Updated, 2 p.m., Kimmel comment; corrections, 1:52 p.m.: Deb Goldstein also spoke. 2:35p.m.: the generator is 1,000 kilowatts.
NORWALK, Conn. – Everything is beautiful on Norwalk’s Common Council — at least in public — where unanimous and nearly unanimous votes were the order of the evening Tuesday, the first meeting of any substance of the new session.
The council, split 8 to 7 between the majority Republican caucus – including one Democrat – and the minority Democratic caucus, voted unanimously to approve six appointments and two re-appointments, voted unanimously to authorize the purchase of a new generator for City Hall — even if it was more expensive than originally planned — and voted unanimously to authorize up to $380,000 for maintenance dredging of the Veterans Park visitors dock.
“I believe we have ascended to an unprecedented level of cooperation and respect on the Council,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a late night email. “We have spent many hours of discussion on appointments, attempting to recruit the most highly qualified individuals. I commend our council members who give so much of their time to this community. I look forward to two years of working with them.”
The only non-unanimous vote concerned a moment of procedural awkwardness, when Rilling and Council President Doug Hempstead agreed to call for a “recess” to discuss a tentative agreement allowing the city’s assistant corporation counsels to join the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association (NASA). Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) voted against the “recess.”
The public was asked to leave. Former Councilman Fred Bondi said they had meant “executive session.” (For more on the NASA contract, see separate story.)
Kimmel explained Wednesday that he believes executive sessions should be used sparingly.
“I did not think there was a compelling reason to exclude the public from the discussion we had last night,” he wrote in an email. “All of the questions that were subsequently asked, in my opinion, could have been voiced in open session, before the public. The questions I asked pertained to process: what would be the scenario should we vote to reject the contract, and what were our options regarding further negotiations.”
The appointments included Greg Burnett as a new member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Burnett was on the BET under the administration of Mayor Alex Knopp, and has also served on the Board of Education.
Burnett said that he faces a whole new set of challenges now.
“We have been through some difficult times,” he said. “…. Norwalk is a different town than it was eight years ago so we want to ensure that we’re heading in the right direction. I think it is a different environment and that’s why it behooves us to spend more time studying the information, the data that is presented to us, each situation and then going forward.”
Rilling still needs to appoint two more members to the BET.
Also getting the nod were Latanya Langley for the Redevelopment Agency, Nora King and Michael Coffey for the Zoning Commission and Elsa Peterson Obuchowski and William Waters for the Oak Hills Park Authority. Reappointed were Ernie Desrochers to the OHPA and the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham to the Fair Housing Advisory Commission.
“Good government” saves Norwalk $1 million
“Dredging is a boring topic; I’m not sure a lot of people like to read about it,’ Kimmel said.
But the $380,000 being spent on the visitors dock will save Norwalk $1 million, Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said.
That’s because it piggybacks on the larger harbor dredging project.
“(Harbor Commission members) informed us (in May) that the most expensive part of dredging the harbor, especially our harbor, is to find suitable capping material to seal the pollutants that were coming from our harbor when we disposed of the material that was going to be getting dredged,” he said. “Since the harbor was going to be dredged and there was suitable capping material coming from the dredging operation in New Haven, they were going to do their’s along at the same time. We would be saving more than $1 million by piggybacking the Donovan ramp dredging with the harbor job.”
That was more difficult than you might expect, he said, as the machinations of government are not simple. The company dredging the harbor was not interested in the smaller job of dredging the dock, he said. A bid came in for $426,000, but the city only had $380,000 it could spend without going through four boards and committees – and there was a deadline, as state law mandates that dredging be done by Feb. 1.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae negotiated the deal with Coastline Consulting & Development LLC, Petrini said. Rilling agreed, on his first or second day on the job, to fast-track it, Petrini said, and Petrini put it on the council agenda without going through committee first so it could begin on Dec. 20.
“The state, if this project gets done this year, will reimburse the Harbor Commission and the city 80 percent of the total cost of the project,” Petrini said.
Also, if the dock were dredged after the New Haven project were done, the city would have to buy capping material for $1 million, he said.
“This is a perfect example of really good government at work,” he said, crediting former Mayor Richard Moccia, Tony D’Andrea, John Pinto, Jeff Steadmen and Michael Griffin for the hand they had in it.
“It looked like we weren’t going to be able to finish this project,” Kimmel said, commending Petrini. “… It is so important, especially to this town, a city with a port. It is extremely complicated with all sorts of deadlines based on shellfish and all kinds of stuff. We have been trying to do this for years and it’s going to help a lot of businesses in this city.”
Lights on at City Hall, no matter what
A 1,000-kilowatt generator will be able to power every part of City Hall during an emergency, council members said, in authorizing an up-to-$589,285 expenditure.
This was a reversal of a decision made at committee level to buy a less expensive 800-kW generator, which members said would cover most of their needs, Councilman Richard Bonenfant (R-At large) said. Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo had asked that the larger one be bought, he said.
Committee members did not realize that the smaller generator would not be able to provide air conditioning to Concert Hall, Kimmel said.
Just one note of dissent
With all of the appointments on the agenda — including Burnett, a former NEON board chairman — only two members of the public addressed the council — Bondi, and Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein.
Goldstein spoke in favor of Obuchowski’s appointment, while the former councilman protested an item that wound up on the consent agenda, meaning it was unanimously approved as part of a list of things being approved without comment.
Bondi said the removal of the Flock Process Dam on the Norwalk River will cause flooding at the Norwalk Yacht Club.
“That’s what happened when they took the damn down on the Five Mile River, up by Princess Pine. … The only thing that’s helping it now is because New Canaan dredged a pond up in New Canaan so that it holds more water now than it ever did, so that it doesn’t come down,” he said.
The agenda item:
Authorize the Mayor, Harry W. Rilling, on behalf of the City of Norwalk, to enter into an amendment to the agreement with the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for a grant for the “Engineering Design and Permitting for the Removal of the Flock Process Dam on the Norwalk River.” Contract PSA #2011-11172, dated 5/24/2011, to extend the applicable term