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South Norwalk Dems will ‘go public’ on MIA BoE member Anderson

From left, Norwalk Board of Education members Mike Lyons, Erik Anderson and Mike Barbis (chairman), in March in Norwalk High School.

Updated, 1:57 p.m.: Comments from Erik Anderson and Mike Barbis added; correction, Anderson is no longer vice chairman and did attend October Special Education Committee meeting. 8:10 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline

NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk’s District B Democrats plan to “embarrass” Board of Education member Erik Anderson into responding to their inquiries and into improving his attendance at Board meetings, District leader Bobby Burgess said Wednesday.

“He is the elected representative from this district but he is not representing us. I think we should make it loud and clear that he is probably sitting there inappropriately,” Burgess said at Monday’s District B meeting.

The District’s Democrats voted to send Anderson a “strong firm letter” warning him of their concerns.

Anderson declined to comment on Tuesday when asked about the letter.

There have been 19 BoE meetings in 2018, not including the Board retreat; Anderson has attended six. He was absent from all Board of Education meetings from late March to Aug. 21, and was then absent again until Oct. 16, minutes show; he missed the Nov. 13 meeting but attended Nov. 20 and was absent again Tuesday.

He has also missed all but one Special Education Committee meetings since March and has been to two Curriculum and Instruction Committee meetings. He attended the first night of the three-day retreat in July and did not attend the remaining two days.

District B Democrats did not support Anderson in 2015 when he first ran, and instead endorsed incumbent BoE member Migdalia Rivas. Anderson, who had moved into District B after searching city-wide for an apartment, defeated Rivas in a primary to win the in-district seat. His term expires next year.

“He was elected from District B,” Burgess said Wednesday. “Once he was elected, we would hope he would report back to us and he is not doing that. We would hope he would attend the Board of Education meetings to express our views of the educational system and he is not doing that.”

Anderson in previous years has been a swing vote; in January 2017 he helped the Board move forward plans for new schools on a 5-4 vote.

District B Dems in March 2017 said they were going to demand that Anderson resign. At the time, Anderson responded to NancyOnNorwalk that he’d just been to a fundraiser at Jefferson Elementary School and found it to be refreshing.

“I am reminding myself who I serve,” Anderson said. “I don’t serve a District Committee. I serve the residents of South Norwalk, District B, all of them, Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated, and all their children. The amount of time and effort I have spent battling, at times, against political powers that be, my time is better spent putting my efforts toward the community and the children I am hoping my policies will benefit.”

Anderson didn’t respond when the District demanded he resign, Burgess said Wednesday.  He said that he and Darlene Young have tried to set up meetings with Anderson and “he never engaged.”

District B Dem Jim Clark said he knows Anderson and reached out recently to try to set up a meeting, but got no response, Burgess said.

Clark said Monday that he’d reached out to Anderson but had no luck.

“I checked my BoE email, text messages and missed calls, and unfortunately I cannot find any contact from Jim,” Anderson wrote Thursday. “I have a great deal or respect and admiration for Jim since we worked together on the BET. His service to the city on many fronts has been invaluable. I would happily aranged a time to connect with him and apologize for any sense of avoidance.”

“I was copied on correspondence from Mr. Anderson to District B offering a range of times to meet … District B never responded. Mr. Anderson made it very clear when he was available. I am sorry to say that your sources are being less than honest. I have the emails to prove it,” BoE Chairman Mike Barbis wrote Thursday. “In addition, I would make it clear, Mr. Anderson represents all of the residents of District B. The 11 members of the District B Democrats do not seem representative of the entire district if you look at the censeus {cq} data and the families that attend NPS from District B.”

Burgess said he’d met with Mayor Harry Rilling to discuss Anderson.

“I have not attempted to contact Erik for many months. The last time I attempted, he did not return my calls,” Rilling said in a Wednesday email.

Anderson on Thursday called that comment “troubling at best.”

“The last time Mayor Rilling wanted to contact me was when he and other democratic leaders were trying to convince me to vote for Yvel Crevecour for BoE Chair in 2017. I never spoke with the mayor after he was told I would not be changing my vote,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson “doesn’t respond to anybody at all, we just wonder what our step will be,” Burgess said Wednesday. “The next step is probably to go public about it, he’ll be forced to respond to us. We can’t force him to step down but as a representative of the people, I would hope he would take our advice”

What does going public mean?

“Publicly, we may have to ask him to step down or show cause why he shouldn’t step down,” Burgess said. “Or show that he will be a better representative in the future. We will let the whole town know that he is not fulfilling his duties. After we go public, he will be forced to answer to somebody, answer to us or the Mayor or the town chairman. It’s a problem that we don’t know exactly how to deal with yet but …It’s a known fact, we’re trying to embarrass him to respond to somebody.”

“I am proud of my service on the Board of Education,” Anderson wrote Thursday. “I fought a difficult battle to win this seat. As Mr. Barbis stated, I represent all of District B. The vast majority of the members of the District B Democratic Committee never have supported me. They voted for Migdalia Rivas at the caucus and campaigned for her up to and on Primary Day 2015. As I have pledged in the past, I will state again here. I am always willing to talk with constituents who would like to speak with me. Both my BoE email and phone number are publicly accessible.”

18 comments

Mike Barbis December 6, 2018 at 6:32 am

Nancy,

I had not had a chance to respond to your email at 841 PM last night (I was at my office Christmas party). The fact is that I was copied on correspondence from Mr. Anderson to District B offering a range of times to meet … District B never responded. Mr. Anderson made it very clear when he was available. I am sorry to say that your sources are being less than honest. I have the emails to prove it.

In addition, I would make it clear, Mr. Anderson represents all of the residents of District B. The 11 members of the District B Democrats do not seem representative of the entire district if you look at the censeus data and the families that attend NPS from District B.

Erik T Anderson December 6, 2018 at 8:41 am

Nancy,

When you contacted me for a comment, it was in response to a vote the District B Democratic Committee had taken to chastise me for their disapproval of my service on the Board of Education. I had no comment on this topic as it is not the first time the committee has taken such action. I would like to set the record straight on a few other points mentioned in the article.

First, I am no longer the BoE’s Vice Chairman. I was honored to nominate our new Vice Chair, Sarah LeMieux, at the board’s organizational meeting last month. Also, I attended the SPED Ad Hoc meeting in October. The Novemeber meeting was cancelled due to inclement weather, which I had planned to attend.

Second, Mr. Barbis is correct. I have been trying to meet with Bobby Burgess and Darlene Young for many weeks after they contacted me. I had provided my availability and worked to find a mutually beneficial time for us to connect. Those efforts have been currently unsuccessful.

Third, the comment from Mayor Rilling is troubling at best. The last time Mayor Rilling wanted to contact me was when he and other democratic leaders were trying to convince me to vote for Yvel Crevecour for BoE Chair in 2017. I never spoke with the mayor after he was told I would not be changing my vote.

Fourth, in regards to Jim Clark, I checked my BoE email, text messages and missed calls, and unfortunately I cannot find any contact from Jim. I have a great deal or respect and admiration for Jim since we worked together on the BET. His service to the city on many fronts has been invaluable. I would happily aranged a time to connect with him and apologize for any sense of avoidance.

I am proud of my service on the Board of Education. I fought a difficult battle to win this seat. As Mr. Barbis stated, I represent all of District B. The vast majority of the members of the District B Democratic Committee never have supported me. They voted for Migdalia Rivas at the caucus and campaigned for her up to and on Primary Day 2015. As I have pledged in the past, I will state again here. I am always willing to talk with constituents who would like to speak with me. Both my BoE email and phone number are publicly accessible at https://norwalkps.org/board_of_ed/board_members_

Bruce Kimmel December 6, 2018 at 10:42 am

Since being elected to the BOE in 2017, I have found Erik to be knowledgeable about all of the issues before the board, the inner workings of our central office and the board in general, and the concerns of constituents. He is a well-versed board member.

As an elected official in Norwalk for over 19 years, I have witnessed a number of instances in which elected volunteers have had to adjust both their work and meeting schedules for certain periods of time. This is not unusual; and should probably be expected with volunteers.

Bob P December 6, 2018 at 12:03 pm

6 out of 19 meetings…. Where’s the response on being absent to all these meetings?
He has a worse attendance record than Travis Simms.

It doesn’t sound like he’s representing anyone in District B.

“There have been 19 BoE meetings in 2018, not including the Board retreat; Anderson has attended six. He was absent from all Board of Education meetings from late March to Aug. 21, and was then absent again until Oct. 16, minutes show; he missed the Nov. 13 meeting but attended Nov. 20 and was absent again Tuesday.”

“He has also missed all the Special Education Committee meetings since March and has been to two Curriculum and Instruction Committee meetings. He attended the first night of the three-day retreat in July and did not attend the remaining two days.”

Bryan Meek December 6, 2018 at 2:06 pm

Working in the 21st century sometimes involves working remotely and asynchronously. Attendance records to the casual observer overlook the dozens of hours spent in between meetings by all of our volunteers. In terms of public meetings, critical votes can now be cast via phone thanks to a recent change in our policies should a member not be able to attend in person. All of our meeting content is public and on video. Speaking for myself, Erik is a valued member of this board who has had an integral part in a multitude of reforms we have implemented.

I can count on both hands the number of attendees front this “representative” caucus over the last 3 years to all combined BOE meetings. I do know some of these members have actively tried to scuttle plans to build a state of the art neighborhood school, citing among other reasons wanting to protect a swath of land overgrown with vegetation and debris. High ranking public education officials have confided with me that in all their time they have never, ever seen a body politic within any community actually fight something good for the neighborhood. Only in Norwalk.

Piberman December 6, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Kudos to Nancy. Norwalk’s “District B Democrats” are known far beyond Norwalk’s borders. Sadly.

If mere “attendance” was the “standard of excellence” then how come City governance is widely (perhaps not correctly) viewed as unsatisfactory ? Or is “attendance” the only standard of “public service” in Norwalk ?

Kudos to Bruce Kimmel for pointing out that Erik Anderson is a “bright star’ in City service. As anyone who has had the pleasure to meet and discuss City affairs can attest.

District B Democrats would do well to rethink their “standards of service”. Constituents deserve better.

Faye Bowman December 7, 2018 at 10:41 am

Wow. Defending Erik when his absence is u excusable.

I know Mike Barbis tried to call me out for not attending a meeting that was well beyond my basic duties as Common Council member and he is excusing Erik’s failure to show up for basic duties.

As for me and my lack of attendance for an additional working group well beyond my basic scope of duties that Mike Barbis tried to “call me out on”, one meeting I had a cold and did inform those I would not be attending and the other I attended while pregnant, working a full time job, serving on the Common Council and house hunting.

So no excuses here for Erik.

An elected official that doesnt have time to fulfill their basic duties should resign their position.

Quite frankly as the South Norwalk school goes, (As Meek has chimed in) as evidenced in the stalled project, the location does not and never will make sense. The fact that there is a proposal to build a school field on a swamp when you can look at the old Andrew’s field and now Cranberry School flooding is ridiculous at best.

And if Erik doesnt want to answer to the people he represents then he shouldn’t be in the position. And as a District B elected official it is his job to be honest with the people of District B and quite frankly the staff at Columbus in regards to the cons of this project not push the agenda of Mike from Rowayton, Kimmel from Cranberry, or Meek from East Norwalk.

Teacher December 7, 2018 at 11:33 am

If votes where conducted by phone or tel-conference wouldn’t that be reflected in the minutes? I can’t seem to find that information…. hmmmm….

Patrick Cooper December 7, 2018 at 11:39 am

Hey Faye, how’s Bridgeport?

Those pesky Dis-B Dems. Politics is blood-sport. They don’t want Erik to “listen” – they want to control him. Note the loyalty pledge demanded by Harry the Democrat (not Harry the Mayor or defect head of the BOE). Talk about shining a light on the darkest corners of our dysfunctional city. All you need to know is they wanted the hot mess Rivas. The Unions are pissed they have lost all their proxies on the board.

Bryan Meek December 7, 2018 at 11:51 am

Faye, Columbus at Ely is going forward despite your attempts at denying a quality neighborhood education to your former constituents. Cranbury school field is flooding because DPW management was scuttled under your watch and the crews are no longer being managed properly. The city’s drains used to be cleaned routinely and we’ve had worse rain before that excuse gets thrown around. . And I suppose by your silence on the matter of another district B official …..that what must qualifiy a public servant for your is drunken arguments with police at the wee hours of the morning?

Bryan Meek December 7, 2018 at 11:53 am

@Teacher, critical votes would be defined as one vote determining the outcome. If you don’t like it, seek a nomination and run yourself, instead of posting quips while on the job.

Mike Barbis December 7, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Faye, the meeting you are referring to was the “last straw”. I spent a whole summer (2016) trying to get in touch with you to get involved in the planning of the South Norwalk school but you never could be bothered to respond. I finally got Travis to meet me in early September at a Dunkin Donuts in Wilton!! How crazy was that!! So, please, let’s not have any revisionist history here.

The majority of the enrollment growth is in South Norwalk — not Rowayton, not Cranbury, not East Norwalk. Should the South Norwalk kids not get a chance to go to a neighborhood school? And how many times did I need to explain that Ben Franklin was not a big enough site for a new school that would meet today’s codes and State requirements?

I hope you are having fun in Hamden!

Erik T Anderson December 7, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Hello @Faye Bowman. It is good to hear from you. I wish we had engaged more when you were still in Norwalk, but alas that is in the past. I hope your new home town is treating you well and I’m sure that bundle of joy is keeping you busy.

I wanted to address your claim that I do not answer to the people of District B. If you mean the 20 or so individuals that attend the District B Democratic Committee on a monthly basis, you may have some truth there. Early into my term I tried to engage the District B Dem Committee. It was unsuccessful, as my idea of what was best for the district was met with strong opposition from the majority of the members of that committee. However, many residents that do not attend that monthly meeting, have been ardent supporters of my service. As I, and others, have said many times, I was elected by residents from all over District B. My total vote count on Primary Day was 189 and my vote count on Election day was 915. I have stayed in contact with many of these constituents.

As for the issue you bring up regarding the building of the new school on the Nathaniel Ely site, there seems to be stark contrast in opinions. The majority of the members of the District B Dem Committee have opposed this new school for a multitude of reasons. However, the NPS issued community survey, as well as many residents of our district do not agree with the District B Dems Committee’s stance. There have been no lies to the community regarding the building of this fantastic new facility. Columbus staff has been fully on board from day one. I wish we could have seen eye to eye on this issue, unfortunately this type of situation does arise in local politics.

Again, I hope all is going well in your new home town and with your beautiful baby. Thank you again for your input.

Erik T Anderson December 7, 2018 at 1:56 pm

@Teacher I had been in constant communication with my fellow board members during the votes that took place when I have been unable to attend. I was confident that my district would be well represented by these votes and the presence of the 4 at-large board members.

Curious Voter December 9, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Hmmm, it’s fine for Mr. Simms to miss loads of council and caucus meetings and then get elected out of District B for a higher position representing all of Norwalk. What’s the difference between him and Mr. Anderson? Please explain. Political hypocrisy at it’s best is my guess. I agree, if you can’t do your job step down. Let’s hope Hartford isn’t too far away even though East Avenue was!

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