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Cinema’s expected demise inspires blame game

The Garden Cinemas, on Isaac Street in Norwalk Center. At right is the Tyvek-covered partially constructed Wall Street Place phase I, referred to colloquially as “POKO.”

NORWALK, Conn. – Who’s responsible for the impending sale of an independent movie theater in Norwalk Center, and what should be done about it?  It depends on who you ask.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan says that city officials who supported the redevelopment project known as “POKO” are to blame.  City officials say that Milligan himself bears responsibility, because he illegally purchased properties from the original developer, parcels which were to contain parking for the stalled project and were critical to restarting it.

The Garden Cinemas are under contract with JHM Group, a development company expected to take over construction of the stalled Wall Street Place phase I, also referred to “The Tyvek Temple.” Mayor Harry Rilling said he expects the cinema to be torn down and become a parking area for Wall Street Place, if the Common Council and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency agree to a deal with JHM and Citibank, owner of the property.

 

Stalled development has parking shortage

Why does a development that is already partially constructed, with approval from the Zoning Commission, need additional parking?

The complicated land deal for Wall Street Place, which was to include 101 apartments and ground floor retail in its first phase and additional apartments in subsequent phases, originated in a 2004 redevelopment plan that involved the City contributing two municipal parking lots to its chosen developer, POKO Partners, in exchange for a project that it hoped would bring life to a depressed area. A Land Disposition Agreement signed in 2007 by the City, its Redevelopment Agency, and the developer lays out requirements for the development.

POKO struggled to commence construction and some Republican Council members advocated pulling the plug on the endeavor. Mayor Harry Rilling in 2014, with a deadline looming, supported continuing the project; both the Redevelopment Agency and the Council gave the go ahead. Construction began in 2015, but developer Ken Olson quickly found that he was over budget. Olson went to the Planning and Zoning Department and asked that 43 of the parking spaces required for the phase I be moved to phase II, which he also owned. Olson planned an underground parking garage and wanted to purchase one that was smaller than originally planned.

P&Z quietly approved the parking change in a February 2016 Zoning Commission Committee meeting, with nearly no discussion. The Redevelopment Agency was not informed of the change, which puts the project in violation of the LDA, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan has said.

Construction on Wall Street Place phase I stopped about four months after Olson got Zoning approval to move the parking spaces. Citibank, the project’s lender, took ownership of the property through a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and Olson subsequently died; his brother sold the phase II properties to Milligan on May 31 in a deal that both the Redevelopment Agency and the City are challenging in court. Also sold were properties slated to be part of phase III.

Milligan’s purchase, which City officials argue violated the LDA, leaves the stalled project 43 parking spaces short of what Zoning approvals require.  This means that any developer looking to complete the partially-built structure must find parking elsewhere, because Milligan now owns the land on which Olson had said he’d put the required parking.

 

 

 

‘A charlatan’

If Milligan’s purchase hadn’t separated the phase II and III properties from phase I, the Garden Cinema wouldn’t be needed to provide the 43 spaces removed by Olson, Rilling recently said.

Milligan bristled last week when asked by NancyOnNorwalk about that, replying with personal insults and expletives directed toward Rilling. The real estate broker then conceded that his purchase could be a factor in the eventual sale and demolition of the theater.

“’You wouldn’t have to tear (Garden Cinemas) down if I didn’t buy (Phase II and III properties)?’ OK. Maybe, maybe – but that’s the only option?” Milligan said. “Why do they have to tear it down? They wouldn’t have to tear it down if Olson wasn’t a charlatan. They wouldn’t have to tear it down if they weren’t asleep at the switch when they let him take advantage of them. They wouldn’t have to tear it down if they didn’t get pushed around by Citibank and Olson. They wouldn’t have to tear it down if (State Senate Majority Leader Bob) Duff (hadn’t given) $5 million of taxpayer money for nothing.”

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) awarded a $5 million grant to Wall Street Place phase I. Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) has said this was “strictly for the automated underground parking garage” planned by Olson. The garage has not been installed on the property and is being stored in New Jersey, according to Milligan.

POKO spent $3,321,811 of the grant for “construction-related expenses,” with $1,678,189 available for a new developer, DECD spokesman James Watson said in October 2017.

Milligan said the $5 million was awarded with “no strings attached, no performance bonds, no guarantees,” an attitude from Connecticut to Olson that, “we trust you implicitly” because Olson said he was “looking out for the people.”

Duff did not reply to an email asking about the “$5 million of taxpayer money for nothing.”

“Is there anything else that happened that caused (Garden Cinemas) to be torn down?” Milligan asked.  He noted that the parking shift was done by Zoning, not via a Redevelopment Agency-approved change to the LDA. That shift was a “a huge significant change” that “barely” generated a Zoning staff meeting, with no Commission vote recorded, he said.

Milligan argued that approval of Olson’s revised parking plan is responsible for the Cinema’s potential demolition.

 

A mystery savior for the theater? 

Milligan maintains that he has a buyer who wants to buy the Garden Cinema and donate it to a not for profit enterprise to run as a theater.

NancyOnNorwalk asked to speak to that buyer on the condition that the buyer’s identity not be revealed. Milligan declined. Rilling expressed doubt that the buyer is real.

“Of course he would not allow you to talk to the individual. How can you talk to a person that does not exist?” Rilling asked Saturday in an email.  He called Milligan’s claim “self-serving.”

NancyOnNorwalk recently asked Cinema owner Richard Freedman if Milligan had come to him with another offer. “I have a buyer under contract and can’t consider any other offers at this time,” Freedman replied.

 

A political contest

The theater’s fate appears to have become a political issue as unaffiliated Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton has been urging people via Facebook to email Rilling if they want to save the theater.

NoN asked Brinton what she thinks Rilling should do to save the theater.

“I would be holding CitiBank responsible and looking to revise the LDA to ‘contain’ POKO 1 into something more realistic instead of spreading  it like a cancer to more parcels of land.  Tearing down the cinema for POKO 1 parking is simply wrong,” Brinton said. “I’d also be talking to Milligan to explore options – not using taxpayer money to sue him. I’d also be talking to Mike McGuire. At this stage, my understanding is that the mayor is doing neither.”

McGuire, like Milligan, owns property in the Wall Street area and is in commercial real estate.  The former supported Brinton’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor two years ago.

City officials say they talked to Milligan before filing a lawsuit, and informed him in discussions that there was a deadline involved in filing it, that they could still talk.

“There were numerous conversations with him in which I made an effort to try to be helpful, to discuss options,” Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola testified recently. “… He said to me on multiple occasions that he would have no willingness to negotiate with us if a lawsuit was filed and I do recollect on numerous occasions … telling him that we have an obligation to enforce our legal rights, but that we can still try to work with him.”

It’s “not true” that the city won’t talk to Milligan, Rilling said recently, calling the lawsuit a “last resort.”

“We weren’t getting anyplace trying to get Jason to give us information,” Rilling said.

The Council on March 12 and 13 received eight emails urging them not to vote to demolish the Cinema, although that wasn’t on the agenda. At that meeting the Council was voting on the Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan.

Livingston recently suggested that Milligan’s vocal opposition to any plan to tear down the theater was driven by self-interest, because if the Cinemas couldn’t be torn down to provide parking for POKO, the adjacent parcels Milligan owns would be essential for any new developer, and therefore more valuable.

In response, Milligan said that he was principally concerned about the Wall Street area and its future.

“The money I make on deals is outrageous sometimes,” he said. “…This one I did not buy for the path to making money … This is a fight, I am fighting for the direction and the leadership of that area.”

 

 

The Cinemas

NoN asked Rilling what, if anything, he would do to save Garden Cinemas.  His reply did not directly address the question, but he has said recently that the theaters are in lousy condition. He declined over the weekend to elaborate, writing, “I’m truly saddened the building is up for sale. I’ve enjoyed many movies there over the years.”

The building dates to 1967. The heat was not working in one of the theaters in January.

“The stairs and hallways are narrow and the upstairs theaters are not ADA accessible. The men’s room is so tiny that it makes an airplane bathroom seem spacious,” Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak wrote recently in a comment on NoN.

Freedman did not reply to a Saturday email asking about the building’s condition. Asked recently about his reasons for selling the theater, he cited a drop-off in business and attributed that to a parking shortage caused by the POKO construction.  Advised that several patrons said they have never had difficulty finding parking in the theater’s private lot, Freedman acknowledged that market forces are also a factor as movie attendance has dropped due to services such as Netflix.

Freedman closed the State Cinema, his Stamford movie arthouse, last year. “It has always been difficult for small cinemas to compete against multiplexes, and the larger trend of falling attendance has affected the State sharply,” he reportedly said in a press release announcing the closure.

Some have suggested that independent films could be shown elsewhere, such as the newly renovated Wall Street Theater.

“We have a premier of an independent movie called Long Lost next week, which was filmed locally,” WST developer Frank Farricker said Saturday. “We also look forward to participating in the upcoming film festival. We see films in our future.”

64 comments

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 8:09 am

It is annoying when our mayor hides and stays silent, but if this is what happens when he opens his mouth he is in trouble. If I were his campaign manager I would stick with photo ops and written press releases even if it is obvious someone else is writing them.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 8:21 am

There is no sense blaming anyone for the removal of the theater since it is still standing!! There are lots of ways to fix the POKO disaster that don’t require demolishing Garden Cinema, but it is unlikely the current players will come up with any good ideas. They are all too busy trying to cover up their mistakes including Citibank. Citibank wants the Norwalk taxpayers to cover their loses.

Removing all or part of the existing Tyvek Temple would be best for the area.

There is absolutely zero practical reasons to save a project that has been so bad from the beginning other than covering people’s behinds…like Bob Duff. Bob we know you wasted $5 million on this project. We all make mistakes. We might forgive you if you just admit it and move on. Covering it up is what makes you look so bad, and is what makes me change my opinion about you.

I voted for you when I lived in Norwalk. When you were present, open and responsive.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 8:34 am

Removing the Garden Cinema is 1 of many ideas that could fix POKO. It is one of the worst ideas, but it helps cover for politicians and Citibank. Rightsizing the project is what makes sense for the area and the taxpayers. Why are we not talking about some of the other ideas.

This is Citibanks’s Community banking department. Why are we forcing them to do the right thing for Norwalk? Citibank makes billions of dollars. POKO means nothing to them. It means everything to Norwalk. We should all be pressuring Citibank to do what is right!! I am sure that Norwalk has thousands of Citibank customers. How about a boycott until Citibank starts looking out for Norwalk?

Kim April 1, 2019 at 8:35 am

Norwalk should be doing everything it can to support the Garden Cinema, not tearing it down for parking. This is a short-sighted decision that speaks volumes about the value Norwalk places on culture and the arts.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 8:45 am

Ask yourself some questions-

Who created the parking shortage?

Who exposed the parking shortage?

Who is trying to cover up past mistakes?

Who is hiding?

Why are they hiding?

Do the secret meetings have the public interest in mind?

Who is willing to talk to anyone and everyone in public?

The public is smart. The people can understand. Let’s open it all to the public and get their opinion. NOW, not after another bad deal has been made.

Patrick Cooper April 1, 2019 at 9:33 am

Mayor Harry Rilling said he expects the cinema to be torn down and become a parking area for Wall Street Place, if the Common Council and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency agree to a deal with JHM and Citibank, owner of the property.

IF ???

I always look forward to the April Fools article – but this is a true double entendre.

Michael McGuire April 1, 2019 at 10:39 am

There are lots of options available to this project. What is surprising is the lack of information it appears the City is working with.

Each player in this deal has a position and its important to understand the legal and finical condition of each position if you are going to negotiate the best deal for your particular position.

This requires legal council which the City seems to have well covered, as well as a firm understanding of the value to each players position and how to maximize that value to obtain the best negotiated deal. The “value” drives the ROI (return on investment) analysis often cited as missing by Non commenters in most/all of RDA run deals. I’m sure Citbank and McClutchy have good finical “ROI” models for this project.

Understanding the value propositions, hence the ROI, of each position will foster more creative “looks/options” at how this all gets done. Without this level of data the City is “flying blind” and has allowed outside forces to hem us (the City) into a proverbial box.

Here are some readily available options that should be explored and ROIs determined.

1. Negotiate with Milligan to acquire the parking needed, who pays for that is question 1A.

2. If #1 fails exercise the City’s right of “re-entry” for the parking lot Milligan bought. Yes the City has that right as allowed by the LDA.

3. If #1 and #2 fail, scale back the size of the housing at POKO I from 101 units to whatever works with the available parking on site now.

4. In all the scenarios noted above please, please, please scale back the social-do-good component of this project to something that approaches a level that allows for a feasible project. By now all the tax credits should be expired and therefore able to be unwound.

5. To really bump-up the value of POKO I and help facilitate this deal, build the Wall Street Train Station – there is a plan that does not require taxpayer funding and provides a great ROI.

What are the values and ROIs on each of these 5 options? That depend on the details but I don’t believe there is a finical model in place being run by the City to best figure this out and level the playing field.

Sidebar – I think the State Cinema in Stamford has always been very challenged on the parking front. There never was a municipal parking lot across the street. Whereas the Garden Cinema had (until 2015) always had ample parking to support its venue.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 11:24 am

If the parking lot I own is so critical than the City should pay to get it back.

The geniuses in charge negotiated a right to ReEnter for around $3 million. This “ReEnter price” was negotiated long before I got involved.

Ironically the amount is similar to the price negotiated for Garden Cinema.

Harry-explain why McClutchy is willing to pay $3 Million for Garden Cinema and why the City won’t pay around $3 million for my lot which substantially bigger.

Maybe tbat could be your opener for the POKO entire explanatory statement??

It should also be known that I gave McClutchy ample opportunity to buy the parking lot from me. He wasn’t willing to put up any money.

I have forwarded all of the emails exchanged with McClutchy, but to date NON has chosen not to make public.

An attorney for McClutchy threatened a lawsuit if they were published claiming confidentiality. I disagree.

Bob Welsh April 1, 2019 at 11:36 am

NoN does not recall any threat of a lawsuit — or any communication whatsoever — received from JHM.

JHM may have threatened Milligan.

Threats never stop NoN from reporting newsworthy stories.

Lisa April 1, 2019 at 12:03 pm

Why can’t the politicians and business folks put on the their big boy/girl pants and negotiate in good faith with all the interested parties? And seriously, when is this city going to address this glut of apartment buildings. Daigeo is moving, and who is going to be living in all the apartments by Merritt 7. Hmm, maybe all those minimum wage employees in the mall? I think not.

Turn off your computers folks and negotiate – this is just ridiculous.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Bob,

I forwarded you the threats at the time and I just forwarded them again moments ago.

The threats were issued by Attorney James A. Wade.

Below is one of my responses to him & his assistant.

Sue and James,

There is nothing to those plans. Your client absolutely did not request those plans remain confidential. He did not ask me to sign anything and he did not ask me not to share them.
The fact that there is a very weak generic disclaimer in tiny print below his signature line that I never noticed or read until now is ridiculous. (may contain information that is confidential and proprietary under applicable law) The disclaimer says MAY contain confidential information. If it actually did contain confidential information or your client was concerned about the confidentiality of the 3 or 4 pages attached then he should have explicitly stated that the attachment DOES contain confidential information or he should have asked me to sign something, as is customary in such situations.

Now that you have asked I will not share the plans that I received with anyone else and I have requested that the person I sent the plans to not share them or publicize them. However I cannot guarantee that they will not be published.

As far as any email and text messages. Those have been shared and will be shared.

Lisa Brinton April 1, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Also, some of my additional response to NON last night, ‘If I was mayor, Poko 1 would not have gone forward. The project was never financially feasible in the first place, especially with its high percentage of affordable housing – and over-reliance on government funding and tax credits.  There were just too many moving parts and when they had a chance to pull out in 2014, biased local, political optimism chose to ignore those financial realities.”

I have a few questions for the mayor, common council or RDA, since city officials are now starting to talk: The LDA has been modified before – why not again? Why spread an ill-conceived and financially insolvent project further? How much more taxpayer money will be thrown at this project to ‘save’ it? Aren’t we effectively tearing down a cinema to support more affordable housing when we are already at 13% (3% over state requirements) – rents are falling and we may be headed into a recession in 2020? What are/were the plans for Phases 2 and 3 that you are suing Milligan over – Pipe dreams or a scapegoat for Phase 1?

Bill Nightingale April 1, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Who is responsible for the Poko mess?

Who promoted this project with the city? who selected Poko as developer despite numerous warning signs they did not have the financial resources to get it done much less started (including a loan default notice from Citibank that was subsequently removed from Redevelopment Agency information packets)? Who promoted 20-40% affordable housing requirement for the project making it economically unfeasible? Who promoted the robo garage when we all discussed at Planning Committee meetings how that would never work? Who agreed to give away the Isaac Street parking lot for practically nothing? Who drafted a pathetic LDA that gave the taxpayers of Norwalk just an awful deal?

The answer is the Redevelopment Agency is responsible for this epic fail and needs to be held accountable and abolished.

Not that I agree with or condone Jason Milligan’s activities, but there can be no other entity to blame for creating the situation that got us into this mess other than the Redevelopment Agency.

There should not be a further dime of taxpayer money to get us out of it. If Poko has to be auctioned off and demolished for scrap then so be it.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Here is another email I sent back to JHM’s attorney:

James,
John’s e-mails contain a notation that they “may” contain confidential information. I do not agree to bound by that statement for several reasons. First, it is vague and leaves me to speculate as to what may or may not be confidential in your eyes. Second, I may not agree with your conclusions about what is or is not confidential. To the extent that I do not agree, I refuse to be bound by your declaration of confidentiality. As a way of avoiding this issue in the future, please do not send me any further emails that contain confidential information or documentation. Anything that I receive from you or John in the future will be deemed to be non-confidential. Please be guided accordingly.
If anything that was sent to me was intended to be confidential than the disclaimer should have preceded the email and should have gained my acknowledgement and agreement. The fact that the disclaimer was in tiny print at the very bottom of an email below the signature, phone numbers and other identifying information ensured that I would have seen all other information prior to the disclaimer. The information could not be unseen at that point. Half of my emails are read on my handheld device and I often review attachment prior to reading the entire body of an email.

On at least one occasion I verbally explained to John that I would absolutely not be bound to confidentiality with regard to our negotiations and discussions.

With all of that being said. I only recall sending the attachment that included a few pages of plans with limited details to the organization Nancy on Norwalk which is a news website controlled by Nancy Chapman. Nancy has been cc’d. I have asked her not to publish the attachment and asked her to delete it. I do not have Nancy’s address. Feel free to contact her via email.

I could care less about the 3 pages of plans that John sent to me and I have no plans to share them with anyone else.

EnoPride April 1, 2019 at 2:59 pm

If Mayor Rilling pulled the plug on POKO in 2014 and sought out a Plan B when the red flags were a flailin’, we would not be here today speculating as to how much taxpayer and small business owner money went through the sieve due to this debacle. Strangely, Mayor Rilling is touting the failed POKO, aka Wall Street Place, as his bringing in successful development to Norwalk in the other NoN article. Ostrich Syndrome? A unique style of campaigning?

Mayor Rilling and Co. are pinning blame on Mr. Milligan for POKO failing when clearly Mr. Milligan came in and purchased parcels well after the whole deal started to stink to high heavens. Mr. Milligan has become a convenient scapegoat for Mayor Rilling, who is a master of media sound bites, spinning his statements to explain his disingenuous version of events to his less engaged constituents. Mayor Rilling, Common Council and RDA are bending the truth about Mr. Milligan’s involvement timeline to deflect negative attention from their supporting a project gone really bad, the accountability of which should fall squarely on their shoulders.

Dear City Hall, Hold Citibank and yourself accountable to take down the Tyvek Temple and come up with a more thoughtful Plan B already! Maybe take the hit, chalk it up to, “Sometimes things happen for a reason”, or, “We all can learn from our mistakes”, so your very small group of decision makers get a second chance to right the wrong. This time would you please get the type of land use and the scale of the buildings (yes, buildings… that monster could have been a 3 for 1) correct?! Maybe some buildings that don’t look like they are going to binge eat Wall Street Theater and the rest of the block?! Choose an innovative developer to build that wonky layout behind POKO into an architecturally designed arts/culture enclave of sorts? You know, PLAN the project the second time around with the creative vision which has been destroyed by POKO and parking lots?!

The public should hold City Hall’s feet to the fire and demand a Q&A session on POKO alone. Why isn’t City Hall holding Citibank accountable to take that s**t down? Where did the 5 million Senator Duff gave to this botch job go? How much of a financial hit did surrounding businesses take for the massive, blighted presence of POKO killing foot traffic all these years? If Senator Duff gave 5 million to help with City Hall’s POKO botch job, then shouldn’t the suffering businesses get compensated by Senator Duff for their financial loss at the hands of City Hall’s botch? How much of our taxpayer money got sucked down the POKO rabbit hole? How much revenue could have been generated but has been lost to that parcel as a result of a business deal gone bad? Why is the mayor and his gang trying to pick up where they left off on a failed project instead of exploring other options for land use which would be more appropriately scaled to that locale? Too many questions that the public deserves answers to.

Mayor Rilling, why are you quite often in closed session about how to move forward with POKO? Why the secrecy? If Mr. Milligan is the guilty party, then why is City Hall doing all of the hiding behind closed doors? Please answer the many questions and provide us with the transparency we deserve. You promised us an explanation.

Sid Welker April 1, 2019 at 3:45 pm

If the Garden Cinema is to be saved the only logical thing to do is pay a kings ransom to Milligan for his property. Milligans plan all along. If anyone out there in la-la land ever doubted this you are as crazy as a loon. And here’s the kicker. Milligan on Norwalk has been running around town making himself look like a martyr for the Wall St area and that if that did happen people would actually be thanking him. Bravo Jason, Bravo. You are truly a wolf in sheep clothing.

Bob Welsh April 1, 2019 at 4:28 pm

Yes, Jason, I remember that you shared something JHM sent you mentioning possible legal action against *you* if you shared information that JHM considered confidential.

JHM never threatened NoN with legal action.

Threats never stop NoN from writing newsworthy stories.

Jason Milligan April 1, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Sid,

Are you ascribing motives without proof?

If that were my plan then I would have readily admitted it.

I have repeatedly offered to meet or chat with you. You would definitely learn a lot.

I reserved a seat for you at the Wall St forum. You didn’t show up.

The price the City could buy the lot back for was clearly stated in the LDA and its various amendments. All of which are recorded on the land records for curious minds to see. The “kings ransom” was negotiated prior to my involvement.

Clearly you are not curious.

Ignorance is bliss

Mitch Adis April 1, 2019 at 9:13 pm

@Sid Welker. Do you live in Norwalk? You only seem to appear in posts that concern Mr. Milligan. Just curious what your motivation is. How do you know so much?

Mike Mushak April 1, 2019 at 10:09 pm

@ commenter “Lisa” above (not Lisa Brinton, to be clear):

You asked in your comment above who is going to live in the “glut of apartment buildings being built at Merritt/7”, since Diageo is moving to NYC.

Diageo is moving because of, in their own corporate statement, the “lack of talent” in the Norwalk area. GE also stated they moved from their suburban headquarters in Fairfield to be closer to the larger pool of talent in Boston (taxes had nothing to do with it, despite the hoopla.)

So how do you attract and retain new businesses? Based on all the evidence, you build new housing to attract young talented residents.

The commenter known as Lisa (not Lisa Brinton) also claims in her comment above that the mall employees, and we can assume she means all 2,500 of them, will be “making minimum wage.”

Minimum wage in CT is $10.10/hour, or about $21,000/year.

Based on easily referenced sources, the average salary of SoNo Collection employees will be $44,000, or more than double minimum wage, with many salaries exceeding 6 figures for managerial staff.

And the 2,500 new positions will create better opportunities for many lower-income Norwalk residents to move into higher-income brackets, helping them make better lives for themselves and their families.

Ron Morris April 1, 2019 at 11:08 pm

Mitch Adis
Actually Sid Welker shows up on many posts that have nothing to do with Jason Milligan. A quick google search will prove that.

Lisa Brinton April 2, 2019 at 7:03 am

Mike M. Appreciate your salary figures for the mall jobs, but at the end of the day, Norwalk is losing both corporate and small businesses. How do we reconcile retail jobs (for now) paying for a municipal government, where over 40% of our employees make more than the median Norwalk salary of ~ $80k? Cramming more people into apartments serves the income tax beast in Hartford, but how does it pay for Norwalk’s government? Not taking anything away from our employees, but how is this sustainable, especially as Hartford contemplates dumping state pensions on the cities? How does Norwalk’s private sector keep up and not end up turning into Bridgeport?

Mike Mushak April 2, 2019 at 8:40 am

@ Lisa Brinton, please provide a detailed list of the staff and salary cuts you would make in City Hall, since you complain about it so much.

Include specific positions and departments, and the amount of salary cuts you propose, so the public can analyze the impact on city services.

That’s a fair request, no?

Patrick Cooper April 2, 2019 at 9:39 am

Hum, could our resident cheerleader for all things Harry be floating a theory disguised as a rationale? If population leads to jobs – then the largest population centers in CT would be thriving – right? #1 Bridgeport (146,000), #2 New Haven (131,000), #3 Stamford (131,000), #4 Hartford (123,000), and Waterbury (108,000) are the five largest municipalities – and save Stamford, do these sound like the source engines of job creation in CT?

Now #7 Danbury (85,000) is the closest to #6 Norwalk in size, and they are doing better relative to job creation – but maybe that has something to do with better management (cost of city services versus Norwalk), and better deal making (asking developers to invest back into the city). It’s worth a look -here is Danbury’s 2017 2018 budget

http://www.danbury-ct.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/2017-2018-Proposed-Budget.pdf

Note the total spend is 250 million. Norwalk? This year – 368 million (47% more). For four thousand more people (at least the ones who allow themselves to be counted).

Note the comment – “Striving for Cost Savings”. Ever hear that from Norwalk? Anyone of the 15 mouths on the CC? Not in my lifetime.

Salary cuts Mike? Really? BTW – Lisa doesn’t expect your vote – so sad we all are.

Also – note the org. chart on page 30? Danbury’s mayor – a serious candidate for governor (Harry? sure….) – note his “span of control”. Also interesting – NO redevelopment agency, and planning & zoning are combined. Boughton even has the energy to manage their airport.

As for Diego – there’s more to the story of course – but Mike trims facts like a juniper bush. Diego’s two leases were up – including Main Street but also their spot on Fifth Avenue in NYC. They got a better deal in the WTC – and what they were looking for – according to their president Deirdre Mahlan – was “diverse talent pools” – not just bodies. People with higher education degree’s – skills – and experience.

On the other hand – CT sure is desperately looking for “revenue” (taxes) everywhere and anywhere – perhaps CT’s oxygen is going to be next. “Bodies” still spend money – and maybe they work – so there are income & sales taxes for the state to gobble up.

Don’t believe the lie. If population was the key to job creation – we would all be moving to Mexico City.

Lisa Brinton April 2, 2019 at 9:48 am

Mike M – given the lack of transparency at city hall – I won’t be able to gauge where we are until elected, but I can assure you, I would benchmark our operations against other cities rather than cooking up a reorganization that adds another layer of management.

However, you missed my point entirely. Structurally, as a city, we are headed in the direction of Bridgeport with our affordable housing numbers welcoming all of Fairfield County, coupled with your boast of $44k mall jobs. Those two components won’t sustain the cost of our local government without homeowners picking up the difference, despite the mayor’s election ploy to try and show a small decrease in property taxes this year. You’re a smart guy, I’m sure you can do the math beyond the next election cycle.

Mike Mushak April 2, 2019 at 9:52 am

To be clear, my previous request of Lisa Brinton to provide her plan to reduce salaries and staff at City Hall obviously includes the Board of Education, as the largest department in City Hall who represent the biggest part of our budget.

What education positions would you cut or reduce in salary? Do you want a pay and benefits freeze for teachers? Reduced staff? How exactly would you reduce costs in our schools? Cancel renovation or replacement projects for buildings and athletic fields perhaps?

Lisa, you have been running for mayor for 4 years. Surely you have a detailed plan by now on how to reduce the costs of education as well as the staff and salaries at City Hall, which you complain about incessantly.

Lisa, in the name of transparency, what is your detailed plan?

Piberman April 2, 2019 at 10:22 am

Can anyone imagine major outside business interests reading about City Hall’s decades long unsuccessful efforts to encourage even minor improvements in our shabby Downtown wanting to take a serious interest in Norwalk ? We pay a high price for electing officials without business experience.

Sid Welker April 2, 2019 at 10:45 am

@Ron thank you. Mitch or if you just searched my name on NON you would be able to see all of the columns that I’ve commented on. Jason is just my more recent person of interest due to his antics in business. In my many years of business (now retired) I have come across alot of characters but none like I’ve seen or heard with this Milligan person. And let me tell you that I’ve seen them all. My favorite was a lunch meeting in the city back in the late 70’s when two agents were going back and forth over a certain case (details are hazy) but the end result was a table flip and a thrown fork lodged into this mans shoulder. The good old days hahaha. My point being is I’m a great judge of character. My grandchildren still to this day tell me that. I can read Milligan like a book. I dont need a sit down with him for a smooth talking session of “hey I’m not a bad guy, the City is”. Or “here are the facts and numbers” all being one sided. And yes @Mitch I do live in Norwalk after coming back from NC as I have said many times before. I rent so I’m allowed my say? Is living in Norwalk a criteria of an opinion on Norwalk Mitch? If thats what you’re saying I think Jason himself doesnt live in Norwalk so what does that say about him? Does that mean he shouldnt be allowed to do business here? David Macarthy who comments/slanders here all the time lives in Florida. Donna Smiropoltrious isn’t originally from Norwalk, doesn’t stop her from protesting everything under the sun. Should they not be allowed on here? What your point Mitch?

Mike Mushak April 2, 2019 at 11:02 am

@Piberman, I’d like to respond to you while we all wait here for Lisa Brinton to publish her specific plan to cut costs in City Hall and the Board of Ed, including specific positions and salaries to be cut as she’s had 4 years to study the issue.

You say we lack officials with “business experience.”

First, that’s not true. Almost all of our elected and appointed officials have some “business experience”, many who have started and own their own businesses like I do.

Since small business is the backbone of our economy, as Linda McMahon touts and I agree with her, I’d say Norwalk is doing a good job of encouraging small businesses, including attracting potential customers with new housing.

Second, if it’s corporate business experience you wish we had more representation of in City Hall, I’d say look to our current president who has the most “business experience” of any president in our history.

And he’s unarguably the worst president the country has ever seen by any measure, including having increased the national debt by trillions to its highest level ever.

Trump’s “business experience” of bankrupting dozens of companies and screwing hundreds of small contractors who he’s refused to pay over decades, was certainly good practice for what he’s doing to America.

In other words, Mr. Berman, be careful what you wish for!

And now we have the bizarre spectacle of Lisa Brinton hoping for the Trump-lovers support! You just can’t make this stuff up.

Lisa Brinton April 2, 2019 at 11:19 am

Hey Mike! Once again my favorite Planning Commissioner fails to see the bigger economic picture. At this stage, according to much of what the mayor has mapped out – Norwalk is growing – but, he fails to tell the complete story. We appear to be growing poverty. The BOE has increased its free and reduced lunch students by 10% since he took office (47%-57%.)

Demographic and financial data was laid out in another fashion, when a couple of Saturdays ago, the consultant at the East Norwalk TOD meeting, stated that folks moving into Norwalk are less educated and making less money than in the past. Bear in mind the median income is/was ~ $80K.

So businesses are leaving Norwalk because they can’t find the talent and those staying struggling. If we factor in the ‘growth’ of those supposedly coming in against the maintenance of our roads or those needing the services of our police, fire and teachers- what does that look like? With 40% of our city workers earning more than the median salary and probably most earning double or triple than those moving in – how long is that sustainable for the city?

So, I ask you Mike as the Planning Commissioner – do we reduce costs? develop strategies to grow revenues? or maybe rethink the whole density equation and focus on quality of life for those living here now, so they can afford to stay?

In going back the origin of this story and POKO – which was ‘financially doomed’ from the start, IS BIGGER BETTER? Are MORE people better? Are MORE fortress apartments better? Are MORE $15 an hour jobs better? Perhaps we can catch up over a drink tonight at the Chamber of Commerce dinner and see what they have to say about the state of Norwalk and Connecticut’s economy 🙂

Michael McGuire April 2, 2019 at 12:12 pm

@ Patrick Cooper

WOW! Norwalk costs its taxpayers 47% more than a comparable Danbury taxpayer, that’s just staggering. I see your source the DAnbury budget! Hard to say that’s a spun fact.

Intrigued by your findings I did some further checking on other economic health issues. As you likely know I did a recent presentation for the CC and RDA that the Wall-West Area real estate markets (Office, Retail, Industrial, Apartments) were as good or healthier than Norwalk’s overall. No matter we are still deemed “Blighted” by the powers that be but I digress.

Back to the topic at hand – Norwalk vs. Danbury. I took a look at Danbury’s office, retail and industrial market places. Interesting to see that their office market is much stronger than Norwalk’s, ditto but to a lesser extent on retail, and industrial is a wash.

I know that most corporate real estate decisions are not made by the “real estate department” of most corporations, they are made in the tax department. In fact, you can go so far as to say that almost all business decisions are measured by “taxes” and “depreciation” which impacts taxes.

Can you imagine what Norwalk would be like if Norwalk taxes were lowered to Danbury levels. That would mean our mil rate would be $18.13 per Thousand vs. our current $26.66 per thousand (that would be 32% drop in taxes). That would be hugely attractive to business and residents.

@ Mushake – what say you to Patrick Coopers data? Do you have any data worthy of discussion (i.e. real facts not attacks).

Bill Nightingale April 2, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Agree that is very interesting info re Danbury. Something everyone in our town should be aware of and something the Planning Commission should be studying.

Norwalk Lost April 2, 2019 at 8:46 pm

Long-term residents fleeing, illegal apartments exerting financial strain on city schools, tax payers perennially squeezed by stagnating property values/higher taxes, a bloated bureaucracy at city hall should be the wake up call that things are amiss.

Danbury is an optimal benchmark. Is there a metric for the ratio of city employees vs. residents? That would be a good start and I would think the city tops the list.

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 12:39 am

@Michael McGuire,

Danbury has higher taxes and lower-ranking schools than Norwalk. Yet as a tax and financial expert, you declared Norwalk should aspire to be Danbury. Why?

In your comment above, you calculated Norwalk’s mil rate would be 18.13 or 32% lower than our current rate of 26.66 if we had Danbury’s budget for our similar population. Yet Danbury’s mil rate of 29 is about 60% higher than 18.13.

What happened to your calculation?

As a tax expert, please explain.

Oh, I read Norwalk’s mil rate is being lowered from 26.66 to about 24, as reported. Isn’t that considered a 10% reduction of our tax rate, based on a grand list increase of $2 billion?

If our average mil rate is 24 compared to Danbury’s 29, doesn’t that mean Norwalk has 17% lower taxes than Danbury?

As a tax expert, please explain to me why you want Norwalk to have a 17% higher mil rate like Danbury, yet worse schools and lower level of services.

Thank you. (By the way, my name has no “e” at the end.)

jo bennett April 3, 2019 at 8:34 am

Patrick, thank you for sharing the Danbury report – fascinating in its transparency, down to delineating salaries across the board. And Mike McGuire, thanks for distilling some key points.
I was struck by how committed Danbury is to minimizing overtime. What would our city payroll look like, particularly for the PD – a policy that I’m confident the majority of our taxpaying residents would applaud.
Noted in the rep is that Boughton’s chief of staff ($88k/year salary) was recently converted to a position shared with the police chief. So a 50% resource to the mayor, at a cost of $44k.
I could go on, but hope others take a look at this report.
And no, Mike Mushak – I would never, EVER vote for or support Trump. I’ve only ever voted Democrat, but I am availing myself of all opportunities to understand all sides of the stories in our local government, which includes keeping up to date on NoN, The Hour, CT Mirror, etc. I wish more people would do the same.

Bill Nightingale April 3, 2019 at 9:12 am

Mr Mushak

you are implying that municipal spending should be more a function of grand list value than population. That may be wrong or right but it warrants objective investigation.

As far as your assertion that Danbury schools are not as good, I’d like to start by knowing how much they spend on schools per student compared to Norwalk. These comparisons should also be made to surrounding towns; Darien Wilton New Canaan and Westport. That is our real competition for residential home buyers (aka taxpayers).

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 9:15 am

@Michael McQuire and Patrick Cooper:

As you both were touting how fabulous Danbury was just yesterday (can’t help but notice everywhere is always better than Norwalk in your world views), I’m curious what your thoughts are on Danbury’s mil rate of 29 that is 17% higher than Norwalk’s new mil rate of 24, and a far cry from the 18.13 that McGuire calculated it would be.

I’m no expert for sure, but what explains that discrepancy? Please explain.

Oh, and you thoughts on Danbury’s lower school ratings. Do you support lower investment in our schools here in Norwalk?

As far as lower salaries in Danbury as you noted, the cost of living is cheaper up there in the hills where rents are about 30% lower, and the train ride from NYC is nearly double the time it takes from Norwalk for those that commute to work. And then there’s that lovely bumper to bumper drive on Route 7 every day.

Please explain to me how higher taxes and poorer schools is something you want Danbury to aspire to.

Perhaps Lisa Brinton can chime in here as well, as your candidate you both support and I’d assume shares your admiration of everything Danbury including its higher mil rate than Norwalk.

Lisa Brinton April 3, 2019 at 9:33 am

Bill Nightingale, Comparing Norwalk to our leafy suburban friends on an aggregate level is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, given median income levels and lack of diversity both racially and economically. However, on an a more granular breakdown – our white students test on par with our leafy neighbors and our minority students test best in the state.

What IS at issue is our land use strategy of cramming more and more people into Norwalk with lower income levels than our city workers – which is causing municipal and BOE expenses to increase beyond the private sector’s ability to pay.

Earlier you asked about my position on the Redevelopment Agency. The strategy to increase density has largely being driven by that autonomous agency, at great enormous expense. I believe we need to have a discussion on whether a SEPARATE agency is needed – versus reorganizing and pulling that function into a centralized P&Z structure for Norwalk. Given what happened on POKO, with all the wasted tax credits and public money and the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing – its time to end the craziness!

jo bennett April 3, 2019 at 9:42 am

@Bill – I believe the report cited an 87% rate of DH S seniors going on to college. I’d have to check that, though.

And @Bob and Nancy et all – keep up the great work! If it were only for The Hour we’d be thinking the only news going on was about sports, real estate…and Dear Abby. Unfortunate how it’s been dumbed down since the Hearst acquisition.

Michael McGuire April 3, 2019 at 10:13 am

@ M. Mushak

I appreciate the reasoned response. It’s a good point you bring up that Danbury’s mil rate is higher than Norwalk’s but that is not what I meant in my comment.

Danbury and Norwalk are similar in many ways with population being one of them – Danbury at ~ 85,000 and Norwalk at ~ 89,000. But if Danbury can operate at $250 Million vs. Norwalk at $368 Million that means we, the Norwalk taxpayers, are paying roughly 47% more per person.

I chose to reflect that in a simple mil rate calculation and not address assessment etc. If our cost of Government/Schools etc. was on par with Danbury, our current mil rate would need to be 32% less or 18.13 (26.66 x .68). Imagine what an awesome place Norwalk could be with a tax burden like that.

Sadly, most or our Government (Fed, State and Local) does not operate with “capitalist” mentality, it’s more of a “communist” mentality as it doesn’t pursue efficiencies nor reward excellence. Poor performance is overlooked, mediocracy is the norm, and individual government P&L’s virtually all operate under the premise of spend the full budget amount every year so you can get more next year. Good ideas are not pursued. And cronyism is rewarded.

Your are a successful small businessman, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. If you or I ran our businesses like government, we would be out of business. These are the issues that cause so many of us to be frustrated.

I do appreciate your being literally the sole spokes-person for the current administration on NoN. This community venue (NoN) is literally the only place we, the taxpayers of Norwalk, every get to having City Leadership potentially listen. Sure we can “put it in writing” and send it in, but that really does not get reviewed by the decision makers – they normally don’t even have enough time to review what is presented in their meeting packets yet they vote anyway. If they took time for robust public debate things like the Wall-West Ave Plan would not have been passed without a lot more scrubbing of the data.

The best we taxpayers get is 180 seconds in a one-way conversation. That is why things like a 47% delta with Danbury, or the long-history of land use blunders come about. Taxpayers feel abused.

I hope that you will take this to heart and work with us to make Norwalk a better place – that is the common goal we all share, no?

Lisa Brinton April 3, 2019 at 10:43 am

Mike McGuire – You hit the nail on the head!! This is the only venue where we (the people or opposition) can publicly communicate with this government. While Mike Mushak and I disagree on a variety of topics, I also give him credit for putting his name and opinion on the issues we’re discussing. On the other hand, the silence from City Hall, arrogance of single party rule and absolute power has never been more palpable.

Nancy McGuire April 3, 2019 at 11:02 am

@JasonMilligan. I am intrigued by your statement regarding the $3 million “ReEnter price” that was negotiated in the original deal. Is it true that the new developer could buy the much larger lot for about the same price as the Cinema? How does that compare on a per square foot of land price? It seems that it would be substantially more affordable to buy the parking lot. Why can’t they buy a part of the lot if they don’t need all the spaces?

And, if the Isaac Street parking lot went to the heirs of Ken Olsen, then it wasn’t part of the original property that went to Citibank right? That would mean that the two parcels were always owned by different entities, and the building developer would have had to purchase the lot anyway. What difference does it make then, if the new developer buys a small lot with a building that needs to be razed, lot regraded, and then re-paved; or a bigger lot that is already newly paved and ready for tenant parking?

Nancy McGuire April 3, 2019 at 11:10 am

Resizing the development – The comment on resizing also leads to more questions. If the original approvals expired because of non-performance, why is the city obligated to allow the developer to rebuild the same big square box. Why can’t the number of units be reduced to meet the site’s available space for the parking requirement? Doesn’t the Norwalk Historic Preservation Trust have a say in how new architectural designs work with the existing buildings on the street? So much hoopla, and we have a big white box, that will likely be a big black box, or blue, or whatever color the developer decides to use to hide its hideous design. When the original proposals for the site were published, I recall a lovely multistory development with pitched roof peaks, or mansard accents and balconies. How cool would it be to have balconies looking over a commercial street full of activity, pedestrians, and events.

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 11:20 am

@ McGuire:

Nice try, but no cigar for you today! You didn’t explain Danvury’s 17% higher mil rate than Norwalk. If their budget is so awesome and their management sheer perfection in your mind,, you’d think they’re mil rate would be down around 18 instead of 29, no?

Gee, what is Danbury doing wrong I wonder? An austere budget yet higher mil rate than Norwalk?

I’d say that speaks really well about Norwalk’s management under Mayor Rilling! Oops. There goes your whole reason for the Lisa Lovers get up in the morning, sorry.

Now you claim City Hall is a bunch of communists!

And some day I’d really like for you to explain how an ADA accessible train station at Wall St, with elevators and long platforms as required by federal law, can come in under a million dollars as you frequently claim.

The new Merritt/7 train station with wide open spaces to work with instead of squeezed between a river that floods and a narrow tunnel and multiple building foundations, has come in at $20 million. But you can build the Wall St Station for under $1 million?

Oy! And that’s a word a rarely use.

Oh, and the reason I’m one of the few folks who dare to engage you and your fellow anti-Norwalk commenters, is that everyone else thinks it’s a waste of time.

I’m beginning to wonder myself why I even bother!

EnoPride April 3, 2019 at 11:40 am

Thanks for looking up and including the Danbury budget, @Patrick Cooper. You have educated us… What an eye opener! This subject matter of city fiscal responsibility to taxpayers and transparency which you have highlighted would make for an excellent op ed written by you, as we are quite possibly at a crossroads (Hopefully… Vote to get your voice, your money and your quality of life back, Norwalkers!) on how Norwalk is to be budgeted going forward. That you compared Danbury’s accountable approach and their public service obligation to their stakeholders with Norwalk’s quite opposite approach in a more in depth manner is fascinating. Thank you. Looks like compared to Norwalk, Danbury is a well oiled machine.

Love how the language in Danbury’s budget often references striving to make financial decisions which are sensitive to not overburdening the taxpayers and which are mindful of their quality of life. The very comprehensive data and leaner budget backs up that Danbury is holding true to its words and is doing just that. TRANSPARENCY, No bloated bureaucracy, no redundant job titles/responsibilities (No RDA, and Planning and Zoning combined, Danbury? Brilliant!), no layers upon layers of six figure salary management, no overtime run rampant, etc. Just what appears to be tighter fiscal responsibility. Does Norwalk even make a comprehensive budget like this one publicly available for the sake of accountability and transparency? I wonder if Danbury city workers undergo a formal annual evaluation in order to determine if they deserve a salary increase, and if deserving, what percentage of increase based upon their performance? Mayor Rilling’s employees at his own admission do not even undergo a formal annual job evaluation. They do, however, receive an obligatory annual increase regardless of their nonevaluated annual performance. Is this fiscally responsible? Just feast your eyes upon the city employee salary list year after year and tally up the unsustainable salary excess which creeps up and up…

Norwalk has a bloated City Hall and happily compensated, non evaluated employees of questionable performance and accountability, and an ugly, overwrought, waste of 511 million dollars boondoggle bridge in the pipelines which the public does not want and is not allowed to see the transparent price breakdown on. Norwalk showcases the expensive failure which is POKO, compliments of RDA and City Hall. Woukd Danbury dare have a Tyvek Temple which sucks up taxpayer money in its town center? Norwalk also touts eroding infrastructure and crumbling, dangerous sidewalks all over the city, mothers with baby strollers forced to walk in the streets to avoid them. I see these mothers all the time in the streets and I get so sad and angry with our bubble called City Hall. Quality of life for our taxpayers suffers while the city employees sit back and watch.

Where’s the Sharpee marker? Let’s have at it and cut the City Hall excess so we can restore the sidewalks and a better quality of life for our residents. Make it easy City Hall, and take Danbury’s template, for cryin’ out loud!

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 12:17 pm

@EnoPride:

you’re forgetting one little thing. Fambury’s has an austere budget, underfunds it’s schools leading to lower scores, and yet has a mil rate 17% higher than Norwalk.

Higher taxes, worse schools, less services. Oh boy, let’s do it! Lol.

Bryan Meek April 3, 2019 at 12:52 pm

The ignorance about what a mill rate means from some is astonishing. Putting aside inflated valuations of properties respective of actual market value, a mill rate is backed into by the needed budget plain and simple. It’s not the driver that some misinformed folks think it is.

Michael McGuire April 3, 2019 at 1:03 pm

@ Mushak

Seems you missed the point and the opportunity. Sad, another slap in the face by City Leadership.

Bill Nightingale April 3, 2019 at 2:07 pm

so true…it’s not mill rates that reflect hi or low budgets. It’s simply the nominal budget spent per size and population of a town. Apparently we are fortunate to have higher property values in Norwalk than Danbury but that doesn’t mean we have to spend more municipal dollars.

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 2:26 pm

@ Bryan Meek:

You have pushed for increased spending for our schools for years, as in hundreds of millions of additional spending.

Just for the record. 😊

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 3:22 pm

@Bryan Meek:

You just stated “a mil rate is backed into by the needed budget plain and simple.”

Gee, then it would be “plain and simple” that Danbury’s budget would result in a mil rate of about 18 instead of 60% higher at 29?

I’m astounded no one has explained that to me, with all the expert commenters on this site who seem to know everything that is wrong with Norwalk.

Seems to me that all you’re all proving is that Norwalk is able to manage a much larger budget, including investing in schools and roads and the arts and everything else in our budget that Danbury cheaps out on, , while still keeping our mil rate 17% lower than Danbury.

I’d say that’s a pretty damn good job, Norwalk!

Bryan Meek April 3, 2019 at 6:08 pm

@Mushak. That’s not how it works. Mill rate is an effect, not a cause. The cause is the budget. The mill rate is simply a percentage of the gross assessment (bogus like ours or closer to market reality like Danbury’s) that is needed to fund the budget. Period.

You don’t need to take post graduate courses in Governmental accounting like I have, but you should have a basic grasp of the concept of return on investment (ROI) before throwing barbs about funding a school district.

The ROI on the school district is admittedly intangible aside from the academic achievements relative to similar districts. When 1/3rd the real estate market depends on good schools, I’m sure there is some good causal and effect study of investment in schools, but given those are relative measures hard to prove without subjectivity, I’ll let those go.

That said, the ROI on POKO is pretty clear. It’s negative. It’s draining the center of the town and running nearby companies out of business and the area. It’s debatable whether or not Garden Cinema is a viable enterprise in the day of streaming, but you have to be a complete fool to think that patrons are staying away from what looks like a third world construction project. Other business models are struggling as well. No one wants to go there and yet we have leadership who just won’t admit a mistake for some reason. People can forgive and forget, but this is just plain childish obstinance.

Bury Poko. Save Wall Street.

Michael McGuire April 3, 2019 at 7:14 pm

@ Mushak –

Your mil rate question explained. Seems you may have some trouble with basic math concepts, so let’s walk through the problem. Use “A” as the total assessment. The current budget in Norwalk is $367M, therefore the basic math equations as follows:

$367M = ((A x .70)/1,000) x 26.66

If Norwalk’s budget were lowered to something similar to Danbury at say $250M and “A” stays the same and the .70 has to stay the same by law, than the 26.66 has to be reduced to 18.13 to balance the equation.

But this is not a mil rate issue which I’m sure you know. It’s more about the bloat of sloppy government which you constantly deflect. And as a City Planning Commissioner to boot – embarrassing.

The real cost to run government cannot be 47% higher here in Norwalk vs. Danbury. Why? Because literally every cost government would pay here in Norwalk is virtually the same as it is in Danbury. Therefore, thoughtful leadership might want to address/explore some of these issues instead of maligning those that bring them to light.

But keep making inane points in that special way you do – that just might be your greatest service to Norwalk.

Bryan Meek April 3, 2019 at 8:24 pm

@McGuire. If you think we are bad, New Haven is 50% higher than we are for city services. Then again they get $150 million in education aid, more than 10x what we do with barely 30% less population (and dwindling).

Patrick Cooper April 3, 2019 at 8:46 pm

A great line from the movie Jerry McGuire (wink 2x Michael) – when Cuba Gooding Jr’s character say’s to Tom Cruise at the end of a heightened argument – “that’s the difference between you and me – you think we’re fighting, and I think we’re finally starting to talk”.

My comment – taken much outside the initial premise, and which seems to have generated some interest – was about the absurd justification that adding population leads to job creation. Nonsense. If that is the justification for density – your wrong.

The Danbury look is standard benchmarking – by census. Business 101. Period.

Look to see who was curious, who was appreciative of the transparent information, and who was increasingly defensive about the comparisons. You have all you need to know, right there.

Bob Welsh April 3, 2019 at 8:51 pm

Thank you all for commenting.

A few of the comments in this thread do not reflect the commenter’s best efforts at civility.

You put time into making thoughtful comments, supported as best as you can by fact and reason. Disrespect to one another destroys the dialogue.

NoN will not be one of the many online places where one can be uncivil.

Please be civil to one another, or your comments will be deleted.

Thank you.

Mike Mushak April 3, 2019 at 9:49 pm

@ Bryan Meek:

You’re preaching to the choir here about the ROI on school funding. I agree with everything you say about that. And with our friend and school advocate Nora King on the Planning Commission, the schools will never be overlooked in Norwalk!

You may find this of interest: I just happened to have 10 minutes last night to look at quotes from the school budget debate in Danbury, where the Republican administration refused to fund the BoE requests that the BoE argued were essential. And I’m guessing their diminishing school ratings reflect that lack of funding. Perhaps you need to make your ROI case to your GOP colleagues in Danbury.

@Mike McGuire:

Thank you for recognizing my talent to “make inane points in the special way that I do”. I return the same complement to you!

Seriously, comparing Norwalk and Danbury in terms of what it costs to run these two completely different cities based on geography and settlement patterns is ridiculous. Danbury is a spread-out suburban city with a majority of residents on septic systems unlike our residents most of whom are on a state-of-the-art sewage treatment system to protect the Sound which we are located on, and a much larger proportion of their busiest roads are state roads unlike most of ours which are local, and we have much older infrastructure and miles of direct waterfront that is much more complicated to maintain than wooded back country. Its a price we pay to live in such a special beautiful place. Driven around Danbury lately?

The differences don’t stop there, so why don’t you compare Norwalk to another densely-populated historic coastal city on Long Island Sound that is over 350-years old, let’s say our neighboring Stamford? I’d be curious how we compare to them instead of Danbury that is no comparison on so many levels. And just pro-rate for population. I’ll let the resident number crunchers do the math. I’m too busy.

Lastly, heres a request to the Lisa camp: if you want to continue to compare Norwalk to Danbury, fine. Lets do it!

Lets see how Lisa will match Norwalk and Danbury’s budgets. How many teachers and police officers and firemen will Lisa fire or reduce their pay if she can even negotiate contracts, how many school renovations will she defund, how many parks will she let go to ruin, how much funding will she cut from out great libraries and cultural institutions, etc etc etc.

In other words, if the small group of vocal and annoying Lisa groupies on NoN want to continue to pretend they represent the “people”, lets see how Lisa will cut Norwalk’s budget to match Danbury’s!

Anything less than a detailed list of budget and staff and salary cuts at that point will be seen as a refusal to be transparent. And OMG, Lisa not transparent? Say it ain’t so!

So bring it on folks! Let’s see Lisa’s detailed plan to matching Danbury’s budget! Countdown starts now. Lisa has ONE FULL WEEK to provide her Norwalk budget cuts to match Danbury’s austere budget, including their BoE budget.

And a reminder: I’m not running for mayor, Lisa is! So you can spare me the petty personal comments, Patrick and Mike and Bryan and EnoPride and the very few other Lisa supporters who trash Norwalk daily on this site. . Its not about me, its about Norwalk.

Lisa, produce the goods! Make Norwalk’s budget match Danbury’s as your very own supporters are demanding! We will all be waiting! (Tip to Nancy on Norwalk: this might be iworthy of a story in one week to see Lisa’s city budget to match Danbury’s. Anything less will be seen as a complete failure of leadership.)

Lisa, you have ONE WEEK to put up or shut up! Transform Norwalk into Danbury with your detailed list of budget and staff cuts including to education as your supporters are demanding!

(Note: Compared to the anti-Harry comments seen daily on this site, this reasonable demand is mild. Its about time to play by the same rules.)

Michael McGuire April 4, 2019 at 10:52 am

@ Mike Mushak

I do have to say – thank you for listening and for your reasonable response, the Jerry McGuire analogy might not be to far off. As the City’s de-facto spokes-man on NoN it’s so much better to hear you in more of a “debate” mode than “malign” mode.

The idea here is not to win an argument – we are not on opposing sides – we are all on same Norwalk team. You don’t have to circle the wagons.

Its about looking at what we are doing and asking, is this the best we can do? Are these the best policies? Do we have the right people in the right positions to make the right decisions. That’s all. Open issues up to the public, Norwalk is full of bright, smart people. Robust public debate will result in the best public policies.

Here is a suggestion – why not initiate a Planning level analysis that looks at these metrics with Danbury and the other Cities? As a commissioner you have the ability to suggest such a project, no? I hope you would than allow for a diverse group of stakeholders to participate in the scoping and selection of qualified firms for the analysis. That would go a long way to sidestepping what happened with the Wall-West plan.

In fact, in 2002 I was on the stakeholder panel that originally selected the Cecil Group to do the 2003 Wall Street Plan. We reviewed at least 12 submissions and chose the group with the “then” best analytic focus. That is what was missing this time around, and in 2014.

Operate with integrity (all of us), be transparent. The days of keeping things secret went by the wayside when the internet and social media were born.

Rusty Guardrail April 4, 2019 at 11:42 am

Three minutes. The length of a song on the radio. You stand there like a supplicant. They sit, playing their charade. You make sense. They stare. Ding!Time’s up, thenk u next.

Jim McGuire April 4, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Having read the initial story and followed the comments thread it as it grew, I am left with a few thoughts I’d like to share:

1) There are some passionate people commenting on these stories, who are actively interested in what happens in Norwalk. Those voices should be heard and (polite) dialogue should be encouraged.

2) There seems to be only one or two people from City Gov’t who respond or participate in this dialogue, and that is a bit sad. Given that this is the modern day “town hall meeting” or “fireside chat” it costs nothing for elected officials or city spokespeople to be involved.

3) There is no other venue around where reasonable discussion about Norwalk takes place. Similar to an earlier poster, I subscribe to the Norwalk Hour e-version, I read the CT-Post online, and I read “Nancy on Norwalk” daily. I truly do hope that everyone who reads and posts here financially supporting this service to keep it active.

The alternative is even less transparency than you have now, something nobody here wants.

Thank you Nancy, and your team.

EnoPride April 5, 2019 at 11:08 am

Man, did this thread get legs! Fascinating that @Patrick Cooper’s post with the Danbury budget to reinforce his question of “If population leads to jobs – then the largest population centers in CT would be thriving – right?” generated so many responses that got off path of his main point. Revisiting his question and looking at that data, the answer to his question (which most of us already realized and have voiced) is no, bringing in denser population with more and more apartment development does not lead to more jobs. The proof is in the data. The right leadership, strong management by a team of top talent, appropriate business acumen/economic development professionals with proven track records of attracting and retaining businesses to their city, etc., is what needs to be in place to bring the jobs. Prioritize creating more and better job opportunities, the appropriate amount/variety/ratio of small and large businesses to generate buzz and revenue, and the people will follow.

On a separate and very important note…Thank you Nancy, Bob and NoN crew. I support you! You provide an invaluable resource to us Norwalkers.You gift us daily with Norwalk community news and city government transparency, and the platform to have a voice, which is so crucial. How fortunate we are to have you. So pleased to see your readership is up 50%! I often think that NoN would be great routine reading for students who take political science courses or who are interested in pursuing politics (I hope you are reading this out there, youngsters!), as a lesson about the inner tickings of local politics unfolds here every day. Highly educational. You provide quality, in-depth stories which deliver “warts and all” transparency like no other local news site can, and you are loyally supported by a community – your, as you call it, “digital town square”, who can show up, agree to disagree, provide such diverse perspectives on your coverage of important local issues, and at the end of the day, feel like a community that is more informed, more open minded to differing opinions and more unified through their discourse. Digital Democracy!

Thank you, Nancy and NoN crew, and Happy Friday! Wishing you and all NoN readers a lovely weekend! 🌼

Bob Welsh April 5, 2019 at 4:06 pm

@EnoPride

Thanks for your kind words. It’s all made possible by your support. Thank you!

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