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Common Council At-Large: Jo Bennett

At Large, Independent

  1. Describe how your occupation will assist you in serving Norwalk and give three brief but specific examples, including what committees on which you hope to serve.

I am a recruitment marketing professional – which I realize isn’t a familiar job title for many people! My role is to help my company attract quality job candidates. You widen that aperture, and one glaring Norwalk need is to attract businesses that are looking to attract quality job candidates with well-paying jobs – and in turn, provide homeowners some relief from our constantly escalating tax burden.

I am also a longtime volunteer with several local nonprofits that serve the elderly, disabled and economically challenged in our community, which has provided me insights into day-to-day struggles that not all can relate to.

As far as committee preference is concerned, for 20-plus years, I’ve managed successful projects and built consensus within organizations of all sizes. I’m also a lifelong athlete and adherent to the principles of teamwork – but in a “we’re all in this together” way, vs. “it’s us vs. them.”

When we get on the other side of election, I will see where my experience and talents could be best put to use.

  • The Norwalk Charter is on the ballot for its first major revision in about 100 years. Assuming it passes, would you support forming a new Charter Revision Commission in the coming term to address unfinished business? What would be your top three priorities for change? Can you explain why? 

Norwalk is a city of many districts, and for a group of civic volunteers, this centennial-something document (with, I believe, some things bolted on at times) had to have been a massive undertaking to unpack. There was a bit of unfinished business in their recommendations, and I appreciate that the Commission acknowledged that this first pass was primarily about clarifying vs. codifying. We would benefit from having a Charter Revision “fresh set of eyes” on a regular basis.

One item that I was happy to see was the codification of minority-party representation, though this simply gets us in compliance with statutory requirements – and I’m unclear as to whether this would apply only to boards and commissions. In a city where more than 40% of voters identify as Independent or Unaffiliated, this is essential. I was surprised that this wasn’t highlighted in the Charter ballot question that we will vote on Nov. 7. Another recommendation, public participation in the budget process, should have been highlighted. Aside from the length of our Mayoral and Council terms, they chose to highlight some of the recommendations with the least-sharp teeth.

I would like to see the voting districts select Charter Review commissioners, vs. the customary Mayor’s hand-selections. There were qualified people who threw their hats in the ring, and many of us can agree on the motive.

  • Do you believe Norwalk should have a Civilian Police Review Board and why or why not?

Norwalk has civilian review boards for numerous aspects of our governance, policy and processes – our Boards & Commissions, which are hand-selected by the Mayor. One where I serve, the Human Relations Commission, hasn’t met since early in the Covid pandemic. We need boards that represent the multiplicity of our city resident’s needs and voices and meet purposefully, on a regular basis.

  • There is a constant public battle between city government, the school board, and concerned citizens. It seems that all are “dug in” with their positions, eager to “defeat” the other to win their own agenda. What would you specifically propose to bring all groups to the table to solve issues rather than fight about them? Policy changes and revisions can certainly be part of your answer.

This all gets back to people feeling that their voices are not being heard. That’s largely a function of the “winner takes all” ethos that is currently the foundation for Norwalk governance. As I mentioned, I was heartened to see that our Charter Revision recommended that Norwalk comply with minority-party representation statutes. The Charter recommendation for more-stringent publicizing of meetings and hearings and to have public participation in the budget process is encouraging. We have a number of associations representing several of our districts; those involved, since they are known for being civically engaged, should be engaged for what they would like to see.

  • “Housing affordability” means different things to many people. The current standard is based on the median income of Fairfield County, which is $84,233 per household. A job that pays $30 per hour misses that standard by approximately $22,000. What is your definition of Housing affordability, and do you think the standard should be made more equitable?

Housing affordability is what the household can afford – plain and simple. Norwalk Housing Authority provides housing that is affordable. The developers who have been allowed to build fortress apartments in our urban core – and being given generous tax abatements, for their supposed generosity – are doing nothing to address the affordability of housing in Norwalk. The proliferation of their 1-bedroom $2k-plus rentals has seen an upward (vs. downward) trajectory in our city’s market rates.

Let’s also keep in mind that all our new developments during the past decade have been rentals. There is nothing wrong with that, but as a young adult in Norwalk in the 1990s, I was eager to become a homeowner, and owning a condo (at Silvermine Crossing) was my relatively affordable point of entry. From that property’s sale I was able to invest in a home.

Norwalk cannot solve our statewide and national affordable housing demand. We have long exceeded the state’s 10% affordability mandate. If it’s a priority for our governor, he should press our leafier suburbs to be in compliance, and really, give Norwalk residents the break that we deserve.

  • What would you propose to move Norwalk’s government agencies, businesses, organizations, and private citizens towards a zero-carbon footprint?

I would like to give a shoutout to my fellow Independent candidate Heather Dunn (Common Council District D, and a Norwalk High School special education teacher) here for recommending that the city provide “every Norwalk public school student with a transit pass so that they could stay after school or get to the library or work by bus if they need.” Enabling our kids to do what it takes to be their very best, while enabling fewer cars on the road – brilliant!

If we cared about zero-carbon, we could have required our monstrosity apartments to leverage their spacious roofs with solar panels. Could Manresa have been a wind farm, vs. the residential development that we were all surprised to learn about after the deal was done? So many questions, and hoping we are looking forward to more transparency and collaboration for Norwalk.

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