NORWALK, Conn. – The shifting shape of Norwalk government is taking form with appointments that took “hours upon hours upon hours” of work, according to Common Council Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District E). Yet, only one person has been agreed upon for the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) for the three openings that the charter calls for to be filled by Nov. 30.
Greg Burnett, a former BET and Board of Education member, has been appointed by Mayor Harry Rilling to the BET. BET members serve four-year terms and are subject to council approval.
If confirmed, the Oak Hills Park Authority will be joined by Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, a vocal opponent of putting a driving range in the woods, and a candidate put forward by Republicans, William Waters. Former Councilwoman Nora King, a member of the Democratic Town Committee and state central committee, and Michael Coffey are being appointed to the Zoning Commission. Latanya Langley is being appointed to the Redevelopment Agency. Also on the agenda are appointments of council members to three boards that require council participation and three re-appointments, for a total of 12 appointments.
All of the appointments require council approval.
Petrini said that he, Rilling, Minority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) and Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At large) have been in “constant negotiations” and “intensive discussions” for the last 1½ to 2 weeks.
“We decided let’s work together, try to get as many names up that we can agree on,” he said. “It’s kind of a unique situation, at least for me and probably for a lot of us — we’ve got a Democratic mayor and we have a majority council that’s ruled by the Republicans.”
Neither Rilling nor Igneri returned requests for comment Friday night.
The Republican caucus holds an 8-7 majority on the council, although one member of the caucus is a registered Democrat. Bruce Kimmel (D-At-Large) ran on the Republican ticket. He was elected as a Democrat in 2011 and shortly switched to the Republican caucus but retained his “D” registration.
The sides were not “always on the same page” and some names were discarded, Petrini said.
“But it’s a good thing because now I think the slate we have put forward is something we can all agree upon Tuesday; it should get done,” he said. “To me, it would be awfully embarrassing to have some of these great people come forward and want to serve civically and getting torn apart on the debate. Is it perfect? No, obviously we would want to have more on our side and they would want to have more on their side. … All the people coming forward have the city on their mind. It’s interesting, we’ve got both sides of the city coming forward at this time.”
It’s clear that Rilling’s appointments are not automatically going through, as on Friday afternoon, there was an extra resume in the council’s packet. City Clerk Donna King, new on the job, said it was for a BET member but that person was not on the list.
Petrini said the BET is very important.
“They’re all important boards but the BET is probably one of the most important because let’s face it, they have the line item veto on our operating budget. All the Common Council can really do is set the absolute cap,” he said. The the BET decides where the money goes.
Petrini said they’re looking for middle of the road people with financial backgrounds.
“They’ve got a really important task this year,” he said, alluding to what looks like a tough budget. “… What we’re looking for is nobody that’s going to really disrupt the apple cart and hopefully they can all work together and achieve the same goal that we’re all looking for. We’re not that far apart.”
Former Common Councilman Bill Wrenn, a vocal opponent of putting a driving range in the woods at Oak Hills, is looking to get onto the Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA). Petrini said he hadn’t been brought up for discussion.
He was aware of Obuchowski’s feelings on the topic, but said it didn’t matter. Most of the authority members are in favor of the proposal from Total Driving Range Solutions to build a practice range on the course itself, he said. The idea of putting a driving range in the woods behind the restaurant “has lost considerable steam,” he said, though the entire thing is “still a work in progress.”
Rilling has said he is against using the woods.
“We have to respect our mayor’s wishes, too,” Petrini said.
This year’s spirit of cooperation between the two political parities is exemplified by the appointment of Waters , who was suggested by the Republican caucus, to the OHPA.
“He was somebody they weren’t quite familiar with and I asked John Igneri if he wouldn’t mind, please, this guy is highly recommended, seems to be a very knowledgeable guy,” he said. “So John and William talked to each other and John came back and he says, ‘You know what? He was a pleasure to talk to. He’s a golfer and he’s got some great ideas. These are the kind of people we want on our boards.’ That’s the kind of things we’re hoping for.”
The list of resignations and appointments to be taken up at the meeting:
Stephanie McLaughlin, Oak Hills Park Authority
Greg Burnett Sr., Board of Estimate and Taxation
Latanya Langley (Director and senior counsel, Diageo North America), Redevelopment Agency
Nora King (residential and commercial real estate appraiser), Zoning Commission
Michael Coffey (former fire commissioner and partner at Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP), Zoning Commission alternate
Elsa Obuchowski (golfer and freelance editor), Oak Hills Park Authority
William Waters (program/project manager, information technology, technology and business practices, digital marketing consultant), Oak Hills Park Authority
Councilman Glenn Iannacone (R-At large), Historical Commission
Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At large), Facilities Construction Commission
Councilman John Kydes (D-District C), Facilities Construction Commission
Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D), Maritime Authority
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District E) Maritime Authority
Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B), Maritime Authority
Ernie Desrochers, Oak Hills Park Authority
Rev. Jeffery Ingraham, Fair Housing Advisory Committee
Andy Conroy, Maritime Authority
Desrochers has been the chairman of the OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee.
“He’s been a real spearhead,” Petrini said. “A real good guy. That’s one that we wanted to see be re-appointed and we’re lucky that Harry and the Democratic caucus was willing to agree to the name.”
Petrini said he felt sorry for Rilling, who has been in Boston for a mayor’s conference and, according to Petrini, on the phone in “hours and hours of negotiations” for appointments.
‘Some of these things are so fluid they were changing hourly towards the end,” he said. “But it was something that we really talked about and wanted to work hard at to make sure we can put some names forward that are not going to face too much degree of difficulty come Tuesday. That’s really setting the tone for the way I hope these two years goes.”