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Norwalk political notes: Election info, Zoning fines and criticisms

Lucy Dathan of New Canaan addresses Norwalk Democrats last week in City Hall, briefly explaining her run for District 142 State Representative.

Updated, 7 p.m. May 30: Meadow Street changed to Meadow Place, per John Hayducky, who said his original information had been incorrect. Updated, 3:51 p.m.:3 p.m.: Zoning fine list adjusted; 12:26 p.m.: Comments from Lucy Dathan added.

NORWALK, Conn. — Here’s a roundup of interesting Norwalk political news, information and insightful tidbits:

  • Dathan to challenge Wilms
  • Wells: Camacho was following rules by appointing proxies
  • Details provided on tax sale’s zoning fine-properties
  • King speaks for Rilling – bluntly

Two candidates for District 142 state representative

A New Canaan woman is set to challenge State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) in his bid for reelection.

Lucy Dathan told Norwalk Democrats last week that she lives in the New Canaan side of Silvermine, is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and left the corporate world in the last year. She has gotten involved in local politics and is stepping it up a notch, she said.

“She knows we need to change our District’s voice from silent complicity, to produce results and change Connecticut’s current course,” her website states. “As a finance expert, she will bring a fresh perspective to help resolve the tough issues. She has spent her working life helping companies succeed in today’s economy and can do the same for the 142nd district, as well as be a voice for us all in Hartford.”

Dathan is relatively new to New Canaan, having moved to Connecticut from Palo Alto, Calif., in 2015. Her LinkedIn page reveals that she is “consultant Chief Financial Officer” for Spectrum Technologies LLC and was CFO for Domino Data Lab from November 2015 to December 2016, with both companies in the San Francisco Bay area. Her California work experience dates to at least 2009; she was manager of finance and intellectual property for the London Stock Exchange from July 2003 to October 2005, her page states.

She’s part of a wave of women getting involved in politics due to the 2016 Presidential election, she confirmed in a Monday email, writing:

“Yes, my candidacy has been inspired by the Trump Presidency and activities of his administration, but I also want to stress that I am concerned what is happening in our own state and the lack of common sense in Hartford  We need to have people in our state government who understand that we need to build a robust budget – we cannot just cut our way to prosperity. I am a CPA, and I think I can bring a fresh perspective on addressing the budget crisis and pension shortfalls.  I have been building budgets for Companies for my entire working life and I can transfer my Corporate financial experience to Hartford, and ensure that the people in Norwalk and New Canaan have their voices heard.”

 

Wilms is a banker and former Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation chairman, first elected in 2014 and succeeding Larry Cafero. Wilms did not respond to a Sunday email.

Ben Page-Fort, a Norwalk resident, said earlier this year that he would run against Wilms. He has withdrawn, DTC minutes state.

“I am a mother of three kids and we love Connecticut, and want our children to stay in Connecticut when they finish their education,” Dathan wrote. “Many companies are leaving Connecticut, due to the lack of a talented workforce, not just the state and local taxes.  Some of the big companies who have left Connecticut, recently, have moved to higher taxed states. Cutting essential programs, including education is not going to motivate companies to come (or stay) in Connecticut.  We need to address the transportation issues that our state faces to ensure that we are seen by Companies as a leader in transportation and we can move the talent with public transport and not just by relying on over crowded roads.”

 

Wells: Camacho followed state Party rules

The rules were not followed at last week at Wednesday’s Democratic convention for Judge of Probate, Attorney Darnell Crosland said, after losing the endorsement to Common Council member Doug Stern (D-At Large).

As the convention began, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho appointed proxies for delegates who were not present.

Democratic delegates cast votes Wednesday for Judge of Probate, in City Hall. At center is Kate Tepper and at right is Lucia Rilling.

“For starters, if a delegate is not present, that delegate fills out a form two days prior to the convention giving authority to a particular person to speak on their behalf, with their voice,” Crosland wrote that evening.

Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said Thursday that’s not true.

Because the Judge of Probate has jurisdiction over Wilton as well as Norwalk, it’s a “convention,” not a caucus, and is therefore governed by State Democratic Party rules, Wells explained, providing the section of the rule that applies:

Democratic State Party Rules: Article I, Section 9: Alternates

Except with respect to automatic delegates … each delegate to a convention elected in conformity with law and with these rules may, if in good standing, designate in writing an alternate delegate to act for him or her in his or her absence at any convention or other meeting of delegates held under these rules. …  In the absence of such alternate delegate, the Town Chair shall have the right to fill vacancies in delegations to conventions during conventions and until the respective convention adjourns. This right to fill vacancies shall cease upon adjournment of the convention.

 

If a state district is entirely within Norwalk – as the 137th and 140th are – they are considered municipal elections and are therefore run by Norwalk DTC rules, Wells said.

Crosland, in his criticisms of the convention, mentioned former DTC Chairman Marc Bradley, who arrived too late to vote in the contest.

Bradley did not know his proxy, Crosland wrote. Bradley on Monday confirmed this, writing:

“Individual delegates have the right to assign an ‘alternate delegate’ to vote on their behalf, but I did not assign an ‘alternate delegate’ (I did not expect to be late for the convention).
“A ‘proxy’ was not assigned for me. In my absence, the convention chair filled my vacancy. I did not know this person (the appointed delegate) or control who they voted for, but this is within the rules.”

Crosland has previously run for Judge of Probate, unsuccessfully attempting to unseat Tony DePanfilis in 2014. He received enough support in Tuesday’s vote to automatically qualify for a primary against Stern, who is rumored to have Mayor Harry Rilling’s support.

 

Who’s being fined by Zoning?

Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli said recently that “certain properties” that have accrued substantial Zoning fines are being listed in the biannual tax sale, for the first time.

Deputy Zoning Inspector John Hayducky recently provided this list of those properties, their fines and the reasons for the fines:

  • 32 (32 ½) Catherine St. –         $32,100 – Contractor’s equipment in residential zone
  • 4 West Meadow Place –              $30,450 – Unregistered vehicles
  • 53 Winfield St. –                         $24,750 – Contractor’s materials/equip in residential zone
  • 45 Summitt Ave. –                     $17,850 – Parking in the front setback
  • 15 Robins Square East –                 $14,550 – Parking in front setback & unregistered vehicles
  • 19 Murray St. –                           $6,150 – Illegal apartment
  • 69 Maple St. –                             $4,650** – Illegal apartment
  • 61 Fairfield Ave. –                      $3,150 – Contractor’s/commercial vehicle or equipment in residential zone

 

** = Owner has come in and working to resolve, may bring back to Attorney Barbarula for an alteration to fine amount

Hayducky reached out Tuesday to say that 4 Meadow Place had been removed from the list and add that there’s another property that was left off the list:

  • 35 Soundview Avenue – $49,500  – Contractor’s Materials/Equipment in Residential Zone

 

 

King: Rilling ‘too polite to explain this’

Donna Smirniotopoulos’ recent letter to the editor pressed her oft-repeated charge that Rilling’s process for appointing land use Commissioners is “sloppy, haphazard and random.”

“There is nothing nefarious about this process. It is how virtually every board or commission appointment is made in every municipality in Connecticut and across the nation,” Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King wrote to Smirniotopoulos on April 26.

Smirniotopoulos’ conclusions were based on information she obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, she said in her letter, complaining that there is not a consistent process by which Commissioners are appointed. In a comment left on the NoN publication of her thoughts she explained that Rilling had asked her in October if she was interested in serving on a Board or Commission.

“Trust me when I say that I did not lose any sleep over whether or not the mayor would favor me with this appointment,” she wrote in the comment.

A vocal critic of Rilling and of Norwalk Zoning practices, Smirniotopoulos has slammed land use Commissioners, describing them in an October letter to the editor as Rilling’s “cronies and cheerleaders.” In March, she clashed publicly with Zoning Chair Nate Sumpter, remarking afterwards that “{Sumpter} doesn’t know d**k about zoning.  But he’s a likeable fellow.”

Her land use appointment-inspired FOI requests included lengthy emails.

“I imagined our mayor would be seeking gravitas, attention to detail and deliberative qualities divorced from political influence in a potential commissioner’s land use decisions,” Smirniotopoulos wrote to Rilling, King, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr and Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola on April 26.

King wrote to Smirniotopoulos:

“{A}ppointments to land use bodies are at the sole discretion of the mayor pursuant to the city charter. These appointments are approved by the council to provide a check and balance, but the council gives the mayor’s recommendation substantial weight as the accountability for land use decisions ultimately lays upon the mayor’s shoulders.

“The Mayor considers individuals who express an interest in serving, individuals recommended by council members and individuals he knows or meets in the course of his duties. When he has made a decision, he shares that decision with council leadership. If they find the person to be acceptable, the name is forwarded to the full common council. The name is listed on the council agenda and a resume is attached. At the council meeting there is an opportunity for both members of the council and members of the public to speak in favor or against the nomination. There is nothing nefarious about this process. It is how virtually every board or commission appointment is made in every municipality in Connecticut and across the nation.

“For your information, the mayor seeks appointees whom he believes a) are knowledgeable about Norwalk and understand the diverse needs and interests of residents, business and visitors, b) love and believe in Norwalk and believe it is a great place to live, work and play, c) participate in public discourse in a positive and constructive manner and d) share his vision for the city’s future.

“In his opinion you possess none of these traits. Although the Mayor may be too polite to explain this to you, this is the reason you were not and will not be considered for a position on a land use body.”

 

NancyOnNorwalk requested the emails from King to confirm quotes presented by Smirniotopoulos in her letter to the editor. Smirniotopoulos also provided the emails to NoN, including the commentary that came after King’s reply about her qualifications.

Donna-Laoise exchange

Donna email responses to Laoise et al

19 comments

Sue Haynie May 29, 2018 at 6:38 am

Lucy Dathan (D) and Fred Wilms (R) have comparable bios, both with strong financial backgrounds. Does Lucy Dathan want to add to the “success” of the Connecticut legislative body,controlled by Democrats for the last several decades, in making Connecticut a loser or laggard in most economic measures:

6th highest tax burden: https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/

5th highest unfunded debt; lowest growth rate in personal income since recession of all 50 states; 4th highest with revenue falling short of expenses; a statistically insignificant change in employment, etc. https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/

Bryan Meek May 29, 2018 at 8:02 am

Wow there are only 2 illegal apartments in the city? Who knew? And what happened to the fines on the dirt yard? Were those converted into more campaign funds for 2019?

Bryan Meek May 29, 2018 at 8:04 am

5 years into it, can we please have the “vision”? Right now, it just seems like a scrapbook of photo ops.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 29, 2018 at 8:22 am

No land use nominee’s name shall be revealed until the agenda for the Common Council is published 24 hours in advance of the meeting at which the council will vote on his or her appointment. That’s one thing my FOI requests have revealed. And that is a dire problem for taxpayers and for the city. This mayor is not interested in an open process when it comes to filling land use commissions. He does not want our input. My FOI hearing—based on a complaint against the mayor’s office that I was denied a FOI request—is next Monday, June 4, 11am in Hartford. All are welcome!

The basis of my complaint is this—the office of the mayor appears to reserve the right to withhold names of potential commissioners until the 11th hour, at which point it is too late to mount any real objections. And really, the point is not that any one person is objectionable. It’s the mayor’s process—or gross lack of process—-that is objectionable. People are starting to wake up, even though mayor’s office appears determined to sleep through our mounting displeasure with the pace and outcome of development.

This is not a personality conflict, though it is often portrayed as such. But Nancy, if you’re looking for a reason why I might peronsally have a vested interest in land use, look at my tax bill. It’s gone up 27% since I bought my house in 2012. That’s the thanks I get for investing in Norwalk. A preferred developer on the north side of Water is paying 10 cents on the dollar this year. Ask the mayor to explain the fairness of this and the benefits to our economy of the tax break.

As Norwalkers grow increasingly discontent with the changing landscape in their city, the looming mall, and the poor ROI of local development; as we stare wide-eyed at the next six story tinder box popping up in our neighborhood, or curse at the traffic and road closures that turn a three minute drive to the turnpike into a 15 minute journey to migraineville, remember the words of Laoise King: THE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LAND USE DECISIONS ULTIMATELY LAYS UPON THE MAYOR’S SHOULDERS.

Lisa Brinton Thomson May 29, 2018 at 10:54 am

Until the people demand charter revision, we will continue to underperform as a city, taxes will go up and land value down. In addition to thanking Nancy, thank Donna for getting in writing what we all knew all along – that there is no rhyme or reason for how our land use boards operate – other than at the pleasure of whoever is mayor. How much lower do property values and quality of life have to sink before homeowners who don’t vote in local elections wake up!

PIBerman May 29, 2018 at 10:58 am

Would Norwalk function better with a Mayor and Common Council members having senior business experience and well versed in modern business management ? Or is its governance always destined to be questioned by those in the private sector with major business management just baffled how City Hall functions. Do we really serve our collective interests by electing officials who wouldn’t be considered candidates to manage a $400 million profit or non-profit entity ?

Nancy Chapman May 29, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Bryan, the list presented here does not comprise all of the illegal apartments that have generated fines from the city, but rather the ones for which “significant” fines have not been paid, fines which the city is looking to collect through the tax sale. This is according to Lisa Biagiarelli, who said that this is the first time these properties have been listed in the tax sale.

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 29, 2018 at 12:21 pm

After months of citizen objections and complaints about airborne pollutants emanating from rock crushing facilities, auto junk yards and waste centers on Meadow Street, including calls to state DEEP and the Health Department and multiple visits from the sanitarian, the Health Department has decided that P&Z now must seek their approval before rubber stamping these uses. This is a giant step in the right direction (assuming the mayor’s office doesn’t apply any invisible pressure to bear).

And no thanks to the mayor’s picks for the Zoning Commission, who left to their own devices, will approve an inferior air filtration system when an applicant offers it because they just don’t seem to know any better. They approved a MERV system for 34 Meadow when only a HEPA system would have been satisfactory. The MERV will pollute the neighborhoods. According to Laoise King, this decision rests squarely on the mayor’s shoulders. I’m glad she set the record straight on that.

Lisa Brinton Thomson May 29, 2018 at 12:25 pm

“This is according to Lisa Biagiarelli, who said that this is the first time these properties have been listed in the tax sale.”
You’re welcome, Norwalk 🙂

Donna Smirniotopoulos May 29, 2018 at 3:11 pm

@Bryan Meek, bear in mind it is the mayor’s belief that cracking down on illegal apartments will have negative financial consequences for the city. He happens to be wrong. But that’s what the guy believes.

Oldsalt May 29, 2018 at 5:55 pm

If we are concerned about contractor’s yards, why aren’t we applying the Contractor’s Materials/Equipment in Residential Zone standard to Veterans Park? Last time I checked Veterans Park was zoned AAA.

I see the large dirt piles in Vets park everyday… funny, the ice rink vanishes the piles appear. Upon investigation the large mounds are the left-over process material that is spread under the rink to level and insulate the ice. Why is it that we are fining contractors for illegal storage when the City of Norwalk is providing sheds and material storage for a “for profit” enterprise operating in a public park?

Shouldn’t the city be judged by the same rules? Come on guys…we can do better than this……..

Sassy Smurf May 29, 2018 at 9:24 pm

Donna, you are an excellent writer.
Ms. King, your grammar needs to improve. Isn’t that a prerequisite for a $100K+ public salary?

Sassy Smurf May 29, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Are kids living in these illegal apartments attending our public schools on our (taxpayers’) dime?

Bryan Meek May 30, 2018 at 7:53 am

This comment violates the comments policy prohibition on ascribing motives without proof and harassing the writer, violations that are nothing new for the commenter.
The commenter has been banned, due to continued comments policy violations after having been warned.

Rick May 30, 2018 at 8:03 am

4 West Meadow St. – $30,450 – Unregistered vehicles

your welcome village creek this ONE is for you.

Odd how certain things get attention and others don’t.

Rick May 31, 2018 at 10:33 pm

Hayducky reached out Tuesday to say that 4 Meadow Place had been removed from the list and add that there’s another property that was left off the list:

This is a disgrace for years a fire hazard has existed and where was the Norwalk fire?

A real trick question 50 feet away.

This is all about whats going on in South Norwalk on meadow st.

Someone finally thought with all the trouble brewing the city should step up to the plate and make it look good.

Some have been played thinking the city has a handle on Meadow st.Some are taking credit for the fix city hall is taking to cover its tracks.

How do you miss this for over 15 years? Lets wake up and see whats been going on why didn’y hey ducky give us a name of the owner on Meadow place? Just count the cars and think where else on meadow st has as many cars?

https://www.google.com/maps/place/2+Meadow+St+Ext,+Norwalk,+CT+06854/@41.0869334,-73.4197479,38a,35y,328.5h,45.08t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e81e5e7af17aaf:0xc5256e8a4ad8a251!8m2!3d41.085563!4d-73.42333

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