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Rilling’s ‘assistant’ is more effective than he is

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What does our mayor do all day?

After a few recent letters I have read, the thought popped into my head.  I can’t imagine what Harry Rilling does all day.  He effectively hired someone (however inexperienced in Norwalk and municipal functions outside legal issues) to do the job of the mayor, and by all accounts, just by showing up, she is doing a better job than he is able to.  Even BOE Chair Mike Lyons complimented the deputy mayor, or assistant to the mayor, or whatever the title is, and all she did was walk back and forth between the BOE and union groups while the mayor was off flip-flopping on school repair policies.

The mayor certainly isn’t representing Norwalk.  We all know he said he would go to Hartford and fight for more ECS money every day before he was elected.  When he won, he never went, and instead said all our hope rested in a court case.  The court case happened, but the governor is taking away money left and right and threatening to raid our rainy day fund, so that’s not going too well.

He certainly isn’t fighting for neighborhoods.  He was willing to settle and let the mosque be built 24 hours before the council leadership forced the settlement that led to the city buying the property.  I was in the room…

He certainly doesn’t spend much time on the Walk Bridge.  It has already claimed parts of our city, it will tie traffic up, make it difficult to do business, have an impact on all of us, and part of the Aquarium is going to be destroyed.  When there were discussions, Mayor Harry was going to stand up for us and he hired lawyers and spent some money.  Now that the project is steamrolling Norwalk, we realize that all he did was spend money and got nothing to show for it.  When the governor told him to be quiet and sit down, that’s exactly what he did…and now a citizen-run board is having to do what our mayor should be doing and fighting Hartford.

He certainly hasn’t spent any time on the schools.  He avoided the Board meetings like the plague, not attending any of them to speak of until he was called on it.  He fought the changeover to the new healthcare plan and actively campaigned against the board’s well researched construction and repair program in favor of an ill thought out nonsense approach put together by someone with zero experience in facilities management.  The fact that he seemed to take credit for the BOE’s progress, which happened entirely in spite of his efforts, literally made me laugh when I heard it.

He didn’t spend any time on the library…actively turning down the opportunity to purchase the neighboring lot, then panic buying it for twice its value and now seemingly botching that deal…a deal that could have been handled with a boilerplate option agreement…  maybe we are better off when our mayor doesn’t get involved.

Our mayor, Ribbon Cutting Rilling, a neighbor and friend called him this week…doesn’t seem to do anything but continuously campaign and eschew responsibility…ever ask him a question?  He is the head, the CEO of Norwalk, but every person I speak to has a story of something he is just not aware of, not responsible for, unable to fix, change, or even talk about.  Rudderless Rilling?  I am not sure his boat is allowed to touch the water…his metaphorical boat that is, his real one is just fine.

Between the giveaways to developers, caving in to Hartford, not doing anything to make our schools run any better (and quite frankly, playing a part in supporting a scheme that would have made them worse) I still don’t know what our mayor does besides shake hands all day.  Unless it takes time to get checks from Staten Island Russian Developers, then I definitely know what he is doing all day.

I don’t see any plans for Norwalk, nor any demonstration of leadership.  Yet, when anyone dares criticize our Fundraiser-in-Chief, we are being mean to him!  We don’t know about all the secret meetings he has to go to!  We don’t know about everything he is doing behind closed doors to let things run on autopilot.  The pressure that the next cut from the state or the inevitable downgrade from the ratings agencies after the rainy day fund gets tapped might happen before the election must be terrible.

David McCarthy

Former Common Council member (R-District E)

21 comments

Patrick Cooper September 18, 2017 at 9:16 am

Mr. McCarthy asks a fair question. That he is a lightning rod of Republican-Democrat gang violence is irrelevant. When looking at this sideways, you can see the problem: being mayor of Norwalk is two jobs in one.

The job everyone seems to fault Harry for is poorly managed general city operations. This is the sausage making. Finance, Personnel, Operations, Marketing/Communications, and Compliance (legal). This translates to schools, infrastructure, planning, state relations, etc., etc. The day to day executive management and leadership of an enterprise that touches 90,000+ resident lives in significant, quality of living ways. It is a 24/7 obligation that takes skills and knowledge. I lead with finance, because it is a fiduciary responsibility to protect and grow the collective valuation. In a world with an exclusively monetary economy, with inflation, it’s a must.

The other job is largely ceremonial, and in Norwalk – largely party-centric. This is ribbon cutting, the photo ops, the handshakes and selfies. This role is why Harry has so many pretty blue ties. I’m sure it feels good, too – to be the kind of hero guy. In this job, Harry is great.

To David’s point – if we took his schedule out and put hours dedicated to these two areas, what would we find?

This Harvey Dent – two face requirements are why I agree this city and our local government requires more than this man can provide. We need a non-political city manager, a pro – and they are out there. We have one on the ballot this November. They take the helm, become the functioning CEO. Once the sausage making is working, then we can decide if we need a ceremonial mayor – kind of a 4-seasons Santa – who can show up to judge the kindergarten debates, and take selfies with the Memorial Day marchers.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 18, 2017 at 9:50 am

Thank you, David, for that comprehensive rebuke. The only thing you left out was the Firetree debacle, another example of Harry doing nothing when he could have done something. Doing something two years too late isn’t doing anything. And the result of doing nothing when the time was ripe is two lawsuits that will cost the taxpayers millions to settle.

When Harry’s champions pop up on these threads, the best they can do is say, “well he tried hard.” And I’m not even so sure he’s been trying very hard. Whatever he does comes belatedly, after he’s been called out on it. I don’t think Harry Rilling is a bad guy. He’s probably a very nice guy. But he’s not a leader with a long list of sterling accomplishments. He’s a figurehead with a short list of mediocre accomplishments. Things that could have been great but wound up being meh. Among his worst offenses is the tendency to broker deals “behind the scenes” as one Harry fan recently put it. If a clumsy houseguest breaks an expensive vase and glues it back together poorly, should you be angry about the damage or happy about the repair? As part of the citizen collective that owns this house and the vase that’s in it, I’m going with angry.

V September 18, 2017 at 11:26 am

Mayor Rilling approaches governing like a police chief – crisis, react, crisis, react, crisis, react, crisis, react and on and on and on.

Jody Proct September 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm

In June, I emailed Mayor Rilling about becoming a climate mayor. Here is my email to him, followed by his response (including the spelling error). Three months later… still nothing.

Dear Mayor Rilling,
In light of the president pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I feel it is now up to the state and local governments to protect the earth. As a town located directly on the water, it is necessary to understand the effects of the climate and what we as a municipality can do to protect it. Norwalk has always been in the forefront of supporting efforts to protect the environment – planting trees, protecting the oyster beds and keeping the Long Island Sound a safe haven for wildlife. We need to continue to preserve the earth. I ask you to join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda immediately and help champion this cause.
http://www.climate-mayors.org/

Thank you Ms. Proct: It is my intention to join and to have Norwalk recognized as a climate city. Thank you for expressing your concerns on this criticasl issue.

Seaworthy September 18, 2017 at 1:35 pm

It’s unfortunate that another Breitbart-esque angry rambling from David McCarthy has made its way to this page. There is one candidate who says that they Mayor is not doing enough and another who says that he is doing too much. I think that the Mayor has put Norwalk in a pretty good situation. I enjoy seeing growth in our city, at a time when other cities are asking for us to bail them out with our tax dollars. To name call is just petty and is what people are sick of in politics, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 18, 2017 at 1:44 pm

@Seaworthy, I appreciate that there are a variety of opinions on the mayor’s tenure. Since you are happy with what you’ve seen, I am interested in learning more. What specific accomplishments can you ascribe to Rilling since he’s been mayor? In order to make reasoned choices on Election Day, we need to flesh out this side of the story.

Seaworthy September 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Hi Donna, I fully support what the Mayor has done and is doing. There is a reason businesses want to move and build here. We often forget that we are one of the biggest city’s in the state and doing a lot better than those cities despite the stranglehold that has been put on us by the state. What you call back room deals, I call collaboration with interested stakeholders, this is something you can do when you don’t manage the city with a non-dictatorship style. Believing in a single issue and being a thorn in someone’s side does not mean that you are a leader or have a grasp on the issues. Did you believe, that the original letter on here that I responded to here, fleshed out both sides of the story? Because I don’t.

Jason September 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm

She is listed as Chief of Staff on city website; his “executive assistant” is someone else. Perhaps posting a description of the Chief of Staff job responsibilities would bring some clarity? Is she a “Deputy Mayor?” Just an idea.

Steve P September 18, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Businesses move here? There is a mass exodus going on, and it seems like Nancy has reported on that, and every one of the bobbled projects, and then some.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm

@Seaworhy, what I was looking for was specifies. What would you say have been the mayor’s signature accomplishments?

Seaworthy September 18, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Like my company, I worry about the important stuff.
Our bond rating, my mill rate, crime in Norwalk, and on a personal note I like what has been done for bike commuters and that I actually see the Mayor out and about in the City. These are all things that I feel that the Mayor has accomplished and worked hard on.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 18, 2017 at 7:53 pm

@Seaworthy, so you’d say that Harry Rilling should get credit for the AAA bond rating, property taxes, the crime rate and bike lanes, right?

Look, it’s great that Harry’s out and about. Visibility is a good thing for a mayor. But my taxes have gone WAY up since 2013. The rate may have stayed the same but the assessments went way up. And the AAA bond rating goes back many years. Norwalk held onto it during the reception of 2008 in fact. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on something specific that is associated with Harry Rilling’s tenure. For example, did Rilling set goals for himself and then achieve those goals through certain developments, school projects, etc?

Jeff Hall September 19, 2017 at 5:49 am

I think David McCarthy would be better off publicizing Seaworthy’s lame excuses than his own essay. Can’t anybody come up with one substantial thing for Norwalk that Rolling has done himself this term? It can’t be that hard to think of one.

Josh Ornstein September 19, 2017 at 6:44 am

I agree with that. Between the drugs, car thefts, graffiti, we have plummeted towards being the next Bridgeport.

@Seaworthy, so even you agree, city is on autopilot, Harry’s out shaking hands…

US Blues September 19, 2017 at 8:47 am

the credit (or not, depending on your viewpoint) goes to Mike Mushak for his relentless efforts/tirades to get the bike paths into the city – NOT a Riling “accomplishment”.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 20, 2017 at 10:42 am

M. Murray, the voters who show up will decide. Last time that was 30% of registered voters. More voter registration and better turnout in November will get us closer to the people deciding.

amar haouari September 28, 2017 at 11:32 pm

Dave ,
what did you do for us here at oak hills restaurant during your time as a councilman?
You have been kind to us yes ,but did nothing to help us,
Now here is your chance to show us how to manage our grave situation that you never adressed…
Mayor Rilling so far is the only one that stepped up to the plate,
You never…
To late now right?
easy to criticize not easy to do….
Amar Haouari

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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.

About Nancy

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.