fight against several Republican proposals that will make it harder for special needs students to receive appropriate educational services,” his office said in a press release.

The bills would “drastically change the process for determining if a school’s special education plan is appropriate for a student,” the release said, explaining:

“Drastically changing the burden of proof process puts parents at a clear disadvantage, by shifting the burden of proof onto their shoulders,” Duff said in the release. “Parents without the financial resources are less likely to able to hire an attorney and find expert witness. Unrepresented parents already face an uphill battle. A free and appropriate public education is critically important to a child’s ability to grow into a successful and independent member of society.”

Also targeted for resistance are Senate Bill 409, An Act Concerning the Time Limit for Special Education Hearings and House Bill 5710, An Act Concerning the Revisions to the Special Education Hearing Process.

They “would limit special education due process hearings to a maximum of three days,” the release said. “While some cases can be heard in that time frame, others have factual details that make a three-day hearing infeasible. Setting an arbitrary limitation will interfere with due process and makes it more difficult to receive appropriate services.”

Kimmel on new schools

As you now, the Board of Education is seeking $117 million this year from the capital budget, in a drive to build two new schools.

Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) opened last week’s joint meeting of the Finance Committee and the BoE with an observation related to that.

“We vote on the capital budget in April. Generally, the Council doesn’t get too deeply involved in the capital budget process until the operating budget is settled in the end of February… It’s been reversed somewhat this time around, number one because of the magnitude of what the ‘Board of Ed’ is trying to do in the area of the capital expenses. Ironically, Council members have been briefed already on the capital budget. Which is unheard of, at least in my tenor on the Council, prior to be briefed on the operating budget,” Kimmel said.

Asked about that by email, Kimmel said, “This year, what will be key is the capital budget spending cap set by the BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation). That will determine what the Council is able to do.”



Board of Education member Shirley Mosby walked up to Council Democrats before the start of that meeting, to receive an odd greeting from Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C).

“You’re not part of the conspiracy, you can come talk to us,” Kydes said loudly to Mosby, in an amused way.

Her response was not audible from a distance.

“You know what I’m talking about,” he said.

It been said for months that some BoE members are trying to set Mayor Harry Rilling up to look bad, with the Board’s budget requests. The idea, it is said, is to put the mayor in a no-win situation and rile up parents against him. 


Lavielle has ‘grave concerns’

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) expressed “grave concerns” Thursday about Malloy’s budget proposal Governor Malloy, saying in a press release that “it shifts the burden of the state’s massive deficit onto municipalities and the taxpayers who live in them.”

The deficit for the next two years is projected to exceed $3.5 billion, including $1.7 billion next year, the release said.

“For each of the two years it covers, the governor’s proposal aims to tackle the deficit by relying on nearly $200 million of new fees and taxes and $1.3 billion in cuts from the state budget.  These cuts, however, include shifting from the state to municipalities $400 million in annual contributions to the teachers’ pension fund and negotiating unspecified concessions worth $700 million annually with state employee unions,” the release said.  

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143). (Contributed photo)

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143). (Contributed photo)

“This proposal seems to absolve state government from its responsibility to address Connecticut’s financial crisis,” Lavielle said in the release. “It’s based on critical savings from union concessions that may never materialize – as was the case with the 2011-2012 budget — and it shifts hundreds of millions of dollars of state obligations onto towns and cities. This would inevitably lead to massive property tax increases for households across the state. Ironically, at the same time, the proposal eliminates the property tax credit for homeowners. State government has not been a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and now this proposal would require taxpayers to spend even more to make up for its irresponsible financial management.”

The governor’s proposal is not a final budget, but is “meant to provide guidance to the legislature, which must craft, debate, and vote on a budget for the next biennium, which will begin on July 1,” Lavielle said in the release, expressing hope that ideas proposed by the House Republican caucus will be incorporated.

“We are ready to work together with our colleagues across the aisle on a bipartisan solution that will restore the health of Connecticut’s finances and economy,” she said.


Wood seeks opioid reform

As a record number of opioid-related tragedies continue to grip Connecticut, State Representative Terrie Wood (R-141) has introduced legislation this session of the General Assembly that would require pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to package opioids dispensed in the state of Connecticut on blister packs. Wood says the aim of her bill is to reduce inappropriate access to prescribed opioids, and prevent tampering or incorrect dispensing of the drug as medication. She testified in favor of her proposal before the legislature’s General Law Committee this afternoon,” a Wednesday press release said.

“The national opioid crisis has a firm foothold here in our state, leading to innumerable heart-wrenching tragedies in our communities from the struggle with addiction,” Wood said in the release. “We have taken some important steps in response to this crisis, but there is much remaining for us to do.  My proposal will add another weapon to our arsenal to combat this scourge.”

 State Rep Terrie Wood (R-141) testifies

State Rep Terrie Wood (R-141) testifies Wednesday to the legislature’s General Law Committee. (Contributed photo)

Requiring pharmaceutical companies to distribute opioids in blister packs would cause these medications to be distributed in correct quantities and with proper labeling as to the dosage and contents, Wood said to the committee, according to the release.  This would help prevent incidents of accidentally dispensing the incorrect dosage.  Additionally, it would make any tampering with the medications obvious.

“The bill does not unnecessarily overregulate access to opioid medications for those who legitimately need it,” Wood added.

According to data made available by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, there has been a significant increase in the rise of overdoses related to opioids and heroin in Connecticut, the release said. From 2014 to 2015, heroin deaths increased by 27 percent in Connecticut and of the 723 people who died of an overdose in 2015, 415 were heroin related and another 107 were related to fentanyl, a powerful opiate that drug dealers have been lacing heroin with to make it more potent.

“Experts point to the over-prescribing of opioids in 2012, noting 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids – enough to give every adult in the U.S. their own bottle of pills – as one of the leading causes of our current crisis,” the release said.  

The bill, HB 5733, An Act Requiring Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Companies to Package Opioids Dispensed in the State in Blister Packs, remains before the General Law Committee and awaits action there.  This session of the Connecticut General Assembly adjourns on June 7, 2017.

The Lockwood Mathews Mansion, with new LED lighting. (Contributed photo)

The Lockwood Mathews Mansion, with new LED lighting. (Contributed photo)


Lisa Thomson February 13, 2017 at 8:45 am

Nancy, Instead of trying to stir the BOE/City pot with conspiracy theories, why don’t you write about how the city and BOE don’t work together? Especially, when you consider planning, zoning, development and the lack of enforcement of illegal apartments that are driving our student population up, without the necessary corresponding revenues? That’s the real story here, not who likes whom? Another thing, the uneasy and long standing incestuous relationship between elected officials in the mayor’s office, common council and BOE, also blurs the lines about who our city officials truly represent- the taxpayers or public union employess.

Bruce Kimmel February 13, 2017 at 9:31 am

If I indeed said “agree,” that is still news to me. What I intended to say, what in my mind was “ironical,” is that for the first time in memory Council members were “briefed” on the capital budget request prior to being briefed on the operating budget request. There has been no official discussions among Council members, at this point, on the capital budget.

Lisa Thomson February 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Peter Franz – I have commented on various NON stories regarding the City/BOE budget and only wanted to highlight my suspicion over the correlation between P&Z developments, illegal apartments and insufficient tax revenues with what appears to be a growing student population. Since we seem to be bucking the statewide trend on student growth- one has to ask why? A closer examination by BOTH the BOE and City staff/ officials regarding where the students are coming from, coupled with identification of apartment and multi-unit housing, might help us better understand the ~ 200 + increase in students. Unfortunately, Norwalk’s preference seems to be to focus on personalities and politics rather than root causes to our budget woes.

Mike Barbis February 14, 2017 at 2:22 pm

A conspiracy on the Board of Ed to make the Mayor look bad? Where the world is this coming from? And why would the BOE want to do anything along these lines? We have one goal and one goal only – to provide the best possible education for our 11,500+ students with the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
This includes moves like: (1) privatizing our custodial services which has saved us over $700,000 per year (2) ins-sourcing a growing number of SPED services versus outsourcing, allowing for higher quality services at a lower cost to taxpayers and (3) working to lower our health insurance costs by joining the State’s 2.0 program, potentially saving millions of dollars. All of these moves allow for more of our budget to be spent in the classroom.
I would note that all of these moves occurred despite opposition from unions and certain elected officials. That’s the conspiracy that should be investigated.

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