Quantcast

League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Guide: council at-large Part 4

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: Joe Kendy (R)

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

JK: I was born and raised in Norwalk and graduated from Norwalk High School. My two adult children went through the Norwalk public school system and are graduates of Brien McMahon High School.

  • I bring over 30 years of experience as a legal, risk management, and business advisor to CEOs and international management teams as a former senior vice president, general counsel, secretary and member of the Board of Directors of a global consumer products company.
  • I am a former member of a Norwalk Charter Review Commission.
  • I have a BA degree in political science/international relations from Providence College and a Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University Law School, Boston, Mass. I am admitted to practice law in Connecticut, New York, U.S. District Court District of Connecticut, U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • I am an adjunct professor of Commercial Law at Western Connecticut State University.
  • I am the owner of Kendy Law LLC, legal consulting on domestic and international legal affairs management.
  • I am an honorary director of Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County.
  • I am a former Captain in the US Army and a Vietnam Veteran where I was awarded the Bronze Star.

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?

JK: The charter provides a set of rules that apply to all residents and elected officials. Periodically, changes may be made if a provision becomes outdated or new issues merit the establishment of a Charter Review Commission to review them for possible changes to the charter. The process to change our Charter requires a citywide referendum. I will assess this after I am elected.

Council members, like anyone else, are most effective when they are fully informed. They must review the information provided to them prior to each meeting, ask questions, attend meetings, and then vote in the best interests of the city to the best of their ability. I believe the council majority has done this as evidenced by, among other things, the city’s AAA bond rating and a fully funded Board of Education budget.

Attending community events is another way council members can meet more of our residents and obtain a perspective on what is important to them.

Maintaining a good and constructive working relationships with city staff, boards and commissions, and an understanding their responsibilities is important.

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?

JK: I disagree with the premise. Norwalk’s boards, commissions and agencies do reflect Norwalk’s unique diversity. Our boards and commissions are comprised of people with diverse ethnicities, levels of income, and skills. Qualification and competence must be the first criteria in any employment or appointment decision.

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?

JK: It is fundamental that an effective meeting on any subject in any forum requires that discussion stay on the agenda and not drift off on tangents. This is the function of the chair of the meeting. There is a high level of public comment at council meetings.

The council is not the only place our residents can speak publicly on a matter. Before the council can adopt any ordinance, the Council or a committee, must hold a public hearing at which “..all persons shall have an opportunity to be heard.” (Code City of Norwalk sec. 1.191.1)

Residents have access to the mayor and council members, and can give their opinions through a variety of modes of communication. Meetings have been held in different places 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)?

JK: Norwalk should not be compared to other communities. Norwalk has its own demographics, character, needs, history, and cultures.

There are five major projects currently under way 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.

Connecticut is last in the nation in 12 categories: 2012 economic growth, work force shrinkage, worst financial management, worst state for retirement, worst credit quality, highest debt per capita, highest combined tax burden, nations latest Tax Freedom Day, highest unfunded percentage of liabilities, bottom of business friendliness rankings, highest minimum wage, and worst state for practicing medicine.

Norwalk, however, has among other things, maintained its AAA bond rating and enhanced the other fundamentals of public safety, education, infrastructure, environment and quality of life. Building permits are up, the city’s parks are in excellent shape, the fishing pier at Calf Pasture is being rebuilt , and its schools are fully funded for the first time in a long time.

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?

JK: The Common Council does not have control over the decisions of the Board of Education with respect to curriculum, administrative assignments, academic standards, or the organization of our schools. However, the Council developed and passed an operating budget cap this year that enabled the Board of Estimate to restore most of the positions and programs that had been cut last year during a very difficult budget cycle. The Republican majority on the council made that possible by passing the first fully funded Board of Estimate budget while facing the opposition of three Democratic council members.

The average tax increase in Norwalk over the past five years at 2.25 percent has been in line with inflation. The mayor, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and the Republican majority on the Common Council, continue to balance the needs of our schools and those of taxpayers. The council approved major technology improvements for our schools, hired outside auditors to examine Board of Estimate accounts, and purchased software that enables the city and the Board of Estimate to effectively monitor the budgeting process.

Since the per student spending in Norwalk is higher than that of surrounding towns and is among the highest in the state, and Norwalk’s teachers are the second highest paid in the state (fifth highest after the current pay freeze), it does not appear that school funding and salaries are an issue.

The city’s continued progress under Mayor Moccia is at the point where revenue from real estate transfers is rising.

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?

JK: I disagree with the inference that Norwalk is neither attracting small businesses nor a desirable place to live. Small businesses are consistently opening in the city. The local press covers the many openings and expansions that occur throughout the year. Building and construction permits have risen. There is on-going development throughout the city.

Businesses, both small and large, are attracted to solvent cities with sound fiscal policies, a diverse job market, employee access to large and small businesses, an economically diverse residential real estate market, responsibly addresses public safety, and sustains quality of life. The importance of Norwalk’s ability to retain a AAA bond rating cannot be overstate because it enables the city to address these areas, invest in its schools, repair roads, implement disaster planning such as a major flood mitigation program, and preserve its beautiful beaches and parks.

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?

JK: You are presumptively asking me if my decisions will be biased and if I have a conflict of interest that disqualifies me from being on the council. The answer is no. Unlike the Norwalk Democratic Party leadership, the Norwalk Republican Party has not asked for a pledge of loyalty to its ideology if elected. Mayor Moccia has said that whoever serves the interest of the city first serves his/her party best. My lawn sign says “Norwalk First”.

Candidate: Bruce Kimmel (R)

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

BK: I have been involved in education much of my adult life.

In the 1970s, I taught sociology at Columbia University, where i received a ph.d. in sociology and history.

In the early 1990s, I taught at City College’s Workshop Center for Teachers. I currently teach interdisciplinary courses for NCC’s Social Science Department. From 1987 until 2012, when I retired, I taught at PS 132 in northern Manhattan, both as a classroom teacher and as a literacy specialist. My familiarity with schools has helped me deal with a variety of educational issues that regularly come before the Common Council, such as budgets, technology questions, school safety, the purchase of textbooks, or facility issues. And as a former member of the Board of Education (2005-2009), and as a former president of the Cranbury School PTO, I appreciate many of the challenges faced by Norwalk schools.

I have discussed questions two through eight with the other candidates on the Republican ticket, and we have decided to submit a uniform response to these questions. The answers below reflect the collective input of a number of council candidates.

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?

BK: 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?

BK: 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?

BK: 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)?

BK: 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?

BK: 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?

BK: 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?

BK: 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.

Comments

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments