NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk lovefest ended on a sour note Tuesday night when five Common Council members, who had been silent, voted against Mayor Harry Rilling’s reappointment of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae.
Four public speakers and four members of the Republican caucus lauded Mocciae before Rilling called for a vote on the reappointment. He was asked for a roll call vote, which he clearly did not expect. Everyone from South Norwalk – Travis Simms (D-District B), Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) and Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) – and District A members Eloisa Melendez and David Watts voted against him, without saying why.
The positive remarks began with Norwalk Historical Society President David Westmoreland.
“Mike always says yes, he always delivers,” Westmoreland said.
What Mocciae has done with Fodor Farm is nothing less than amazing, Westmoreland said. “I always think of the Norwalk park system to cheer myself up,” he said.
Democratic Town Committee District B member Mike Mushak thanked Mocciae’s parents, who were there, for producing “such a fine gentleman.”
Democratic Town Committee District D member Diane Lauricella said Mocciae is open to ideas from citizens. Douglas Peeples thanked Mocciae for supporting his karate program, which he said helped a lot of children.
In 1985, Parks and Rec was producing $250,000 in revenue for the city, Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said. Today it produces $2.3 million a year in revenue, with half the staff, he said.
“No other town has what we have to offer,” he said. “Norwalk is second to none in the state.”
“It’s one thing to have a vision but it is another to take that vision and make it real,” Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. “… Mike has managed to do a lot more with a lot less.”
Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he remembered when there were times when Parks and Rec didn’t have anyone to answer the phone during lunch hour.
When the recession hit, all the department heads were asked to look for savings and ways to raise revenue, he said.
“Mike took it seriously and came up with ideas for saving,” he said. “Other department heads nodded their heads and said ‘we’d try,’ yet nothing really happened. I admire him for that. He’s not just a standard department head, he’s a real booster. He takes pride in our city parks.”
“We all know our parks look right,” Richard Bonenfant (R-At Large) said. “Mike over the years has made so many people happy with the programs that are run.”
The problem is, “He doesn’t do anything for the parks in South Norwalk,” Bowman explained after the meeting.
A new gymnasium put in at Bouton Street Park was from a GE grant, she said. The basketball courts at Ryan Park and Woodward Avenue haven’t had lines on them for 10 years, she said.
Money is spent on Fodor Farm but not the San Vincenzo community garden, she said.
“We want some of the gyms over here,” she said. “Ben Franklin used to be open. Also there was a boxing program in there years ago.”
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