NORWALK, Conn. – Nick Roberts was welcomed to Norwalk on Tuesday with hopes expressed of an improved Recreation and Parks Department.
Also lauded as appointees at the Common Council meeting were volunteers to serve on Boards and Commissions. Here’s a roundup:
New Director of Recreation and Parks
Roberts, who is said to be from New York City, has been charged with getting the Norwalk Department of Recreation and Parks nationally accredited, Mayor Harry Rilling and Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.
Roberts was unanimously appointed to be the new Director of Recreation and Parks, filling the role formerly played by Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae, who retired in 2017.
Note the title change: Roberts has been hired to take a position that was revamped under the recently approved reorganization of City administration positions. He is serving under the Chief of Operations and Public Works, himself a new hire. Ken Hughes has been acting director since Mocciae’s departure.
Roberts was found through a nationwide search and has come to Norwalk from Georgia, where he was assistant director for the City of Savannah Parks and Recreation Department. He was the unanimous choice of an interviewing Committee, Rilling said, commenting that Roberts is also his choice.
Michael Corsello (D-At Large) said he wasn’t on the Committee but found Roberts’ resume to be impressive. He was, however, “a little concerned” because Roberts has worked in Georgia, Miami and Naples, Fla., and the resume “didn’t indicate familiarity with Norwalk,” its residents, employees and parks, Corsello said.
“Then I met him,” Corsello said. “I have to tell you, he’s a quick study, he is already quite far up to speed with regard to our parks. He is a people person, he has interacted already with some of the employees on the staff of our parks department. I heard from acting director that he was very pleased to meet (Roberts).”
It was a pleasure meeting Roberts, Personnel Committee Chairwoman Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said.
“I found him to have a vision for our parks department and our parks programs,” Smyth said. “One of the things I asked him to be aware of is the difficulties for our children who live in poverty, and the problems we have in getting swimming lessons for them. It’s a health issue. It’s a concern for their safety. So, he was so responsive to that, that I was really impressed with his answers.”
Not only that, but Roberts already has an apartment here and is a Yankees fan, she said.
Livingston said he was “very impressed” with Roberts and his credentials, including his status as a NRPA (National Recreation and Parks Association) Certified Park and Recreation Professional and as a CAPRA (Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies) Accreditation Visitor.
Getting the department accredited is a “great goal” and “I am looking forward to Mr. Roberts working to get us accredited,” Livingston said.
Both the Norwalk Police Department and the Norwalk Health Department have achieved national accreditation and, “I have issued the challenge to Mr. Roberts that I wish to start that process and get our Recreation and Parks Department accredited nationally,” Rilling said.
Dems love Thomas
Also appointed was Democratic Town Committee Deputy Treasurer Stephanie Thomas, to the Zoning Commission.
“I think nearly everyone in this room has tried to lobby her to get involved, in one or another,” Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) said. “I can say the reason for that is her strong work ethic, her ability to work with others and just the light she brings to any room she’s in.”
“Her work ethic is amazing and I only wish we had 100 of you to serve the city in a million different capacities,” Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said. “It’s a very serious job but (she’s) the perfect person for it.”
“I do think that Zoning may be a challenging Commission,” Colin Hosten (D-At Large) said. “I am so glad Stephanie is being put forward to join it because I do think she is a natural diplomat who brings out the best among those around her. I look forward to her doing that on the Zoning Commission.”
Darlene Young (D-District B) said she hadn’t known Thomas as long as some of the others, only a year, but agreed that the “level-headed” Thomas brings light to any room.
That Thomas tries to “bring consensus” in a “very thoughtful” way makes her a good addition to Zoning because “that’s a pretty difficult Commission to be on,” Young said. “It takes a lot of thinking and forethought and working together to do what’s right for the city.”
“Stephanie impressed me the instant I heard her voice at a meeting several years ago, as somebody who could do great things for Norwalk,” Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C) said. “I have gotten to know her better over the years and I have not changed my mind.”
“We need good people to serve the community and it’s a challenge because the pay is not that good,” Rilling said. “The time commitment can be quite exhausting but I know you’ve got the talent, the experience, and more importantly the desire to do what’s best for our city.”
The vote was unanimous, as it was on all the appointments.
Troupe429 owner put on Human Relations
Casey Fitzpatrick, the founder and owner of Troupe429, the only gay-owned bar for the LGBTQ+ community between Manhattan and New Haven, was appointed to the Human Relations Commission.
“He embodies the spirit of civic engagement and generosity and is driven by an inspiring passion for equality and respect for all human beings,” Hosten said.
Fitzpatrick opened the bar in November 2017 and has been on the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance since March 2016, his resume states. He founded Troupe 429 Events in New York City in 2009 and was director of events and communications for Debra of New York from 2012 to 2016.
“I am just super thankful that he decided to open his business and to live in Norwalk,” Melendez said. “I know that he will be a great addition to this Commission because of how much he cares.”
“It’s a welcome addition when you have a person who not only invest their money in opening a small business but invests their time in helping to make the city… the greatest city it can be,” Rilling said.
Former Mayor Alex Knopp, Ralph Bloom and Tyrone McClain were reappointed to the Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees.
“We all know Alex but the little known person is Ralph Bloom,” John Igneri (D-District E) said. “He works tireless behind the scenes.”
Bloom is “the last surviving member who fought to preserve the Lockwood Matthews Mansion,” Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said. “That shows you far back his commitment really goes for the city and his stature in trying to make sure our historical assets are protected.”
Rilling agreed that Bloom is an essential “behind the scenes guy” and thanked Knopp for his efforts in “making the library an amazing place, a place that it should be, a resource for all the city of Norwalk.”
“We have worked on the parking issue, we are working on the CPTV, we are working on library expansion,” Rilling said.
Also reappointed were Parking Authority Chairman Dick Brescia and Water Pollution Control Authority members Darren Oustafine and Frederika Bikakis Hajian.
Hajian is an accountant who watchdogs expenditures, and Oustafine “does a fantastic job,” Igneri commented.
Brescia “brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with a lot of the challenges,” George Tsiranides (D-District D) said.
Hempstead called Brescia “professional and dedicated” and Burnett said Brescia has brought forward innovative ideas.
“Every month I get a comprehensive report on the Parking Authority,” Rilling said, thanking Brescia. “It’s refreshing. … I know it can be challenging because one thing everybody complains about is parking. But you stepped up to the plate and you try to work with people and help them, and help them understand things that are happening.”