NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is interested in a strategic planning initiative, an evaluation of its purpose and interaction with the City, after a new executive director is hired, Redevelopment Agency Chairman Felix Serrano announced Tuesday.
Mayor Harry Rilling would prefer the planning initiative be done before the new director is hired, Chief of Staff Laoise King said in a midnight email.
The Agency, meanwhile, unanimously appointed Director of Community Development Planning Tami Straus as acting executive director, effective July 1. She will replace Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan, who announced last week that he was resigning.
King, on behalf of Rilling, made public the request to “take a look at what has the Redevelopment Agency been working on since it was established,” as the meeting began, asking, “What are the things in the community that could still benefit from the participation of the Redevelopment Agency?”
King also asked that the City play a role in selecting a replacement for Sheehan.
“With Tim leaving, and we are very sad to see him go, we think it is a good opportunity to take a look at the role of the Redevelopment Agency,” King said. “The Redevelopment Agency was established at a time when Norwalk was at a very different place.”
The City has reorganized its top staff and strengthened its economic development function, she said, requesting on behalf of Rilling, who was attending middle school graduation ceremonies, that a strategic planning initiative be undertaken.
“Are there ways that the city and the agency can work better together? Are there some functions that might fit better on City-side going forward?” she asked.
King also offered the services of Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin and Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey to assist Agency staff as they move forward without Sheehan, in much the same way Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton assisted the City when Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron resigned unexpectedly.
“The Mayor addressed this with the Chairman earlier today: The City would very much like to play a role in the interview process and selection of a new permanent executive director,” King said. “… The chairman gave the mayor an unequivocal no, that the agency would not allow someone from the city to participate in the interview process. The Mayor asked me to ask the rest of the commissioners to really reconsider that position, that the Chairman took, because we think it would be in the benefit of everybody, making sure that our relationship going forward continues to be a good one, where we can work together and balance each other.”
The conversation with the Mayor was a 10-minute phone call, Serrano replied, speaking to the Commissioners.
Strategic planning is a “great idea,” but “it would make, as I mentioned, the most logical sense to do that with the new director that we would be bringing on, as that would be that person’s role,” Serrano said.
He only has the authority to appoint Commissioners to a hiring Committee, but once they’re appointed, he will ask them to invite the Common Council Planning Committee Chairman to join the hiring committee, he said.
“Who better than the Chair of the Planning Committee of the Common Council, as we do work closely together?” Serrano asked.
After a one-hour executive session, on a real estate negotiation matter and the appointment of an interim director, the Commissioners gave Strauss the leadership role. She has been Director of Community Development Planning for six years, according to her LinkedIn page.
Serrano congratulated her, and said, “recognizing the importance of the executive director role, I will be appointing all five commissioners to serve on the search committee.”
King, in a midnight email to NancyOnNorwalk, said:
“1. The mayor believes the time has come to take a hard look at the purpose and role of the RDA. He has suggested the agency use this transition time to work with the city to re-evaluate the mission, scope and focus of the Agency. If all options are on the table, it makes sense to do this before hiring a new director. It will be important to know what skill set and experience will be relevant, as well as the longer term expectations for the future of the agency.
“2. The mayor continues to believe it is imperative for city staff to be included as part of the strategic planning and the search committee for a new director. When the city hires department heads we always include subject matter experts as part of the interview committee, to ask technical questions and assess responses. (Including having Tim Sheehan participate in the selection of our Chief of Community and Economic Development). Since the Agency and City work hand in hand on so many projects it makes sense to be sure city staff has input on the hiring decision. Of course the Agency can include anyone else they wish, and including the chairperson of the Council’s Planning Committee – which would be a valuable addition – and one the Mayor would welcome – but not as a substitution for staff participation.”