‘Controversial’ Norwalk appointment approved without resistance

NORWALK, Conn. – Accusations of insults flew – without anger – across the Norwalk Council Chambers Tuesday night as council members and interested citizens lined up for an expected partisan battle over a nomination.

The battle over Bill Dunne’s appointment to the Planning Commission never materialized, nor was it planned, according to Common Council minority leader David Watts.

“We weren’t going to say anything because we felt that, at this point, he had the votes and we weren’t going to make hay out of it,” Watts said after the meeting. “We were just going to vote no, because that’s what we came up with after we talked about it. That’s the will of the caucus.”

Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson looks up at Bill Dunne Tuesday night as the Norwalk Common Council meeting continues, after Dunne’s appointment to the Planning Commission was approved. At left is Peter Nolin. Center in James Feigenbaum.

The first public speaker to attempt to preempt the expected grandstanding was Peter Nolin. “I’ve been on the other side. We all know sometimes in the heat of political battle we all attack adversaries in ways that maybe goes a little too far. But honestly, everyone of you on that side has done it and I know all of you at least in private has done it. Let’s get past that,” he said.

Board of Estimate and Taxation member James Feigenbaum was next.

“There seems to be a predictable pattern that plays out among some members of this council when it comes to some of the mayor’s appointments,” he said. “First someone will suggest there is something controversial about an appointment. Then someone will say something about civility.”

Civility means treating other people with courtesy, respect and consideration, he said. “Intolerant” is also a word that gets bandied around, he said.

“Some of the members of the council prefer the upside down definitions of civility and intolerance,” he said. “They use those words like a club to shut people up when it is they who are being intolerant.”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) nominated Dunne, making reference to appointments he voted for many years ago, appointments that were controversial but worked out well. That included a Zoning Commission appointment, that of Mike Lyons, who is now Board of Education chairman.

“We took a lot of flak for making that appointment,” Kimmel said. “Because Mike can be a partisan guy when he wants to be.”

Dunne’s problem is he writes too well, Kimmel said, a reference to objections made by Watts when the appointment was announced. Dunne spoke at the Jan. 8 council meeting, sarcastically referring to Watts as a “constitutional scholar.”

Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large) spoke next.

“I am struck by the number of comments that seem to be anticipating partisanship,” she said. “I note that none of the other four appointments that are listed here tonight seem to inspire anybody to come up and talk.”

She went on to talk about the duties of the Planning Commission.

“My reason for voting against Mr. Dunne’s appointment has nothing to do with his writings, has nothing to do with what letter he may have after his name,” she said. “But it is because I do not have faith that he is going to carry out a very important duty of the Planning Commission, which is to stick by the letter of the Plan of Conservation and Development, specifically where it involves climate change and climate action in Norwalk.”

After Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At-Large) spoke Dunne’s praises, Watts informed the council that the Democrats hadn’t planned to fight the nomination.

“Actually we were prepared tonight to vote and not say anything, but because of these comments we’re going to go ahead and say something. It’s not about D and R,” he said.

Dunne had called Democrats anarchists and clowns, he said.

“That’s his right as a citizen to speak his mind, but those were personal attacks,” he said. “He has attacked members of our caucus individually. I just thought that wasn’t right.”

He had met Dunne at a meeting, he said, referring to last month’s Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations meeting. Surprise – Dunne “seems like a great guy.”

Dunne’s comments “just didn’t square with his personality because he was nice,” he said, causing Mayor Richard Moccia to snicker and look at Dunne.

Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) came next.

“I’m a little taken aback I guess, disappointed, of people assuming that he won’t do something,” McCarthy said of Dunne’s expected performance on the Planning Commission. “I don’t think there is any fact in evidence to suggest that. I also have to question a little bit of a double standard. There’s the first amendment that I think applies to us all … Contrast that with making extremely personal videos and things like that is not even in the same breath.”

Moccia said he could identify with feeling upset over personal attacks because of recent comments by a zoning commissioner. That would be Mike Mushak.

“I think it is a little unfair to prejudge Bill because of his writings,” he said.

Dunne’s nomination was approved, 8-4. Every member of the Republican caucus voted for him, save Carvin Hilliard (D-District B), who wasn’t there. Matt Miklave (D-District A) voted for him. Duleep, Watts, Warren Pena and John Igneri voted no. Fred Bondi abstained.

“I was pleasantly surprised that the vote turned out to be bi-partisan,” Dunne said in an email.  “And that’s as it should be, I suppose, because issues that come before the Planning Commission tend not to involve much partisanship, if any.  Now I look forward to getting to know my fellow commissioners.”

His praises include these comments:

“I believe he has good judgment because I’ve seen him analyze issues to the T,” Andy Conroy said. “He’s good at listening to both sides. He states an opinion occasionally and strongly. That can bother people who don’t approve of them, but nevertheless he adds an economist way of approaching life and, as you all know, I definitely appreciate economists.”

“He’s a bright guy, he’s a serious guy,” Nolin said. “He’s going to do the right thing for the town. I don’t think you’re going to see any partisanship. He’s a good writer. Frankly, Planning is really not one of those places partisanship comes up. People work together. I think it would be a real disservice to miss a talented person like him.”

NancyOnNorwalk asked Watts after the meeting what he thought about the effort to subvert any objections to Dunne. It was the second time the Republicans pulled the trigger recently when they shouldn’t, he said, referring to an assumption that he would make political hay out of his car being undrivable because a Moccia campaign volunteer backed into it.

“This is equivalent to that game of tug of war, when you pull and then you let the rope go,” he said. “They assume that, in the noise chamber, you’re going to take on every fight. Sometimes it’s OK to punt.

“We were hoping they would come in and people would just vote and then we can just move on. Tonight they came in with all their troops and thought it was going to be a big event. And I guess we got them.”


29 responses to “‘Controversial’ Norwalk appointment approved without resistance”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    He’d better work and shut his mouth

  2. Joe Espo

    I’m not fooled by this contrived stand-down by the democrat caucus. They might be trying to immunize themselves from their own venom in grossly misplaced anticipation of their candidate winning the election. Ever since this core batch of anarchist democrats got elected to the council, the Mayor has had to endure unprecedented, unjustified and largely irrational resistance to his appointments, and for no other reason than for political sport. And this crew has set a community precedent that democrats will long regret, for if, God help us, we should have the misfortune of having a democrat mayor, his candidates can look forward to being scrutinized and investigated in a fashion that is akin to attaining a national security clearance. They will be subjected to a virtual character endoscopy that should be painful enough to discourage almost anyone from volunteering as a candidate for a public service appointment; no matter what political affiliation they may have. Why bother throwing your hat in the ring when anonymous hoards will line up to assassinate your character? The number of vacancies on boards and commissions will be unparalleled in the annals of Norwalk government.
    That’s what they wanted, that’s what they gave; and that’s what they’ll get.
    Pass the popcorn and raise a toast to schadenfreude.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    Perhaps Mr. Dunne’s mistake was to write under his actual name, instead of hiding behind an anonymous… Fascinating listening to folks last night who have said and written very personal and negative stuff, often without foundation, and often using an pseudonym.

  4. Piberman

    Bill Dunn’s qualifications are outstanding. One of the Mayor’s very best appointments ever. Moreover he’s a thoughtful, courteous gentlemen. All in all a fine addition to City governance. I’m confident he’ll be a superb Commissioner.

  5. Mike Mushak

    I congratulate Mr. Dunne and hope he reads the entire 2008 Master Plan and studies the by-laws of the Planning Commission, which he will swear an oath to uphold as all commissioners do. Unfortunately his good friends Councilman Dave McCarthy and Emily Wilson (who is currently the Chair of the ZC) do NOT have any respect for the by-laws of the Zoning Commission, since in McCarthy’s case he said publicly “they don’t matter”, admitted he never read them when he was sworn in as a Commissioner 3 years ago before he bacame a Councilman, and in Wilson’s case she does not enforce the law with staff who do not produce monthly financial statements as required by law or answer questions Commissioners have which interferes with the Commission’s ability to make informed decisions.
    The commmission by-laws were written by concerned citizens in previous administrations to insure accountability and transparency to the public, but the Moccia Administration simply ignores them with impunity as the record shows. This is corruption of process, and is not serving the good residents and taxpayers of Norwalk, but serving limited self-interests of an increasingly frightening power base that will take years to clean up after Moccia is voted out.
    This is all on the record and is not a personal attack as McCarthy is always so quick to claim whenever any criticism is made of him or his many “good friends” who all seem to be making their way onto commissions with high frequency.
    Mr. Dunne’s fellow GOP Planning Commissioner Victor Cavallo, a good friend of McCarthy as well as the Mayor’s as Dunne is, recently was completely unaware of what our Master Plan said about big box stores, in his attacks on me and on Harry Rilling, and he even questioned the existence of a $75,000 professional study done in 2006 and incorporated into the Master Plan, until I sent him the link on the city website where it has been for years. The fact that a city official misrepresented the Master Plan to the public is unbelievable, and even more shocking that the Planning Commission is responsible for implementing the Master Plan. Of course, McCarthy thinks commission by-laws are unimportant, so the pattern is well-established.
    The BJ’s application, over TEN TIMES the size of what the Master Plan recommends, would NEVER have happened if the highly paid City staff and the Planning Commission had done their jobs, and followed the Master Plan recommendation (E.3.1.11 on page 37: “Implement the recommendations of the Westport-North-Main Corridor Study”) to re-zone this area because of the intense traffic pressures and numerous uncontrolled curb cuts, based on the expert taxpayer-funded advice by one of the top planning firms in the world that Cavallo didn’t even know existed.
    As a Zoning Commissioner, I have submitted a request for a zone change in this area after the BJ’s application was withdrawn, to finally follow the Master Plan 5 years after it was completed. I look forward to hearing what the P and Z staff and the Planning Commission’s opinions are about following our Master Plan and millions of dollars of expert studies to improve our broken city.

    It is also good news that Mayor Moccia did not have to pull any dirty tricks to get Dunne onto the Planning Commission, unlike last year when he pulled two major dirty tricks when he was faced with too few votes on the Council to approve two of his long-serving nominees to the Zoning Commission (after saying this year he always wants “fresh blood” on the ZC after skipping over Adam Blank, one of the brightest commissioners we have had in years, who was right in the middle of crucial work on updates to our broken and obsolete policies).
    In one case, Moccia defied an anti-cronyism law requiring 2/3 Council vote for a Commissioner serving more than 2 terms. Corp. Counsel Maslan, who is appointed by and is also Moccia’s personal attorney, “interpreted” the law to not apply to “alternates”, but only to full-time commissioners, which many found to be absurd. So Moccia nominated this controversial commissioner as an alternate, and got voted in with less than 2/3 of the Council, even though he now serves full time as a full commissioner at every meeting. The anti-cronyism law was meaningless apparently.
    In the other case, one of Moccia’s nominees simply did not have enough votes on the Council, so at the last minute, a swing vote from South Norwalk switched unexpectedly, even though earlier that same Councilman said he had a long history with this nominee (he had served a previous 18 non-consecutive years on the Zoning Commission going back to the 1980’s, so much for “fresh blood”) and would definitely not vote for him. The Councilman later explained why he switched his vote on the record in front of many witnesses that it was because the mayor “offered him a favor for a friend.” Some may call this just “pulling strings”. Others may call it something else.

    Here is the definition of bribery from Wikipedia: “Bribery is an act of giving money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient.” I report, you decide. The corruption of process under Mayor Moccia is so entrenched that this kind of behavior doesn’t even seem to bother anyone anymore, as if it is just “business as usual”.
    This kind of “business as usual” of ignoring professional studies and controlling important land use decisions with entrenched bureacrats and party hacks instead of professionals looking at all the facts is how we got a BJ’s application that would have affected thousands of folks every day, that was over TEN TIMES larger than our Master Plan recommended.

    This has to change, and must change, after November.

  6. M Allen

    Who isn’t “controversial” at this point? We’re a little over a month from the election so everything is controversial in one way or another.
    Of course, Mike Mushak making a comment today on the Hour’s website accusing the Mayor of outright bribery could be construed as “controversial” as well. It could also be construed as libelous. But I imagine those who would call Mr. Dunne controversial would only say Mike was being passionate.

  7. M Allen

    * My apologies. Mr. Mushak copied his comments to this site while I was typing.

  8. NorwalkVoter

    Mike Mushak is paying attention. Are the voters???

  9. Bill Wrenn

    For those who don’t remember or prefer to forget, the same pattern of poor planning, lax enforcement of rules and appointing many of the same people over and over again to important commissions occurred during the Esposito administration.

    Today we are living with the results. More traffic snarls, a stagnant tax base and a proliferation of big box stores.

    Professional planning studies like the Westport-North-Main Corridor Study were an attempt to rectify some of these wrongs. But since the study’s recommendations are not being heeded by staff and the commissions, they are just another example of tax dollars wasted by our city government.

    If Norwalkers don’t vote for change this November, we can only look forward to more of the same.

  10. EveT

    As a voter and taxpayer, I find it outrageous that “Councilman Dave McCarthy and Emily Wilson (who is currently the Chair of the ZC) do NOT have any respect for the by-laws of the Zoning Commission, since in McCarthy’s case he said publicly “they don’t matter”, admitted he never read them when he was sworn in as a Commissioner 3 years ago before he bacame a Councilman, and in Wilson’s case she does not enforce the law with staff who do not produce monthly financial statements as required by law or answer questions Commissioners have which interferes with the Commission’s ability to make informed decisions.”

    How can this be happening?

    As for Mr. Dunne, is this the same person who came to a meeting with Sec of the State Denise Merrill a couple of years ago and tried to disrupt the proceedings with accusations that Merrill and Gov. Malloy were promoting voter fraud?

  11. LWitherspoon

    Kind of surprising that this article doesn’t mention the video created by Common Councilman David Watts shortly after Mr. Dunne’s nomination, the sole purpose of which was to attack Mr. Dunne for the sin of criticizing Obama and same-sex marriage.
    So Mr. Watts created the video, admitted in the above footage to creating the video, and then expressed surprise that anyone felt the need to comment on the appointment? Once again, Mr. Watts displays the height of hypocrisy.
    The bemusement and mock surprise in Mayor Moccia’s voice when Mr. Watts admitted to making the attack video was very entertaining. So was the subsequent nervous laughter by Mr. Watts, who probably didn’t mean to make that admission – particularly not on the record during a Council meeting.

  12. D(ysfunctional)TC

    Mushak missed the memo, but it looks like Rilling can herd cats after all. How else can you explain the yes vote from Miklave? But then who is surprised he’d be a poor sport about it.

  13. D(ysfunctional)TC

    Last night we learned our would be Sheriff will also protect us from climate change. How will she balance this position against her increased carbon footprint from driving up to Hartford all the time to talk to herself?

  14. Chad

    @ L Witherspoon

    Are you against Gay Marriage?

  15. Suzanne

    L Witherspoon and DTC: and this has WHAT to do with the appointment of Bill Dunne, the subject of this article?

  16. LWitherspoon

    Please try to stay on topic. But if you insist on continuing, perhaps you could explain how a Planning Commissioner’s views on same sex marriage are relevant to his or her work on the planning commission. What other political hot-button issues would you like to connect to this discussion about a Planning Commission appointment? Abortion, perhaps?
    I commented on the hypocritical and disingenuous actions of David Watts regarding the appointment, and added some factual information that was omitted from this article about the appointment of Bill Dunne.

  17. Chad

    @ Lwitherspoon

    You’re the one that introduced “same-sex marriage” into this discussion. Did Mr. Dunne come out against gay marriage? Are you against gay marriage? Do you think people should be denied a basic civil right?

  18. Suzanne

    No, L Witherspoon. You had one of your endless diatribes against Mr. Watts about which this appointment has nothing to do.

  19. Susan Wallerstein

    Our city is missing the services of many talented citizens on boards and commissions because of inconsistent standards regarding political involvement and public advocacy. Evidence suggests this applies disproportionately to strong women. As my grandchildren sometimes note: just sayin’.

  20. D(ysfunctional)TC

    @Suzanne. I’m surprised you could not comprehend my analysis of the specific contents of this article. Usually it seems very easy for you to connect the dots where you believe their is a larger conspiracy. Please humor me here……
    Harry is big on civility in his platform. Part of that means his party needs to stop acting like a bunch of collective jackasses at council meetings, so he lays the word down that he does not approve of the grandstanding for an obvious outcome. Miklave clearly is upset about the butt whipping he just took in the primary and votes against his caucus for the first time in who knows when. Mushak, who did not get the memo, continues to flail here.
    The new Sherriff in town votes against, but not on party lines….rather his would be impact on global warming. Her vote has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Dunne other than showing she still doesn’t understand what she was elected to do.

  21. Norwalk Lifer

    Dear Mr. Kimmel:

    You want my real name? here’s a fun game, walk the streets of Meadows Garden, Woodward Avenue, and the grounds of Monterey Village, and ask who is the nice lady who opened her home to all the kids in the neighborhood, so they could do their homework, play football, learn how to fish, celebrate birthday parties, contribute to the neighborhood by having fund raisers for the Manna House, and generally keep kids off the streets, so the bad guys couldn’t coerce them into nefarious and dubious wrong doing.

    Just like those on Ely Avenue did for me when I was a kid.

    Ask, and then you’ll know who I am.

    After all, that’s the best way to get to know “your neighbors” now isn’t it?

    Norwalk Lifer

  22. Anna Duleep

    @DTC: Thanks for underscoring my point that my objection to Mr. Dunne’s appointment had nothing to do with his political affiliation and everything to do with his purported position on issues that greatly impact our city planning – like climate change. Please refer to the video for further clarification. I did shake Mr. Dunne’s hand after the Council meeting and hope he will take the words of Mrs. Grant and Mr. Grunman to heart. As for trips to Hartford? Thanks for the chuckle! Perhaps I can share a ride with one of our State Reps, as I’ve done in the past. Or a bus, like with the March for Change.:)

  23. Suzanne

    DTC, that I don’t happen to agree with the applicability of your analysis or your analysis at all does not make me stupid. I just disagree with the gist of your comments as they relate to the article. Understand? (That’s how we say it in English.)

  24. D(ysfunctional)TC

    @Suzanne. You were clearly for Miklave in the primary, so maybe you know?
    You disagree, so why…please explain why did Miklave vote for Dunne’s appointment? No one was calling you stupid. Those are your words. Please explain the obvious move against his caucus.
    Please explain why the caucus clown explicitly promised he would vehemently oppose Dunne’s appointment and then backed down like a punished child.
    I offered one plausible explanation. Can you?

  25. D(ysfunctional)TC

    @Duleep. I wish for a second, I could see the world through your eyes and enlighten myself.
    Respectfully, we may not agree on most things, but I do admire your spirit. I just wish your passion to do something different with the Sheriff’s position could have translated itself into a real move for charter revision, which was within your powers right now. That’s the sad part to me, that you want to move on to another job and not work within the framework it offers you to get things done. I wish you had learned that. Our city would be better off for it, even if I don’t agree with your positions.

  26. Suzanne

    DTC, I am not omniscient and have no idea as to Mr. Miklave’s motives in voting for Mr. Dunne. Why don’t you ask him?

  27. Oldtimer

    ANARCHIST ? a bit of overstatement ?

    SCHADENFREUDE ? pleasure from other’s misfortune is really nothing to brag about. Shame on you.

  28. Suzanne

    A light shines on Mr. Espo’s vanity every time he writes and thinks of words he thinks we are unlikely to understand or a turn of phrase that sounds so very clever. It is hollow, this vanity, and certainly does not express any considered viewpoint. Better for Mr. Espo to keep his words or think of something more constructive to say.

  29. LWitherspoon

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this. My view is that it’s entirely accurate to comment on a video produced by a councilman slamming a Mayoral appointee, particularly when the councilman turns around and wonders why anyone would feel the need to speak in support of the appointee.
    Since you asked, I support same sex marriage, but I realize that reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Some peoples’ stances against same sex marriage are influenced by their religion. Should we be intolerant of that to the point of not allowing them to contribute to the common good?

    I’m still waiting to hear from you what that has to do with service on the Planning Commission. Perhaps David Watts could explain it, since he made the video slamming Mr. Dunne for his views on Obama and marriage equality.

    I also find it peculiar that Mr. Watts would ask an appointee to stop expressing opinions via letter to the editor. Is that appropriate?

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