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Feds fund Norwalk sidewalk work; Morris lawsuit in mediation

A France Street sidewalk. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political news for you:

  • Morris, NPS, in mediation
  • Congress approves $1.4 million for West Rocks/France sidewalks
  • Michelle Woods Matthews named Norwalk Communications Director
  • What’s up with the Mayor’s dashboard?

A trial in June?

Former State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140). (File photo)

The lawsuit filed by former Norwalk Public Schools Human Relations Officer Bruce Morris, accusing NPS of discrimination against him in the elimination of his position, is going to mediation. The trial had been scheduled for March 23 but is now slated for June 22.

If that sounds familiar, you have a good memory – NancyOnNorwalk did an almost identical story in January 2020. The defendants had requested that “judicial alternative dispute resolution” be conducted in early February. Morris had agreed. The trial had been pushed back.

A July 2020 court document states that the parties were engaged in settlement talks. Former Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski was involved.

Morris alleges that a written reprimand issued to him in late 2015 and the subsequent elimination of his job in the 2016-17 school year budget were motivated by his race, color and status as a State Representative, in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. He also alleges that he was retaliated against due to his previous opposition to discrimination. NPS states that his job was eliminated due to budgetary concerns.

On Feb. 28 of this year, the defendants asked the judge to negate a jury trial. The legal claims “neither originate from the common law nor existed at the time of adoption of article first,” a section of the Connecticut Constitution that dates to 1818, the filing states.

“Employment discrimination law is a relatively recent legal invention,” and given the “relative infancy of this body of law, at common law, employers did not owe an employee a duty not to discriminate against him,” Attorneys Dennis Durao and James Tallberg state in the filing.

Morris’ attorney, David Angelone, has not filed a reply. The parties are scheduled to meet in court Monday.

A document filed in 2019 estimated 10-12 days of jury selection and a 10-14-day trial.

Morris v Norwalk 22-0228

 

A West Rocks Road sidewalk. (File photo)

Himes earmark gets sidewalk work funded

Nearly a year ago, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) promised federal funding for $1.4 million of sidewalk work on France Street and West Rocks Road.

On Thursday, Himes announced that the money was coming in via the appropriations package to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2022, passed the night before.

Thus completes a process begun nearly a year ago when the City scrambled to put together a grant proposal for Community Project Funding (CPF) funding, a surprise opportunity with a short deadline, according to Norwalk Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking (TMP) James Travers. The West Rocks/France Street work was the least expensive option presented in the grant request.

The CPF program marks the return of earmarking for local governments and nonprofits after a decade-long ban. It’s now “under strict transparency and ethical guidelines,” a Himes press release said last year.

“Members were limited to ten Community Project Funding meeting requests each,” it said. “Every member submitting projects was also required to include a letter with each request stating that they do not have a financial interest in the project and publicly disclose their requests, among other requirements. In order to be eligible for Community Funding Projects, applicants had to be either state, local or tribal governments or non-profit organizations.”

The West Rocks/France Street corridor “largely lacks an adequate and accessible sidewalk. The limited sections of sidewalk that do exist were requirements of recent developments and the City does not have the resources to create a safe connected network throughout the remainder of the corridor,” the City’s grant application states.

Yet, it’s a highly residential neighborhood with four schools and three places of worship, with eight Norwalk transit stops that are difficult to access, it states. People drive at “higher than average” speeds and there were 118 traffic incidents in the previous five years.

Former State press secretary leading Norwalk communications

Michelle Woods Matthews. (Courtesy photo)

Michelle Woods Matthews began work Thursday as the City’s new Communications Director.

“I am thrilled to have Michelle Woods Matthews join our team,” said Mayor Harry Rilling in a news release. “She has a dynamic background and wealth of communications experience. She joins us from Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden’s office where she served as the Press Secretary and managed their strategic communications efforts. We are fortunate to have her in our city and know that her talents will greatly benefit the residents of Norwalk.”

Woods Matthews succeeds Josh Morgan, the City’s first communications manager. The position was created nearly four years ago as the first action in Rilling’s reorganization of administrative positions.

Morgan was promoted to Director of Communications about a year ago. In January, he accepted a job in the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s communications department.

Woods Matthews worked closely on the Wooden’s “CT Baby Bonds program and Corporate Call to Action: Coalition for Equity & Opportunity initiative, each designed to help narrow the racial wealth gap and spur long-term economic growth,” the University of Connecticut states.

It continues:

“Michelle is also the former Communications Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and Public and Legislative Affairs Manager of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, where she advocated to help protect and expand access to reproductive healthcare on the local, state, and federal level.

“Earlier in her career, Michelle worked on President Obama’s 2012 campaign and taught civics to middle and high school level students while at the Close Up Foundation.

“Michelle served on the Virginia Council of Women and holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Modern Foreign Languages from James Madison University and a Master’s in Bilingual and Multicultural Education from la Universidad de Alcala. She also loves her dog dearly, Rihanna, who is a chocolate lab.”

 

The City news release states, “She is currently pursuing her second master’s degree in Public Administration from UConn and relocating to Norwalk in April.”

 

The Mayor’s Dashboard.

 

Dashboard due for a revamp

In August 2019, Mayor Harry Rilling unveiled a dashboard, “an interactive look at the information and statistics that help guide the city” that would reportedly evolve in response to community feedback.

Today’s dashboard reports that Norwalk has no money in its fund balance (that “Rainy Day Fund” people like to talk about) and zero tax relief credits this year and last year. Other pages are more populated with data than the one operated by the Finance Department but the information may be suspect – for instance, there have reportedly been 609 graffiti complaints this year but only 342 last year.

Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King has an explanation.

“We took it down from the landing page in December because we think it’s time for a revamp – we are waiting for {a new communications director} to lead the revamp and relaunch,” she wrote Feb. 18.

As stated above, Michelle Woods Matthews started work in that role Thursday.

The Mayor’s Dashboard.

4 comments

Neighbor March 11, 2022 at 6:35 am

Drive down West Ave and their’s at least 25 graffiti tags on one road at this moment all recently done.

Kudos to the city for staying on it!

Admiral March 11, 2022 at 12:50 pm

So, wait…this is a political hire again? Since she worked for Obama in 2012, that’s okay?!
What if she worked on Bush ’04 or Trump ’16? I guess that would disqualify her?!
Why is the Communications Director position now a political appointee?

Michael OReilly March 11, 2022 at 6:55 pm

Please tell us how our new Communications Director will greatly benefit the residents of Norwalk. The city’s first Communications manager Josh Morgan struck me as a nasty attacker of any one who would simply question the Mayor. I never understood what value he bought to the city.Please enlighten us.
Let’s remember we now have inflation that is costing households a additional $300. per month for similar expenditures a year ago.

On this subject with the new reality. The Mayor, Common Council and Board of Education need to reduce wasteful spending. Tax increases are not a option with $5.00 a gallon heating fuel and $4.00 a gallon gas.

Norwalker March 12, 2022 at 11:16 am

Of waste of over 1 million in taxpayer money. The last time I checked, West Rocks Rd. and France Street have sidewalks the entire length. There are plenty of other streets that need sidewalks. Did anybody actually look at the location before this was approved?

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