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Opinion: Norwalk needs a strategic plan

Lisa Thomson

Lisa Brinton Thomson is an unaffiliated mayoral candidate.

Lacking a state budget, Governor Malloy took it upon himself to create his own.  Fair enough. The bad news is Norwalk is getting hit hard. On the Norwalk Parents for Education Facebook page, BOE Chairman, Mike Lyons announced that the Governor plans $4.4M in cuts from our already short-changed ECS funding. This would be on top of a potential off-loading of teacher retirement expenses, possibly later this year.  These cuts will have a devastating effect on our schools and would be tragic in light of the real progress made in closing the achievement gap and providing school and curriculum choice to our families, due to the efforts of our more functional, non-political Board of Education.

Our state legislature, known for its steady habits seems consistent in short-changing Norwalk.  For every dollar we send Hartford, less than 10 cents comes back.  It’s been this way for as long as I’ve lived here.

Over the past year, dozens of articles have been written about Connecticut’s finances. Slate’s article, Trouble in America’s Country Club, highlighted the state’s economic woes and changing landscape in corporate America. It speculated GE and Aetna’s reasons for leaving weren’t only due to high taxes, but because the state was stuck in the middle, with an identity crisis.  With no major city, Connecticut has nothing to distinguish itself once the tax incentives disappeared. The article’s only bright spot was the rise of mid-sized cities, attractive to the next generation of younger, entrepreneurial, more internet driven enterprises. The article referenced New Haven.

Why not Norwalk?

We’re the sixth largest city in Connecticut, with the longest stretch of Long Island Sound coastline, a river running through our historic downtown, vast amounts of beautiful open space and parks, with four train stations – an hour from New York City. What gives?

Connecticut’s legislature isn’t alone in their steady habits. City Hall continues to shortchange Norwalk due to its lack of a strategic plan.  A vision has never been put forth by this administration and it’s evident in every aspect of our city, especially our approach to long range planning and zoning and its impact on the budget.  Consider the following:

  • An increase in law suits, due to poor P&Z regulations that costs taxpayers. We end up with useless properties once suits are settled.
  • A lack of ordinance enforcement. Absentee landlords illegally and unsafely subdivide their buildings, charging pricey rents to poor families with children, who in turn, demand services from a city shortchanged in property taxes.
  • Increased apartment density on West Avenue, with no infrastructure investment.  The impact on the system from traffic to sewers goes without saying. Reopening the Wall Street train station alone would increase tax revenues, not to mention adding value and stabilizing the apartment base.
  • Parking downtown is out of control. The administration is trying to give away a city parking lot on Main Street for $1, while paying double fair market value for another lot a half mile away.  All because future planning for the library was never considered. Why not revamp parking altogether and remove the fiscal burden for local businesses downtown?

 

Resolving these issues alone far exceeds the $4.4 million in cuts we may see from Hartford.  However, without a strategic plan, Norwalk will never realize its full economic potential.

We can’t rely on Hartford to create our future. Norwalk needs to save itself. It needs a strategic plan for the City like the plan adopted by the Board of Education for our schools.  Norwalk needs a mayor free from the conflicts of party politics and developer campaign contributions, who isn’t afraid to say what he or she stands for. We need to move beyond the cronyism and status quo that has kept us from becoming a modern city.  We need competency at City Hall and we need it now.

12 comments

Donna August 10, 2017 at 7:35 am

Well said, Lisa. Norwalk’s woes are top down problems. While no zoning regs are litigation proof, revisions are needed. And those revisions should reflect a long range vision for the City.

When the good Lord was handing out gifts, Norwalk got in the pretty line twice. The result. She’s short on brains, long term vision and a sense of self worth. Transparent Leadership unencumbered by petty party politics and cronyism is the only way forward.

Sue Haynie August 10, 2017 at 7:44 am

Norwalk needs a mayor with a strategic plan, a vision and one who is a real fiscal conservative. Norwalk also needs a mayor with energy. This city has the bones to be great; it needs leadership. Norwalk needs Lisa.

Considering that most of Connecticut is struggling and inert, it’s good that Norwalk still has people, corporations and developers interested in living, working and investing here. A strategic plan and vision benefits everyone. No time to waste. Vote Lisa.

Andrew August 10, 2017 at 8:53 am

I am very happy to hear someone talking about the impact on the infrastructure (mainly traffic) that the development is causing. At some point we need to have this conversation because continuing to add more and more density to a system without any improvements/upgrades.

Lets hope this will spur a debate about where we want to go and how do we expect to get there.

MarjorieM August 10, 2017 at 10:06 am

I repeat, but it is important: Lisa, get your feet wet in a true political position before demanding the top position in politics. While this is a local position, we see what happens on the national scene when someone’s first political position is the first he’s ever held. Big mistake. Parent organization experience is not real politics.

Notaffilated August 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I’m glad to see varied voices in politics. Fact is, many people solely pull the R or D lever based on their bias. I wish our local government was based on ideas only versus party affiliation.

Paul Lanning August 10, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Politics are the problem. Responsible governance is needed.

Political maneuvering with little or no regard for the public good has yielded disastrous results.

Most of the important matters affecting Norwalk residents weren’t even mentioned by the candidates in the last two Mayoral elections. I’ll vote for a candidate who takes a stand on the issues and lays out a plan.

Lisa Brinton Thomson August 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm

@ Marjorie Isn’t ‘politics’ the problem? City officials spend more time with personality politics, partisan maneuvering, ribbon cutting or turning up at every possible social event, than actually managing the city

It’s unfortunate you trivialize my efforts in NPS – given that education constitutes 52% of the city budget. I’m as proud of my time spent volunteering in NPS, as I am my 25 years in executive management positions in NJ, London and Singapore.

Norwalk needs less politics and more outcomes based goal setting. To date, I am the only mayoral candidate committed to putting a professional city manager on the ballot (paid for out of the EXISTING mayoral office budget.

Let the voters decide. I’m a big girl 🙂

Dani Monsarrat August 10, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I am glad to finally hear someone address the need to enforce zoning regulations. Illegal apartments and the slum lords that own them need to pay their share of taxes and help alleviate the burden on the taxpayers footing the bill for their tenants kids attending schools.

Patrick Cooper August 10, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Lisa – amen & bravo. That is exactly the message the logical, taxpaying (and essentially “investors”) longtime and recently arrived residents of this town need to hear, and comprehend. A plan starts with a vision – and a vision is both about what we can be – as much as what we shouldn’t be.

Typical @MarjorieM, no doubt a long-time educator because she misses the point entirely. It is the absence of politics that will pave the way for success – not the opposite. We know from her past comments that good ole Bruce Morris will be her candidate – because it’s what’s best for 2% of the population (Dis-B Dems). Trying to tie Lisa’s candidacy to national politics is an uninspired bit of redirection. That dog won’t hunt.

YES – Lisa gets it – that the economic development blueprint for Norwalk – from concept to execution – becomes the local (not state) funding engine providing for all the city’s needed services. The EXCESSIVE politics in this town – owing to both parties but the democrats are currently winning the arms race – is why long term planning is impossible, execution is so uneven, and only those who provide loyal votes and campaign cash get their wishes – one repaid favor at a time.

Imagine this picture of Norwalk, in 2028. The “Wall Street” area, owing to smart planning, rewritten zoning, and direct chamber of commerce marketing, becomes Tech-Central for Fairfield County. Office’s started on the Merrit 7 stretch but quickly added space in the cool and quirky corridor. The young and well compensated work force either bikes to work from nearby communities, or takes the train to the new 2-level substation. Some come by way of the new “Riverwalk” – a 6 mile waterfront make-over (connecting the west-bank Commerce Street and Harbor Ave – with the east side esplanade) with open space, bike paths and walking trails, and multiple café’s and restaurants where industrial building once stood. This runs from the new SoNo Theater and Art’s District – where a diverse mix of architecture (colonial, maybe some Queen-Anne, a little modern where appropriate – and nothing ever again like the building at 50 Washington Street), comes to life at noon and brings shoppers from the mall, art patrons from all over, and Norwalk residents to the restaurants, bars, café’s, and boutiques’ that line the streets.

As a result, Norwalk becomes a true destination for the entire Long Island sound maritime community, and the Harbor develops accommodations accordingly, including a waterfront boutique Hotel. The Boat Show becomes a National Event – and is used by the city as a marketing tool for showcasing and attracting ever more desirable corporations to call Norwalk home. We’ll get them by way of assets and attributes, not abatements and back room deals.

The city can handle this influx of people, due to the newly devised traffic management plan, that did away with over 300 traffic lights in the city, and devised new arterial traffic paths north & south, east & west. Traffic FLOWS. Parking is ample and essentially free. The 5-year occupancy ordinance enforcement program has resulted in the “right-sizing” of over 3000 properties in the city, with the landlord fines and fees and newly collected on-the-books tax revenues paying the for program in its entirety. The net result of this execution oriented city government and added economic development is the growth of the grand list – helping to create the fastest improving public school system in the state – increasing property values – and a decreasing mill rate.

That doesn’t have to be a dream – that can be a reality. But I ask you – what part of any of the partisan politics of the past 40 years in Norwalk gives you any hope this can happen when the city is governed by party loyalties and favorites? This recent history alone is why – seriously – every Norwalk taxpaying resident owes Lisa Brinton Thomson a very, very long look this fall.

Donna August 10, 2017 at 5:59 pm

@MarjorieM, Lisa Brinton Thompson is following in a long and well established tradition of women who have developed governance and leadership skills while working in non profits, including parent organizations. She is more than capable of the job based on her past experiences.

Donald Trump never worked in the public sector, was never a community organizer, and never volunteered a day in his life for the benefit of others. Lisa has grit, stamina, intellect and familiarity with the players and the issues. I see no reason why a qualified candidate should have to prove herself politically by running for something other than mayor first.

Wineshine August 11, 2017 at 12:40 pm

MarjorieM, lest we not forget we have a Common Councilperson who’s won two elections, the first of which came while still living in her parents home (and maybe still does), and not yet legal to drink adult beverages. Lisa brings a breath of fresh air, which is exactly what we need.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.