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Common Council, District E: Lisa Shanahan

Lisa Shanahan. (Contributed)

District E, Democrat

  • 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 retired attorney and longtime board volunteer for civic non-profits.  Having held officer roles in most of the organizations for which I served, I have the organization and leadership skills needed to oversee and run committee work. Currently, I chair the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance and Ad Hoc Sustainability and Resilience Committees, and I sit on the Recreation and Park, Public Works and Planning Committees.  My work as an attorney has prepared me to draft ordinances.  My work as a board member of the Norwalk Land Trust and a member of the steering committee of Hudson to the Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership has provided me insight into conservation issues relevant to our region for the work I do on the Ad Hoc Sustainability and Resilience Committee.

  • 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? 

I believe that there is additional work to be done to bring the language and organization of the Charter into the 21st century.   I also think that consideration ought to be given to lengthening the terms of Council people and the Mayor so that they can oversee the budgets that they formulated executed.  I think that Council people ought to be given raises so that more people can afford to run for this office.  Residents who have caregiving roles cannot afford to hire babysitting for the $50 a month we are paid for a minimum of 8 evening meetings a month, not to mention constituent meetings and working with city departments to move forward our work. I think that some streamlining of a budgetary process should also be considered.

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

I would like to see if the proposed expanded Police Commission of a 5-member board (over the existing 3-member board) in our Charter revision brings more transparency and accountability before we create a new board. 

  • 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 is a very difficult issue that exists in our city.  As a Council, we struggle mightily with how to fund important city services and our board of education (“BOE”) every year. As is often stated, once funds are allocated to the BOE operating budget, that establishes the baseline as to what the BOE budget starts with the following year. This minimum funding requirement requires Council to make sure we fully understand how the BOE is proposing to spend these funds.  As a Council, we have no way to veto or direct BOE spending once their budget is established.   I believe that this paradigm inherently creates transparency and accountability issues. The BOE and Council are committing to meet earlier and more frequently during the budget season to try to work through as much as we can before budgets are set in stone.  This is important.  I think that there must be increased sensitivity to what our taxpayers can reasonably absorb as new and higher taxes.  The number one complaint that I hear on the campaign trail is that our taxes are high and driving out long term residents. 

  • “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?

I agree that keeping housing affordable in Norwalk is a crucial goal.  We want to attract young people to keep our city growing and vibrant, and we want to make sure that our long-term residents can age in place.  I wish that Council was empowered to impact the supply, affordability and standards of housing more significantly, but most of the policy initiatives are outside of our purview.  That said, I support our Economic Development group in their pursuit of bringing new businesses to Norwalk to provide good paying jobs.  I support the work of our Redevelopment Agency to develop properties close to transit hubs to attract young people and which require at least a 10% set aside of affordable units.  In addition, as a Council, we are currently working on an Affordable Housing Ordinance that redirects some fees paid by developers to the city to helping qualified projects and individuals to improve or acquire affordable housing units. Unfortunately, all these initiatives are just nibbling at the edges of a larger regional and national problem of housing affordability and availability.

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

Currently, the Redevelopment Agency is working with a consultant to audit each city department’s sustainability and resiliency metrics.  In addition, the city is also doing a Greenhouse Gas Emissions baseline of the city to know where we are now.  Finally, we have undertaken one tree inventory and are about to start a second inventory to let us know where our tree canopy is thinnest, and where and what species of trees we ought to be adding to reduce carbon, clean our air, mitigate heat islands, and manage stormwater. You cannot improve what you haven’t measured. This work ought to prepare us to know where the greatest gains can be achieved in bringing up our standards to reduce our carbon footprint.  In addition, the Council has brought several ordinances forward in the past several years to also improve our air and water quality, including plastic bag, polystyrene, and straw bans, a pesticide ban on city properties and a tree ordinance designed to protect our city trees and add to our canopy.  We also have a leaf blower ban under consideration that will help reduce not only air pollution caused by these highly toxic machines but will also mitigate the daily and dangerous noise pollution these machines cause.

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