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Rilling defends Sumpter after clash at Norwalk Zoning meeting

Donna Smirniotopoulos, left; Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Nate Sumpter, right.

Updated, 6:22 p.m.: Copyedit. Updated, 12:23 p.m.: Clarification.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling defended Zoning Commission chair Nate Sumpter on Sunday and suggested a citizen look for “more productive and civil” ways to engage, in the wake of sharp words between the citizen and Sumpter at the March 1 Zoning Commission meeting.

Norwalk resident Donna Smirniotopoulos spoke during that public hearing, lauding Westport’s elected P&Z system and opposing the East Norwalk TOD application as spot zoning that does not further the goals of the Plan of Conservation and Development. 

Her comments over, she thanked the Commission “for your time and consideration.”

“I also thank you for telling us that we don’t know what we are doing here while we are giving up our time. Thank you very much,” Sumpter replied.

“That was rude. Excuse me, that was rude,” Smirniotopoulos replied in a raised voice. “You are a public servant. I am a private citizen. How dare you tell me –  ”

“It was very rude what you said,” Sumpter said. “As being a resident of this city, you don’t have to come here us that we are not – we are giving up our time here.”

“I didn’t say that,” she said.

“You should have heard what you said. I heard what you said,” he replied.

 

Donna Smirniotopoulos entire March 1 segment

 

Smirniotopoulos/Sumpter exchange only

 

A Feb. 25 Donna Smirniotopoulos Facebook post.

About 40 minutes before Smirniotopoulos’s remarks, Sumpter requested the audience not applaud any speakers, to save time. At the end of the exchange with Sumpter, Smirniotopoulos said to the audience, “Can I get my applause, please?” in apparent defiance of Sumpter.

Asked why she requested applause, Smirniotopoulos referred to Sumpter’s admonition that people not clap and said, “He used up as much time scolding the audience that night as we would have used up in applause had we been permitted to do so.”

“No one wasted more time that night than Nate. And I personally like the man. He doesn’t know d–k about zoning. But he’s a likeable fellow,” Smirniotopoulos wrote.

Sumpter has not replied to requests for comment regarding the exchange.

Smirniotopoulos in an email said that Sumpter’s “scolding” and the city’s lack of action compromises the expression of free speech, via intimidation from the Commission.

“Very few people are willing to set themselves up to be yelled at in public in front of their peers, my own lack of shame notwithstanding,” she wrote.

“{I}t was inappropriate for him to behave in a defensive and snarky manner with a private citizen during a public hearing… he gravely misunderstood the import of what I was saying (though on reflection I regret that I did not say that I thought the Zoning Commissioners did not know what they were doing),” she wrote. “…  I believe it is important that members of the public feel comfortable contributing to public comment, even if our comments are directed at the kind of job our commissioners are doing on our behalf and how attentive they are to the code.”

A Feb. 27 Donna Smirniotopoulos Facebook post.

“When Nate thanked me for telling Zoning Commissioners they don’t know what they’re doing (which I emphatically did NOT say), in retrospect, I wish I’d said, ‘you’re welcome,’” she wrote.

After the exchange, Smirniotopoulos requested Sumpter be required to recuse himself from further discussion of the East Norwalk TOD.

“Ms. Smirniotopoulos has requested that Mr. Sumpter be sanctioned. I have reviewed the recording of the exchange, as has corporation counsel, and find no reason to require Mr. Sumpter to recuse himself,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a Sunday email, suggesting that Smirniotopoulos’ behavior overall, not her public comments at the hearing, prompted Sumpter’s response.

Rilling has emphasized civility during multiple mayoral campaigns.  Asked his opinion of Sumpter’s reply and Smirniotopoulos’s charge of intimidation, Rilling replied:

“While Mr. Sumpter’s remarks are a tad snarky, they do not rise to the level of intimidation. I believe his statement was made out of frustration after numerous veiled insinuations made by Ms. Smirniotopoulos in other forums.  It is important to note that while appointed and elected officials are expected to maintain their composure when being criticized- we are all human and sometimes have an emotional reaction to being attacked. While Ms. Smirniotopoulos’testimony at the hearing is 100% within her rights, it is important to note that this particular complaint comes from a very vocal and opinionated constituent who regularly takes pointed jabs at both appointed and elected officials as well as other constituents who do not agree with her. She often insinuates officials are corrupt, ignorant, unethical and lazy. These types of comments can be insulting and hurtful to individuals who donate their time in the interest of civic duty.  I always encourage discussion and believe different points of view lead to better discussion and ultimately better decisions-but these discussions should be based on facts and circumstances and not on accusations and insinuations.”

A March 6 Donna Smirniotopoulos comment on NancyOnNorwalk.

Asked what accusations and insinuations he meant, Rilling wrote, “There have been numerous postings in social media such as Norwalk Parents for Education and Norwalk Zoning Matters as well as {NancyOnNorwalk}. It would not be unreasonable for persons to infer those criticisms of elected and appointed officials.”

“Additionally, this complaint needs to be taken in context,” Rilling wrote.“This not an isolated incident but rather the latest example of a pattern that has been emerging.  Ms. Smirniotopoulos has requested the censure of several other appointees and elected officials who do not share her point of view. Her reasons for the requests vary, but all have been unfounded.”

Smirniotopoulos has previously requested that Zoning Board of Appeals member Joe Beggan be recused from an issue, and also the same of Planning Commissioners Nora King and Mike Mushak.

Smirniotopoulos said that she and Sumpter spoke after the hearing, “he offered an insincere apology, seeking an admission from me that my own comments were ‘nasty’.”

“{I}t became clear that once I said ‘Westport’ he tuned me out completely,” Smirniotopoulos wrote. “The comparison to Westport set him off, and I feel pretty comfortable saying that he probably heard little else after that.  I even told him I was going to have to speak again at the next meeting and say the same things because he obviously wasn’t listening.  The aftermath was more disheartening than the yelling part.  Nate can yell at me all night as long as I have a sense of his general competence.”

“Mr. Sumpter has served as a zoning commissioner for several years and has always conducted himself with the utmost integrity and professionalism,” Rilling wrote Sunday. “He is knowledgeable about Norwalk and our land use regulations. I find him to be a fair minded and dedicated public servant who has volunteered hundreds of hours toward making Norwalk a great place to live and do business.”

He continued, “I appreciate and encourage all Norwalkers to take an interest in the City and applaud those who take the time to participate in public meetings and share their opinions. I hope Ms. Smirniotopoulos continues to do so as she clearly cares very much about the community. However, I encourage her to examine her strategy and perhaps think about more productive and civil ways to engage in the process.”

44 comments

Dawn March 27, 2018 at 6:53 am

Doesn’t it make sense that a study being paid for (curious how much we are paying) to decide the best way to move forward in East Norwalk? Don’t know nitty gritty details but why pay for a study if you ignore it before its even done. Typical from what I see going up around Norwalk. No accountability makes for no good.

Wondering March 27, 2018 at 7:55 am

…if Ms. Smirniotopoulos, formerly of Westport, has weighed in publicly about that town’s land use board’s recent denial of an over 55 affordable housing development? Neighbors’ opposition to “density” smacks of other issues lurking below the surface.

Nora K King March 27, 2018 at 8:28 am

Thank you Mayor Rilling. I was very upset when I heard about Ms. Smirniotopoulos altercation with Nate. Donna has been a negative trouble maker in most online blogs and she doesn’t understand the concept of “constructive criticism” all she does is bash. I blame the the websites, blogs and social media accounts that have not cut her off or not dealt with her. She has become one of the most toxic voices on these blogs with nothing positive to say. I left one that I started because one of the other founders refused to drop her.

No matter what we do she has a negative comment about everything. Norwalk is moving in the right direction. It might not be at the speed some people would like it but we are doing positive things. The beauty of a city of our size is that we have lots of different view points. That is what I love about Norwalk but it does make it harder to manage. It would be nice if we focused on issues in a positive manner and try to determine how to solve those issues constructively. We are doing planning now as a city and I am not saying we don’t have more to do but we are moving in the right direction.

V March 27, 2018 at 9:13 am

Kinda funny that Mayor Rilling would take offense to Ms Smirniotopoulos’s remarks and makes a point that she often criticizes elected and appointed officials – yet does he consider another very outspoken member (Mr Mushak) to be above the fray enough to be appointed to a board? Looks like he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Nora K King March 27, 2018 at 10:07 am

Wow US Blues…perhaps have a backbone and use your own name. Nate has been a dedicated public servant for years and does a good job. Rilling should support his people and he did. No one should be given a free pass to abuse volunteers that work hard for the city.

US Blues use your name if you want to be a bully. It is easy to bully when you hide behind a fake name.

Bob Welsh March 27, 2018 at 10:41 am

Thank you for reporting this story, Nancy, and for including the audio clip of the exchange.

I do not hear any yelling by Nate Sumpter on the recording.

Lisa Brinton Thomson March 27, 2018 at 11:28 am

I was at that meeting and think Nate was uncharacteristically in a ‘bad mood’ that night. He chastised another gentleman and warned the audience in general prior to public comments. Perhaps due to anticipation the East Avenue project was going to draw opposing views from residents. It did and still does. I believe he apologized for his behavior.

Those appointed and serving in this administration’s land use boards are taking heat for a lack of direction at City Hall during unprecedented development. For several years, residents of every neighborhood have expressed frustration with Norwalk’s love affair over spot zoning changes. East Avenue is just the latest. The slap in the face this time, is its coinciding with a taxpayer paid city-wide POCD study (~$200K) and before the planned TOD study ($125K) for that specific area.

The larger issue is where is Norwalk going? Development is necessary and inevitable, but nothing being built appears to be mitigating the continued tax increases residential property owners bear (I’ve estimated mine increasing ~$800 in July.) All the development this administration has presided over has added little value to the people paying the bills. Grand list growth of less than half a percent is shameful.

Rick March 27, 2018 at 11:39 am

So asking the city to dismiss Stantec now that the unfinished mall has been sold is probably out of the question.

Thanks Bob but we all don’t read a room the same way .

I hear the person running a half way house on Quintard ave has city hall ties , now that would be nasty as well. No one yelled at us we were just ignored by the city.

Patrick Cooper March 27, 2018 at 11:54 am

There are readers on multiple city sites – NoN, the Facebook group “Norwalk Parents for Education”, the Norwalk Zoning Matters, etc., who openly dislike our resident agitator – @Donna Smirniotopoulos. As a wise Austrian once told me – “It’s tone that makes the music”. But as unpopular as this stance might be – I should defend her here. It is the substance that is important, and East Norwalk residents may owe her a debt of gratitude for standing up against a pre-disposed spot zoning deal that heavily favors a local developer.

Make no mistake – East Norwalk loses big here. That East Ave. intersection will be chaos for years, creating a shock wave that stretches out in all directions. Local E-N side street’s will become arterial highways due to alternate routing and programs like waze. Emerson to Stanley to Strawberry Hill will pick-up hundreds of cars a day. Summer traffic? Beachgoers taking a left onto 1st – 5th to cove and ultimately driving more vehicles through downtown? That will be farcical. It’s also a question – how will the heavy equipment access the site? I guess only after we’ve done the bridge work – and the residents thought that was for them? All before the TOD study can be thoroughly administered. For what? Or more directly – for whom?

No – there are well over 100,000 people who sleep in Norwalk every night – and I believe we would be fortunate to have more like Donna – her aggressive approach or not – who valiantly stand up for taxpayers – and shine an uncomfortable amount of light on the shenanigans of this city administration – and their cronies. That is a service.

Point of clarification: @Donna Smirniotopoulos – please don’t take this as encouragement to add more nails on the chalkboard. But like Popeye – “you is what you is”.

Lastly – I love me some irony. Could you find a richer vein than the words “insinuates officials are corrupt, ignorant, unethical and lazy” falling from the mayor’s mouth?

Jeffrey Hall March 27, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Rilling replied:
“While Mr. Sumpter’s remarks are a tad snarky, they do not rise to the level of intimidation. I believe his statement was made out of frustration after numerous veiled insinuations made by Ms. Smirniotopoulos in other forums

Somehow, “veiled insinuation” and “Donna Smirniotopoulos” don’t sound like they belong together.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 12:53 pm

@Nora King, are you saying it’s okay for an appointed commissioner to rebuke a private citizen during public comment? Or are you saying it’s appropriate for the mayor to support the commissioner he appointed regardless of the sobering effect of Mr. Sumpter’s comments on future speakers? Not that long ago, you wrote of me, “you are an absolute nightmare on these forums,” and “go back to the hole you crawled out of.” You too are an appointee of the mayor. No wonder I’ve cried foul on ethics in Norwalk. You’d probably be surprised to learn that I have great faith in nearly Everyone’s good intentions for the city. I would be more optimistic if I believed that all city officials and city employees received ethics training along with basic instructions on how to deal with the public once they become public servants. I know there is extensive language in the city code regarding ethics and conflicts of interest, but to my knowledge appointees are not required to file conflict of interest disclosure statements.

The reason I asked Corporation counsel to review the tape was that I I was concerned Mr. Sumpter’s treatment of me might impact subsequent speakers. Those who know me, know that it will have no impact on my subsequent comments at public hearings.

@Bob Welsh, the important takeaway is not whether or not the chairman yelled. It’s whwther or not he should scold speakers or comment or editorialize them after their remarks have concluded and to what effect. I regret that neither you nor the mayor seem to get this.

Another Opinion March 27, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I applaud the passion here and it is refreshing to a see a private citizen care about the city they live in. Constructive debate should always be welcome and not shunned. If more private citizens cared about zoning in the same manner as Donna S., Norwalk would be a much better place.

Sid Welker March 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Could someone please get Donna off her soapbox and call Bravo for her own reality show. Maybe this way her 15 minutes could come to fruition a bit sooner. She obviously likes to hear herself speak and loves the back and forth banter. Donna my dear if you dont like whats going on in Norwalk there are 26,356 other towns or cities who would gladly take you. Or not.

Michael Foley March 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm

Why Cant We All Just Get Along ? There seem to be rude comments flying from around from many high spirited people here ! Why doesn’t Mayor Rilling invite every to coffee with the Mayor and see if he calm everyones fears about these issues? These are big issue’s to East Norwalk and Norwalk as a whole. No one should be talking down to anyone Public officials or taxpayers.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 4:33 pm

@Sid, we hear a lot of talk about stagnating property values. That’s incorrect. Property values art stagnating, they’re falling. Our grand last group half percent last year to Westport 1.5%. Once you account for 3% inflation, that’s a net loss for us. Now add in a hefty property tax hike, and you can see why you don’t need to show me the door. You don’t need to show any of us the door. The mayor will make it painfully easy for anyone paying more than $10,000 a year in property taxes to find the way out, one land-use commission seat and one bad development deal at a time. His plan for Norwalk amounts to no more than a random roll of the dice.

Bob Welsh March 27, 2018 at 5:06 pm

@Donna S

Thanks for your opinion.

In three places in this story it’s alleged that Nate Sumpter yelled. I listened to the recording and didn’t hear any yelling by Nate. This is a statement of fact and not my opinion regarding the appropriateness of anything anyone said.

Readers may decide for themselves regarding the appropriateness of Nate Sumpter’s comments, and yours. I have my own opinion, but for the time being I’ll not be sharing it here.

Tony P March 27, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Only person I heard yelling on the recording is Donna – maybe she should be a little less sensitive. Maybe she didn’t like what Sumpter was saying – good for him for saying it.

Wondering March 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm

@Donna Smirniotopoulos. Interesting that you opt not to respond to my question about resistance to affordable housing in Westport.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 5:28 pm

@Tony P, the only reason I have a problem with the substance and tone of Mr. Sumpter’s remarks is that, as the Chair of the Planning Commission, during public comment they were completely inappropriate. There were no shots across the bow. The board was thanked for their time and service. He could have left it at that. He felt the need to strike back. And that was unfortunate. I regret that I lost my composure, but frankly I was stunned that an appointed land use commissioner would feel the need to pass judgement in this way.

For the record, the means by which these seats are filled and refilled is not what we would like it to be. For all the talk about a lack of volunteers, the real problem is a lack of transparency and no clear protocol. When was the last time the mayor announced a vacancy and solicited resumes? Yet there have been at least two vacancies—one on Zoning and one on Planning—since Election Day in November nearly 5 months ago. The deadline for the mayor to fill these vacancies is 60 days, or January 8 of this year. The Zoning hearing at which I last spoke had only four commissioners in attendance. Barely a quorum.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 5:44 pm

@Wondering, I have not weighed in officially because I no longer live in Westport and I am not intimately familiar with the particulars of that application. I know the intersection well. It’s a residential overlay with maybe 12 or 20 dwelling units and fully age restricted. The full age restriction was a recent concession from the developer. In 2008 I supported a slate of candidates to P&Z who were proponents of rezoning along the post road to allow for increased density. Some opponents suggested Westport could meet its 10% obligation by allowing more in-law apartments, which was pretty silly since the people who needed the affordable units also often had limited transportation options.

Ron Corwin was on the slate I backed. Corwin is the current Chair of Westport’s P&Z Commission.

Fran Di Meglio March 27, 2018 at 6:50 pm

For the record, Mr. Sumpter is the Chair of the Zoning Commission, not Planning as alluded in comments.
Thank you
Fran Di Meglio
Chair – Planning Commission

Victor Cavallo March 27, 2018 at 6:56 pm

It was the screaming that had no place- and that which detracted from the “larger issues.” And “…Nate was uncharacteristically in a ‘bad mood’ that night…?” Really? How’s that for an example of a patronizing assault on someone’s dignity from the self-appointed elitist warriors against volunteerism? Please pass the popcorn while I watch the “trash everybody, break everything” surrealistically-delusional reality show.

Rebel INS March 27, 2018 at 7:10 pm

So Rilling defended his appointee. Is this a surprise? Why is this a story anyway?

Nice job to the other Rilling appointees chiming in and cheerleading on this thread. Class acts, all.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 7:13 pm

@Sid, you just got a big thumbs up from the Town bully and a favorite mayoral appointee who knows how to set the bar extra low on social media. This is apparently the demeanor the mayor sometimes seeks when he rolls the dice.

Sid Welker March 27, 2018 at 9:38 pm

@donna. Put down the keyboard. Take a deep breathe and count to a 40 billion. It will all be okay. You cant be a martyr for everyone in Norwalk who disagrees with change or whatever your fighting for (which seems like everything at this point). I appreciate the effort. I honestly do. I dont know were you find the time. But sometimes the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease. It just gets annoying after awhile and disregarded.

U.S. Blues March 27, 2018 at 9:43 pm

@nora, get over the “use your real name” blah blah blah because you feel hurt over what I directed to nate. Thicker skins is what public servants should have. This was no way bullying.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 10:00 pm

@Bob, instead of forming your opinion from the story, consider reading the email exchange between Nancy and myself. She left out most of my answers to her questions, cherry picking content that suggests I put the emphasis on Mr. Sumpter’s yelling. At no point did Nancy inform me her inquiry was a set up for the mayor to discredit a private citizen, including snippets from other forums. She left out, for example, the following:

“It is not the role of the chair to pass judgement on members of the public during public comment or to rebuke members of the pubic because he does not like their tone or he does not care for the content of their comments or their call for greater accountability. Commissioners don’t have to like what we say. But I believe it is important that members of the public feel comfortable contributing to public comment, even if our comments are directed at the kind of job our commissioners are doing on our behalf and how attentive they are to the code. To the extent Chairman Sumpter feels comfortable scolding a private citizen, and that he faces no consequences from City Hall (I have asked that he recuse himself and Mario Coppola has decided there are no grounds for this), the exercise of free speech is compromised through intimidation.” These sentences immediately preceded the ones that Nancy DID include about being yelled at. And that’s the takeaway that Bob has focused on. And you are Nancy’s editor.

@Victor, I have stated previously that I regretted my outburst and loss of composure. I said so to Nancy when I wrote, “did I maybe overreact to his rebuke? Maybe. But my reaction was a function of having been completely shocked that Nate saw fit to say anything snarky and negative at all.” When asked by Nancy why I thought his comments were rude, I asked what she thought and added, “maybe I have no self-awareness.” I wrote that with no irony. With regard to the screaming you heard, Victor, neither you nor Nancy were in the room. Mr. Sumpter took a cheap shot, the kind of thing a coward would do. He waited until I’d walked away from the microphone to call me out. At that point I HAD to yell to be heard. This was a deliberate maneuver on his part to deride and undermine my comments after the fact.

The first sentence of my reply to Nancy on Thursday of last week was, “I will need to listen to the recording before I can be quoted. And later I said, “I’d feel more comfortable if I could listen to the tape before you go to press.” To be clear, Nancy never closed the deal on consent.

Mike Mushak March 27, 2018 at 11:04 pm

Nate Sumpter tells it like it is. It’s his strength as the Chair of the Zoning Commission. He’s a dependable breath of fresh air, in a world that suffers of an excess of bad air.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 27, 2018 at 11:14 pm

And this is why, @Mike Mushak, at tonight’s South Norwalk POCD meeting, Mr. Sumpter stood apart instead of sitting at the table with me and working with our group, which included John Mosby, and other neighbors from Harbor View and Quintard. He chose not to participate. We could have used the input of the Zoning Commission chair as one table after another decried development they believe is out of step with their neighborhoods. We were at the same meeting. Did you not hear this? Did Mr. Sumpter?

Mike Mushak March 28, 2018 at 7:09 am

@Donna, I was at the POCD meeting you speak of last night. Your comment is not accurate at all. “Table after table” did not “decry development that was out of step with their neighborhoods”.

On the contrary, most tables asked for improved park maintenance, improved sidewalks, improved schools, improved social services, more community police, more diverse job creation by attracting more businesses (not less), more zoning enforcement, safer street crossings, slower traffic, and more bike lanes.

I didn’t hear anyone “decry development” in their table summaries. If that’s your opinion, that’s fine, but why would you represent the meeting so inaccurately in your last comment?

Isabelle Hargrove March 28, 2018 at 11:05 am

I was curious and listened to the entire 5:53-minute exchange.

Mr. Sumpter’s behavior was out-of-line and he clearly owes Ms. Smirniotopoulos an apology. He started by ridiculing her last name instead of making the effort to pronounce it. His snarky remarks afterward were both unprofessional and uncalled for. Her comments were factual, professional, and thoroughly researched. She did not call anyone incompetent but instead raised some valid questions whether this was spot zoning and if this project needed to be looked at in the context of the new POCD.

We are all entitled to a bad night, but what is disturbing is the subsequent attitude of our elected and appointed officials towards engaged citizens.

And of course, after all this, we still don’t have answers to the concerns raised by Ms. Smirniotopoulos. Residents continue to be dismissed and ridiculed as questions remain unanswered. I hope this does not deter people from participating. Hopefully, it will have the reversed effect of motivating people to find their voice.

Nancy Chapman March 28, 2018 at 5:34 pm

In the interest of public understanding, I will reply to Donna’s comment.

I sent Donna a numbered list of seven questions. In her reply, she answered questions 2, 3 and 5. For questions 1, 6, and 7 she said she wanted to listen to the recording. I asked her for clarification and she said that, “I just don’t want to say something and then listen to the tape and realize that I erred.” I sent her the recording and told her I would be going to press. She did not object, in fact she replied with at least three more e-mails containing additional comments.
Nearly everything in her example of what was “left out” is actually in the story. See the paragraph that begins “Smirniotopoulos in an email said…” and the two paragraphs that follow. She is, of course, welcome to post the full e-mail exchange.

She alleges that this story was “a set up for the mayor to discredit a private citizen.” That unfounded statement not only false, it violates the comments policy for “ascribing motives without proof.” But we’re allowing it to remain here as a potential example of behavior alleged in the article.

Further comments will have instances of “ascribing motives” removed, as has always been done, in accordance with the comments policy.

This story began with an unusual exchange at Zoning between Nate Sumpter and Donna Smirniotopoulos. I reached out to both of them for comment. The Mayor was also asked to comment on the exchange since Sumpter is his appointee, and because of the Mayor’s past statements regarding civility. I never asked the Mayor to comment on her behavior. When he did, I followed up with a request for more details. He referred to the NPE and Zoning FB groups, and NON. I included examples of her posts there so that readers could have some context.

Everything in my story is factual, and I stand by it.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm

I can post the full email content. But Nancy is permitted to moderate until tomorrow or next week and no one will read my rebuttal because she posts moderated comments in the order in which they are queued up and not the order in which they post. So my rebuttal from 11pm last night posted late today while Nancy wrote her own rebuttal.

The sin is not one of committing a falsehood. It is one of omission {…}

A few months ago, I asked nicely when I would come out of moderation. Bob Welsh replied, “your request and concern is noted—we’ll be in touch after Giving Day.” I was also copied—mistakenly I would imagine—on Nancy’s reply to Bob, which read, “Boo, hiss. You’ve encouraged her.”

Edited to remove ascribing motives without proof, a violation of the comments policy. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Nancy Chapman March 28, 2018 at 11:01 pm

As has been explained on another post, commenters who routinely violate the comments policy will wait longer to see their comments posted, as I rely on the help of volunteers.

Chiming in March 29, 2018 at 9:44 am

I don’t often agree with Donna’s positon on this forum but in this case I applaud her tenacity. In focusing on the spot zoning issue, I have a different perspective. The land in question is zoned I-1, suitable for industrial use. By now we all know that spot zoning the parcel as “mixed use” means “sell it to the highest budding developer, planning be damned”. My issue is that while no one wants and AMEC-style facility in their back yard, where is our industry supposed to go? I know of at least a half dozen Norwalk based/ owned trade and service businesses, who all employee Norwalk residents, and are struggling to maintain a foothold in Norwalk due to prohibitive zoning regulations and the evaporation of reasonably priced property to operate from. Norwalk is so busy selling its soul to developers for housing that this group is marginalized. The rubber will meet the road when you call a plumber because water is leaking through your ceiling or a septic cleaner because your tank is overflowing and he tells you it will be at least an hour for him to get to you because he’s had to relocate to Oxford – where the commercial land is abundant, the taxes are low and the business climate is welcoming…Perhaps my post is a bit off topic but to bring it around, if Donna is willing to push accountability with the committee members I’m all for it.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 29, 2018 at 2:44 pm

@Chiming in, thank you for that support. Many of us are very concerned about spot zoning/re-zoning Industrial parcels to residential ones, especially in this case a developer who needs this concession from the Zoners to make the deal more profitable to himself. You’ve brought up an important micro issue impacting quality of life—making it impossible for local businesses to stay in Norwalk and employ Norwalk citizens, and making it difficult for Norwalk residents to hire local and receive emergency services when needed from plumbers, electricians, tree trimmers, etc.. The macro issue is that Norwalk will fail to grow its economy one parcel at a time, one residential overlay at a time. The reason the spot zoning argument is an important one, and the reason the Zoners should insist on the East Norwalk TOD study before they approve the 230 East Ave application is exactly this—that no one knows what the results of all these studies—SIX at last count—will be. At this writing, I have no idea whether or not the Zoning Commission voted on that application. My tenacity notwithstanding, this article seems to have had the {…} effect of keeping me away, at least for now.

The Hodge report, still in its draft stages, suggests an emphasis on light industrial and commercial will help grow the local economy. Mr. Sumpter is committed to 10% workforce housing in every high density development, higher in some, as if this is the only answer to Norwalk’s housing problem, which I see as mainly an economic problem and not one anchored in a lack of affordable options. Most of the people I talk to, Mr. Sumpter’s neighbors in fact, are more worried about family homes. They’re not looking for one bedroom apartments. And they’re okay with some industrial uses nearby. But they would like some kind of a buffer as a fair compromise. Meanwhile, they’d be open to maybe a little corner store or coffee shop on Woodward like they used to have.

Hopefully, the POCD will reflect these desires for more local businesses; more light industry in order to create a robust local economy and better paying jobs so people can afford to both work and live here; fewer high density residential developments that require Zoners to impose spot zoning overlays resulting in the loss of Industrial parcels; and perhaps some bigger commercial investments in the local economy. I have no idea what these commercial investments might look like. That’s what our mayor is for. {…} Go out into the world, Mr. Mayor, and drum up some business for Norwalk, so the BOE and the BET aren’t doing the taxpayer tango every spring.
Edited to remove ascribing motives without proof, a violation of the comments policy. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Debora Goldstein March 31, 2018 at 1:22 pm

@Dawn, it’s not City money for the East Norwalk study—it’s $125,000 in a state-awarded grant.

I was at the meeting. Mr. Sumpter’s comment followed: an admonishment to the audience that they should not repeat points already made so the meeting wouldn’t run late, an admonishment not to applaud to keep the meeting from running long and a verbal altercation with another audience member. Combined together, these actions suggested that Mr. Sumpter was unusually impatient and a little testy. I’ve never known him to behave this way before.

The verbal altercation with another audience member involved someone shouting out during the proceedings. Mr. Sumpter first correctly pointed out that this gentleman was out of order. The gentleman apologized, and Mr. Sumpter (in a sharp tone) said that he may be sorry, but he was still talking. The volley went back and forth like that a few more times, and the appearance was that Mr. Sumpter’s intention was to have the last word, not to secure order.

When you combine all of this with Mr. Sumpter’s comments about (commissioners) giving up their time, it added up to someone who was a little put out at having to be present for a hearing. Bear in mind that the Public Hearing is the first time the public gets to have input into a zoning application. Unlike other actions, the ZC does not take public comment at its meetings.

It’s interesting that Mayor Rilling stands on the idea of civility, but doesn’t consider it uncivil that a commissioner attempts to constrain public participation in several ways, at a forum that is held for their benefit. He also fails to take into consideration that uncivility in the public is a symptom, often reflecting frustration with a process that is not serving them well. Many of these folks put in long hours learning how things work and get treated dismissively at THEIR FORUM with the idea that the Commission’s time is somehow more valuable than theirs.

Couple that with the apparent inequity in who gets to be on a commission and who doesn’t, even among verbally combative constituents, and frustration runs high. The idea that you get to ignore the content because you don’t like the presentation is antithetical to the public input process, especially when you INFER it from forums outside of the hearing. Without calling out names, there are multiple electeds/appointeds in those same forums INFERRING that members of the public are all kinds of things. (Exhibit A is an appointed who wasn’t at the meeting, who is calling Ms. Smirniotopoulos names and ascribing motives in the comments on this very article).

I’ve been on both sides of the table, and understand that you can feel attacked. The correct response is to try to get to the underlying problem and resolve it, not to try to shut people down. I’ve also been told to shut up/sit down by members of council (under the Rilling administration), watched as staff members were allowed to lie without being able to respond (under the Rilling administration), and had dismissive language used about me (under the Rilling administration) in meetings, news articles and in those same forums. You can bet I INFERRED what those folks had in mind, and I was pretty darn frustrated about it.

On the other hand, I’ve also had electeds/appointeds/employees invite the public to comment and enter into dialog where it was instructive to everyone. I am graetful that there are many more of those running meetings than the few who make it so difficult.

While we are on the subject of ethics in communicating, has anyone investigated the first amendment violations by multiple officials in Norwalk who have contacted individual blog owners/facebook administrators to pressure them to keep certain individuals from posting? I take government censorship pretty seriously, and if this isn’t an ethics violation, it ought to be.

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 1, 2018 at 11:36 am

Thank you, @Debora Goldstein, for putting into words so succinctly what I failed to do. The brief public spat with Nate Sumpter is really not the issue. By virtue of his dismissive response, in my opinion, and his supplemental documentary evidence, Mayor Rilling has chosen to make an ordinary citizen, albeit a vocal one, the lightning rod for stakeholder frustration with land use decisions. The principal objection to my public comments—again my ooinion—so far is that the cronies don’t like being called cronies and they don’t like the suggestion that they should be accountable to anyone, least of all the public. Sound about right?

A FOI request to the Law Department with regard to Mr. Sumpter’s most recent appointments to the Zoning Commission turned up two emails in support from 2014, and nothing from 2017. There was no invitation from the mayor to Mr. Sumpter, in spite of the mayor’s laudatory comments above. The mayor appointed Mr Sumpter in 2014 and 2017. Where were the mayor’s comments then? To Debora’s point, what exactly is the process for appointment to the City’s most important boards and commissions—Planning, Zoning, BET, Parking Authority, Oak Hills, RDA? Regardless of the mayor’s process—or lack thereof—we also have an elected common council who share responsibility for seating these boards and commissions. I would love to hear their thoughts on the appointment process and how they view their accountability to their constituents vis a vis their political party.

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 1, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Rilling needs to put my request that Mr. Sumpter recuse himself in context as well. This approach was used successfully against Keith Lyon by Tom Cody last year with the ZBA. He attempted to remove Andy Conroy and Lee Levey as well. During the Firetree hearings, Rilling refused to comment on the recusals. Now he passes judgement based on a pattern of such requests. Perhaps if I were an attorney with Robinson Cole, I might get more respect in this town. Requests that commissioners recuse themselves are sincere. They are also strategic. They are not frivolous or baseless. If a commissioner appears to have made up his or her mind in advance, that may be grounds for recusal. If a commissioner appears to be of a mind to intimidate or otherwise clamp down on the exercise of free speech of the public, that too is a valid reason to request that a commissioner be asked to recuse himself. Because I feel strongly that this application should be denied for reasons I made plain on March 1, were Mr. Sumpter to recuse himself, that’s one likely “yes” I don’t have to worry about. That’s a win for East Norwalk in my opinion. Others may disagree, but as strategies for zoning victories go, asking commissioners to recuse themselves is an oft used remedy.

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 4, 2018 at 12:31 am

@Nancy, can Mayor Rilling cite the source of his claim that I asked Joe Beggan to recuse himself during Firetree? I do not recall doing so under this name. Can the mayor supply documentary evidence? As I recall, Mr. Beggan was concerned that Quintard neighbors had missed the missteps by the mayor and others at city hall. Perhaps Rilling can fill in the blanks, including why a property on Quintard that traded in 2017 was quitclaimed in 2014 by a Rilling insider concurrent with early Firetree inquiries by Liz Suchy.

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