Norwalk needs Municipal reform. We may not realize it, but we can see it every time we drive on our public roads, open a property tax bill, start a home improvement project or wave the kids off to school. And Norwalk cannot have true municipal reform without Charter Revision. Among the four candidates for mayor, only Lisa Brinton is committed to Charter Revision in order to improve the way government works for its most valuable resources—its people.
Didn’t we just vote on Charter Revision? We did and we didn’t. In January of 2016, the Common Council empaneled a Charter Revision Commission, and gave them a very narrow timeline for making recommendations. A few months later, the CRC presented four ballot initiatives, including one to extend Harry Rilling’s third term—if he gets one. The CRC also urged the Common Council to let them continue their work—or to impanel a new commission—to address public concerns about Planning and Zoning—concerns the CRC didn’t have time to explore—not if the four year mayoral term was to make it onto the ballots in November.
Three of the four Charter Revision proposals went down in a blaze of glory at the polls, including the proposal to extend the mayoral term to four years, thanks to the efforts of local grassroots activist like Lisa Brinton. Lisa knew that the real work of Charter Revision—the work that would most directly impact our day-to-day lives—was not finished. In fact the real work has not yet begun. Extending the mayoral term, though reasonable on its face, mostly would have benefitted the incumbent, Harry Rilling. Lisa Brinton championed the “vote no” effort because she realized, especially after attending most of the CRC hearings, that the four ballot measures didn’t even scratch the surface.
Most citizens didn’t believe that the two year mayoral term was the big thing holding Norwalk back. And that’s how they voted. But Norwalkers are frustrated with the way our city is run—bouncing from crisis to crisis, applying a bandaid here, shaking a big stick there, but not really fixing anything. Neighbors are tired of attending Zoning Commission hearings, holding the Plan of Conservation & Development (Master Plan) in one hand, and watching helplessly as the commissioners approve uses that, though not strictly forbidden by code, make hay of the Master Plan. Suing the city in response to these decisions has become a local pastime. But funding litigation and settlements is something Norwalk can longer afford to do. Taxpayers simply don’t want to foot the bill.
Lisa knows the kind of municipal reform Norwalk needs is impossible to execute without first amending the Charter to bring the Planning and Zoning Commissions back together so that land use decisions follow the Master Plan, leading to fewer “bad” decisions and costly lawsuits. Lisa also recognizes that substantive municipal reform is the key to breaking the cycle of dysfunction and cronyism plaguing City Hall no matter which party is in power. Party loyalties hurt ordinary citizens, impacting everything from land use decisions to schools to state DOT projects. Norwalk has to change its system of government. The only way to do it all—realign Planning & Zoning, streamline functionality at City Hall, and end partisan bickering—is through Charter Revision, including a bold switch to a Council-Management system of government. The Council-Management system has been around for more than 100 years, when the City Manager was conceived as the answer to Boss Tweed. Greenwich employs a City Manager, appointed, hired and evaluated by the Council. Thriving cities and towns across the country, especially in the southeast, have adopted the Council-Management system. And many have opted out of party designations altogether in local elections, ending partisan bickering. Lisa is an independent candidate beholden to no one and no party. And she understands how toxic party politics can be at the local level.
Right now we have a Mayor who’s had two terms and four years to fill up land use boards with cronies and cheerleaders. Norwalk is lurching from crisis to litigation in land use decisions as a result. Norwalk is good at answering the call of special interests, one developer and one contract at a time. But the interests of average people have gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s time for foundational change. Lisa Brinton is the only candidate pushing for this change. And only Lisa is capable of leading the charge.