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League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Guide: council at-large Part 3

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).

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

Candidate: Doug Hempstead (R)

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

DH: My ability to bring diverse individuals together in the decision-making process. My style is to utilize the talents and strengths of everyone at the table where open debate is encouraged in an environment of mutual respect. I have a proven ability to reach across party lines to accomplish goals that continue to make Norwalk a vibrant and economically stable community for all. I have been very fortunate to be elected council president four times by my peers. Three of those four times I was not a member of the majority party.

I offer experience and a renewed passion to serve. I offer a professional business background, as well as past and current community involvement, to provide the foundation and resources to assist and support my peers. I offer the ability to make tough decisions that may not be politically expedient but necessary for the long-term health of the city.

Personal

  • Lifelong Norwalker
  • Married to Norwalk Teacher
  • 3 grown Children, Norwalk School System
  • Education
  • Norwalk Schools
  • MBA Business Administration SHU

Employment

  • Vice President Stew Leonard’s
  • Former local small business entrepreneur

Government Experience

  • Norwalk Common Council –1985-1995, 2003- present
  • Zoning Commission
  • Council President
  • Common Council Majority and Minority Leader
  • Maritime Authority

Community

Presently

  • Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center
  • Mathews-Lockwood’s Mansion
  • Norwalk Chamber of Commerce
  • Seaport Assoc.

Former

  • Save Cranbury Association Board
  • Norwalk Historical Commission
  • Norwalk Communities in Schools
  • Norwalk High Fathers’ Club

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?

DH: I am familiar with the city charter. It is the document that establishes the structure of our city government. During my terms of service, I have frequently researched and referenced it for a variety of reasons. Making changes to the city charter is not a simple process. Two thirds of the common council must vote to establish a separate charter revision committee. The council must then set forth the issue(s) it wants to discuss. The charter revision commission can also submit additional items it feels the council should discuss. Any proposed changes to the city charter require public hearings and certain deadlines. Once the charter revision commission submits its work, it must further submit its findings to the Common Council. The Common Council, by simple majority, must approve those items, which in turn, appear on a ballot to be voted on by the electors of Norwalk.

City ordinances, however, involve a much simpler process and are intended to address local concerns of our citizens. An ordinance can begin with one constituent who relates a concern to a council member. This in turn provides a topic for discussion at the council committee level. The Common Council can simply institute a city ordinance after deliberation and a properly noticed public hearing. I feel there are topics worthy of discussion as proposed changes to our city charter. These include term limits for the mayor and Common Council members, and a review of outdated charter requirements.

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?

DH: I take exemption with this statement and would like to know what facts this assumption is based upon. If the League is in possession of such knowledge, I would appreciate it if they would share it. Considering the needs of single parents and working families, it has become increasingly more difficult for individuals to volunteer their time, whether it be on civic boards, commissions, and agencies, or other venues.

Moreover, Norwalk’s government requires that the mayor recommend an appointment to the common council. It is the Common Council’s responsibility to approve or reject an appointment. I think any commission should have a mix of experienced members with those who are inexperienced. This is a formula for a better decision- making process.

On a personal note, my first consideration in voting in favor of an appointment is not on the basis of a resume but the willingness, passion and desire to contribute to the commission or board one is seeking to serve on. However, it is important to review one’s qualifications to assure that there is a mix of expertise and/or experience. Ideally, we should be able to evaluate the make-up of the boards as they currently exist and review the terms of those persons on the boards. Ideally, there should be term limits on certain board/commissions similar to the Zoning Commission. The Zoning Commission has a limit of three terms with the third term requiring a 2/3 majority vote of the Common Council.

It is also understandable that mayoral appointments reflect the mayor’s vision for Norwalk.

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?

DH: First of all, it is incorrect that the only opportunity for residents to speak is at common council meetings. Most, but not all, committee chairpersons offer public input as part of their agenda. Plus, there are public hearings on a variety of topics throughout the year. In this digital age, there are also numerous opportunities to connect with common council members via personal contact, cell phones, letters, emails, Twitter, and Facebook. The Internet has made it much more convenient for constituents to express their ideas and concerns to council members, and in turn, it gives council members the opportunity to respond in a timelier manner.

I think the current public comment session prior to the full council meeting is sufficient. There is additional opportunity at the council committee level in which the public can interject comments or ideas. As a past Common Council member and president, I have held open community meetings to discuss issues, in addition to the already mentioned opportunities. I have encouraged public participation in sharing ideas and concerns, not only at City Hall, but in areas of the city with regard to the community’s convenience.

I also feel all agendas, along with backup material, should be posted online and in a timely manner.

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)?

DH: Norwalk currently has two housing projects and two mixed-used developments under construction: Avalon at Norden’s, North Water Street, Waypoint on West Avenue and Oakwood Avenue. 95-7 has recently obtained a foundation building permit. Two stalled projects are the POKO project on Wall Street and the Head of the Harbor project on Smith Street. An agreement has been reached with the Head of the Harbor on the use of public properties as part of the project. I believe the POKO project should be revisited and assigned to another developer.

Norwalk has recently added a computer commercial facility at Norden Place and an expansion of the Pepperidge Farm headquarters. In the past, Norwalk has had a macro approach to redevelopment; i.e. multiple blocks. In this present economy, Norwalk needs to focus on developing smaller areas, but with a consideration for the impact on the greater area. Norwalk is currently working with plans to make certain infrastructure improvements to the surrounding areas utilizing local and state funding. We also need to revisit our parking requirements for the urban corridor to encourage better usage of land.

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?

DH: In the past, I have supported and approved all Board of Education requests to upgrade all facilities and all requests for state of the art technology. I have recently supported the request to purchase material for the implementation of the Common Core curriculum. As Common Council president, I have held meetings to improve communication between the council and Board of Education members. I strongly feel that the council should establish a permanent education committee so there can be ongoing and structured dialogue between both entities. In the past, I have sponsored resolutions and accompanied members of the Board of Education to Hartford to seek an increase in the educational cost sharing plan, which has left Norwalk woefully short in funding. I am committed to assist Superintendent Rivera’s call to seek Norwalk’s fair share of ECS funding for Norwalk’s students.

LWV: Norwalk appears to be attracting more pawn shops 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?

DH: The reality is Norwalk is a diverse city. We are not a suburban community such as Westport or Wilton. The economic feel of Norwalk is rooted in its diverse population, commerce, and housing. All development is about balance. The small or large stores which provide entry level and future management jobs, along with the Fortune 500 companies Norwalk has attracted, serve to create a diverse economic earning base. Unfortunately, the state of Connecticut allows one major revenue source to go directly to municipalities and that is property taxes. It is not an equitable tax and can be a particularly harsh burden for residents on fixed incomes. The recent projects under development, as listed in a previous response, will help to add tax revenue to Norwalk. That revenue can also be utilized for Norwalk’s schools and infrastructure, but also for worthy projects that relate to historical preservation, façade improvements, and to secure Community Development Block Grant money from the federal government.

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?

DH: No, Nor would I. Nor should anyone else do so. I feel the words of Norwalk’s first Mayor, Mayor Burnell, on the first meeting of the new city government on October 8, 1913, says it best, to whom and to what a council member is obligated to do. I quote:

“At the outset lets us remember, that, though having been placed here by a majority of votes of the electors of this city. We are here to serve as best as we can all of the people all the time, without favor to any person, section or class over another. In this purpose we must throw prejudice and personal desire to the winds, making it our sacred duty to treat all matters that will come before us with fairness and the best judgment with which we are endowed.”

Candidate: Glen Iannaccone (R)

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

GI: I have been fortunate enough to serve on the Norwalk Fire Department for the last 31 years, the last 13 as the city’s fire marshal. I have worked with many of the departments in the city and with certain Common Council committees, such as the Ordinance Committee, and the Health Welfare and Public Safety Committee. I have been, and continue to be, involved with many non-profit organizations throughout the city.

Being a second generation Norwalker, I have strong roots here and wish to continue in the service of our city. I have a master’s degree in public administration through the University of New Haven and, having been a division head in the Norwalk Fire Department, I feel that I have the experience to help moving Norwalk forward.

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?

GI: We, the Republican candidates for the Common Council, are familiar with the charter. It provides a set of rules that apply to all residents and elected officials. Periodically, changes are made if something becomes outdated. Similar to the constitution, the process to change our charter is difficult, with precise timelines, and ultimately a citywide vote — precisely to discourage frivolous changes.

A more effective way for a council member to serve the city is to carefully examine the information provided by city staff, ask questions, attend meetings, and then, when it’s time to vote, represent the interests of the city to the best of their ability. By thoroughly understanding the issues, a councilperson can better ask informed questions and make better decisions and not simply seek the easy or politically advantageous solution.

Though it seems odd to have to point this out, attending the meetings of the council (some current Democratic members seeking re-election have extremely high absentee rates) is a very important part of being on the council. Attending community events, not just in your district, but throughout the city, so that you understand the needs and concerns of more people, is another important way in which council-people can be more effective.

Maintaining a good relationship and working closely with city staff is another crucial aspect to better service. Knowing the charter, the city code (our many ordinances) and the responsibilities of the departments and how to get things done is the most important manner in which council people can serve.

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?

GI: The question is simply wrong. Our boards, commissions and agencies reflect Norwalk’s wonderful diversity. Our boards and commissions are comprised of people from all walks of life, different ethnicities, income groups, faiths, etc. No qualified and reasonable members of the community, who come forward, willing to serve, have been turned away. We have not taken the time to catalog the ethnicity or income level of every person currently serving, but for those of us who have taken the time to actively recruit members to our boards and commissions, what we look for, first and foremost, relate to qualifications.

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?

GI: Meetings are organized discussions of specific issues. Members of the public regularly speak at full meetings of the council, but only on topics that are on or related to the agenda. Allowing people to speak on any topic would lead to never-ending discussions that would discourage others from ever coming out because they would be forced to listen to endless off-topic discussions. We are pleased by the high level of public participation at council meetings; plus, we recognize the thoughtful contributions made by members of the public on a variety of issues.

In fact, we have a great deal of comments made by residents, at both full council meetings and at the committee level. Residents who have something to share, invariably do so, and there is often constructive give and take at committee meetings. During the course of the year, the council holds public hearings on a variety issues. Many of these public hearings are well attended, and occasionally the concert hall or community room is used to accommodate the crowds. Moreover, all residents have access to the mayor and council members, and do make their opinions heard. The council is elected by and represents the people, all of the people, of Norwalk. There is a great deal of one-on-one interaction between council members and constituents. Also, meetings have been held in special venues, such as Marvin School, Lockwood Mathews Mansion, the Police Headquarters, and Fodor Farm, to make it easier for members of the public to attend.

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)?

GI: We do not compare Norwalk to other communities; every city and town has its own specific characteristics, history, and culture. We all live in and love Norwalk. We don’t talk it down. There are five major projects currently underway in the city at different phases of completion. These include 20 North Water Street, Waypointe, the Hospital Expansion, and the Data Center at Norden Place. Even though the country, and Connecticut, is still feeling the impact of the Great Recession, Norwalk has managed to weather the storm admirably. Building permits are up, our parks are in excellent shape, we are now rebuilding the fishing pier at Calf Pasture, and our schools are fully funded for the first time in memory. Walking down West Avenue, one can immediately see the changes involved in the community because of the vibrant development.

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?

GI: The Common Council has no control over the specific choices made by the Board of Education with respect to curriculum, administrative assignments, academic standards, or the organization of our schools. However, we are extremely proud to have developed and passed an operating budget this year that enabled the BOE to restore the bulk of the positions and programs that had been cut last year during an extremely difficult budget cycle. The Republican-led council made that possible by passing the first fully funded BOE budget in recent memory (against the inexplicable opposition of three Democratic council members who are seeking re-election).

The average tax increase in Norwalk over the past five years has been 2.25 percent, or in line with inflation. The leadership of the city — the mayor, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and the Republican-led Common Council — continues to balance the needs of our schools and those of taxpayers. It should also be mentioned that the council approved major technology upgrades for our schools, hired outside auditors to examine BOE accounts, and purchased software that enables the city and the BOE to better monitor the budgeting process.

Given that the per pupil spending in Norwalk is higher than that of surrounding towns and is in fact among the highest in the state, it would not seem that school funding is the issue. Given that our teachers were the second highest paid in the state, and after the current pay freeze are still the fifth highest, it would not seem…

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?

GI: This question is a restatement of a silly attempt to create a campaign issue during the recent Democratic primary. 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. That’s what all businesses are looking for.

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?

GI: No. And we take great exception to the fact that the Democratic candidates were asked to sign a pledge that essentially required them to conform to the wishes of the Democratic Town Committee, first and foremost, or risk being re-nominated in the future. 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.

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