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League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Guide: council at-large Part 1

NORWALK, Conn. — The League of Women Voters of Norwalk, a non-partisan organization dedicated to voter education, put together an election guide that includes a Q&A section with each candidate. While NancyOnNorwalk sent questions to all the Common Council and Board of Education candidates, the Republican council candidates will, we are told, not participate. The Republican Town Committee apparently did choose to answer questions posed by the LWV, so, in the interest of providing some insight into the candidates, we are publishing all the LWV council Q&A’s, Republican and Democrat, in addition to the responses to the Q&A’s we sent out (in separate posts).

Parts 1 and 2 run today; Parts 3 and 4 will run Tuesday.

Here are the LWV responses from two of the 10 at-large candidates, in alphabetical order:

Candidate: Richard Bonenfant (R)

LWV: On a personal and professional level, what life experiences and qualifications have equipped you to become an effective Common Council member?

RB: Having served 10 of the last 18 years on the Common Council, I understand the issues, rules and procedures. During this time I have worked with mayors, department heads and employees, fellow council members and residents to improve Norwalk and address concerns.

As a professional photographer in the community, there are also constant opportunities to help local people and to keep in touch with what’s going on in the City. This includes working with school bands, sports programs, veteran groups, senior functions, charity organizations and much more.

My wife and I raised our three children here and they graduated from Norwalk public schools.

Prior to serving on the council, I was chairman of the Norwalk Human Relations Commission for five years and had the privilege of getting to know many of the groups who contribute to the betterment of Norwalk.

LWV: How familiar are you with Norwalk’s City Charter? Are there ways in which you feel the Common Council could more effectively serve the people of Norwalk if changes were made? Please explain any of your recommended changes?

RB: I’m quite familiar with the city charter and have chaired the council’s Ordinance Committee. During that time I pushed to provide a digital version of the city code so the average citizen could have an easy access to the charter, ordinances, and regulations. Today the online codebook is a popular point of reference for people looking up the local laws by which we are governed.

Ordinances can be changed through Common Council action, and some departments like Planning and Zoning are allowed to control their own regulations.The first section of the codebook is called the charter and those items can only be changed through a popular vote by the people through a structured procedure leading to that ballot.

LWV: Norwalk is a diverse community, but members of the city’s boards and commissions do not represent our diversity. On some commissions and boards, many persons continue to be reappointed, resulting in many qualified individuals never getting a chance to serve. If you are elected, how will you address this issue?

RB: Our boards, commissions and agencies reflect Norwalk’s diversity. The boards and

commissions are comprised of people from all walks of life, different ethnicities, income groups, and faiths.

LWV: Members of the community want to voice their opinions. Currently, the only opportunity for residents to speak publicly is at Common Council meetings, but only if the item they wish to speak about is on the agenda. Do you believe the current public comment procedure needs change or is it satisfactory as is? For example, do you believe that public participation at Common Council committee meetings is desirable? If elected, what will you do to encourage members of the public to share their views before the Common Council?

RB: Your question makes a statement that the only opportunity for the residents to speak publicly is at a Common Council meeting and that is completely false. Residents are encouraged to bring their ideas and concerns to council members and are welcome to attend the appropriate committee meetings where discussions are generally informal. Issues brought forth by residents are very important catalysts to the process.

LWV: In looking at neighboring communities (e.g., Stamford) what improvements, if any, do you think should be made in the way Norwalk deals with property development (including stalled projects), land use and open space? How would you propose the Common Council go about making those improvements (if any)?

RB: As you compare Norwalk to other communities, understand that every city and town has its own unique characteristics, history, and culture. We all live in and love Norwalk. Projects are moving forward, building permits are up and our parks are in excellent shape.

LWV: What would you do to ensure a reasonable balance between the Board of Education’s need to maintain high academic standards through quality programs and the need to establish spending levels that dovetail with the overall financial condition of Norwalk?

RB: The Common Council only controls the total operating budget spending cap, not the allocations to individual departments including the Board of Education. The council also approves capital budget outlays towards school building improvements, repairs and technology investments. The Common Council provides the physical structure and the Board of Education teaches our students.

LWV: Norwalk appears to be attracting more pawnshops and big box stores than other viable businesses. What do you see as the Common Council’s role in improving the business climate in Norwalk to 1) help offset the residential tax burden and 2) make Norwalk a more desirable place? Specifically, what will you do to encourage business growth if elected, and how will you do it?

RB: Small businesses open every day in this city, the local press covers the many ribbon cutting ceremonies almost on a daily basis. Building permits are up, construction permits are up. There is development all over the city. Plus, and this is extremely important: Businesses both small and large are attracted to cities with diverse economies and prudent fiscal policies, both of which are reflected in our ability to retain a AAA bond rating year after year. That rating will allow us to continue investing in our schools, repair our roads, implement a major flood mitigation program, and preserve our lovely beaches and parks.

To relieve the residential tax burden we can continue to attract business and industry. Manufacturing and high tech equipment is taxed by law at the same value assessed rate as property and buildings. Commercial property is desirable for a city because the value is taxed but the services aren’t required that residents would need.

LWV: Have you signed any pledges or made commitments to any organizations or individuals that would affect your performance, the positions you would support, or the decisions you would make as a Common Council member?

RB: No. The only pledge that we, the members of the Republican council ticket, will make is to work hard to represent the interest of the people of Norwalk; to work hard to move the city forward and to protect our city’s increasingly bright future.

Candidate: Chrisley Ceme (D)

LWV: On a personal and professional level, what life experiences and qualifications have equipped you to become an effective Common Council member?

CC: I want to run for Common Council because it is a great opportunity for me to make a difference for all the citizens of my home town and this seat would be a great start for me to begin to make the difference that is needed. I also believe that if the people can see a young Haitian American male whose parents are immigrants in an elected position in Norwalk; our young people will work harder in school because they will know that if I can do it so can they. Also I have experience as the 2nd Vice District Representative of the 1st District of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. In other words I was the leader of the undergraduate body of New England for my Fraternity and I represented them in our national and international meetings. I held this office from May 2011 to May of 2012.

LWV: How familiar are you with Norwalk’s city charter? Are there ways in which you feel the Common Council could more effectively serve the people of Norwalk if changes were made? Please explain any of your recommended changes?

CC: I don’t necessarily believe that the charter needs to be changed to improve Norwalk. We all just have to put our differences aside and realize that we all just want to help our city reach its potential and work together and not against one another.

LWV: Norwalk is a diverse community, but members of the city’s boards and commissions do not represent our diversity. On some commissions and boards, many persons continue to be reappointed, resulting in many qualified individuals never getting a chance to serve. If you are elected, how will you address this issue?

CC: The only way to get more diversity on our boards is for more diverse people to get involved with the city. How I would achieve this is to have more public forums where people can come in and express what’s on their mind and for them to see all the organizations that are around where they can get involved and learn about all the issues that we have.

LWV: Members of the community want to voice their opinions. Currently, the only opportunity for residents to speak publicly is at Common Council meetings, but only if the item they wish to speak about is on the agenda. Do you believe the current public comment procedure needs change or is it satisfactory as is? For example, do you believe that public participation at Common Council committee meetings is desirable? If elected, what will you do to encourage members of the public to share their views before the Common Council?

CC: At the end of the day everything we are all trying to do is for the betterment of the community so their voices should be heard. We just need to reassure people that their voices will not fall on deaf ears and encourage to come to meetings and speak their peace. When they then see that their opinions are truly valued they will feel more inclined to come and speak on a regular basis.

LWV: In looking at neighboring communities (e.g., Stamford) what improvements, if any, do you think should be made in the way Norwalk deals with property development (including stalled projects), land use and open space? How would you propose the Common Council go about making those improvements (if any)?

CC: Well, I believe Norwalk is starting to do a better job with developing property throughout the city, but for the spots where development has stalled I believe that’s where the council and whoever else is involved must come together and make decisions on what it is that will be developed on those sites and get it done as soon as possible.

LWV: What would you do to ensure a reasonable balance between the Board of Education’s need to maintain high academic standards through quality programs and the need to establish spending levels that dovetail with the overall financial condition of Norwalk?

CC: Maintaining high academic standards is very, very important. Obviously, money must be spent in order to do this. To balance those funds being used we first must do proper studies and get the facts on what areas need the most improvement and focus the funds that we do use on those areas that need it most so that we are not wasting valuable dollars on things that don’t need it.

LWV: Norwalk appears to be attracting more pawnshops and big box stores than other viable businesses. What do you see as the Common Council’s role in improving the business climate in Norwalk to 1) help offset the residential tax burden and 2) make Norwalk a more desirable place? Specifically, what will you do to encourage business growth if elected, and how will you do it?

CC: It is the council’s job to help our residents in any way that it can and if residents are asking for help with taxes than the council must make serious efforts to find solutions to aid the situation. To make Norwalk a desirable place, people must be able to find work so business growth is essential. To encourage it I think we can start by developing those areas we discussed early into places where business can come in and thrive.

LWV: Have you signed any pledges or made commitments to any organizations or individuals that would affect your performance, the positions you would support, or the decisions you would make as a Common Council member?

CC: I have not signed any pledges or made promises to organizations that would influence my positions in any way. I have no hidden agendas at all.

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