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League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Guide: Dist. D Candidates

Updated, 4:30 p.m. Monday, two videos added.

NORWALK, Conn. — The League of Women Voters of Norwalk, a non-partisan organization dedicated to voter education, puts 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 apparent 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.

Here are the responses from the four District D candidates, in alphabetical order:

Candidate: Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R)

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

SOG: Lifelong Norwalk resident

Recently purchased first home in District D

Chamber of Commerce Ambassador

Member of the Oak Hills Park Authority

Graduated Sacred Heart University 2009

Executive Assistant, Tengram Capital located in Westport

Husband is sixth grade Social Studies teacher at Ponus Ridge Middle School

I have been happy to call Norwalk home for my entire life. When my husband and I were ready to purchase our first home there was never a doubt that we would continue to be residents of Norwalk.

I have been involved with the Chamber of Commerce for many years and now serve as a Chamber ambassador. I am member of the Oak Hills Park Authority and have worked hard to help the course achieve the success it has seen this season. I will work hard to make sure that Norwalk continues to be a city that people are proud to call home.

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?

SOG: 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?

SOG: 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?

SOG: 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)?

SOG: 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?

SOG: 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?

SOG: 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?

SOG: 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.

Candidate: Jerry Petrini (R)

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

JP: Running a successful small business, My Three Sons, that has existed for 22 years in Norwalk says a lot about my experience. Running a city government and running a business should be very similar in my opinion. You have to listen to your customers (the taxpayers of the City of Norwalk), you need to balance your expenses versus revenue and not price yourself out of business (taxes), and try to maintain all your day-to-day operations (operating budget). While doing this, you need to plan for the future by always reinvesting in your business (capital/expenditures like schools, drainage, roads, and infrastructure).

My qualifications for being an effective councilman are proven. I have almost two years of experience under my belt being a councilman. It takes almost that amount of time with guidance of some great council members that have been around to really understand the workings of our city government. During these tough economic times, I have accomplished a lot and would like the opportunity to continue to better serve our city with the knowledge that will make me be an even better councilman.

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?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

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?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

LWV: If elected, what will you do to encourage members of the public to share their views before the Common Council?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

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)?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

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?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

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?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

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?

JP: (See boilerplate Republican answer above in Shannon O’Toole Giandurco’s Q&A)

Candidate: Marilyn Robinson (D)

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

MR: I served for four years as city clerk to Mayor Bill Collins. My responsibilities included supervising the mayor’s office staff including an ombudsman position, officially titled “Hot-line representative.” Through that position, we offered a full “hands-on” system of dealing with citizen problems and I advocate a return to that system.

I am familiar with the city system – how it works – and how to find out who the most useful staff are in each department. The Common Council has a strong “watchdog” role over all departments — if the council chooses to use it. I have experience with and commitment to serving the citizens of Norwalk with the utmost dedication and transparency.

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?

MR: As city clerk for four years, I am very familiar with Norwalk’s city charter. I believe that the charter should be amended to include a four-year term for mayor and council. This would reduce the number elections and conform to terms in other large Connecticut cities. We should also look again at removing town clerk from list of elected officials. Also, the charter could be placed as a searchable document on the city website.

The charter is not an impediment to an effective Common Council. The charter fully allows the council and its committees to explore policy or performance areas. The Norwalk Common Council has great freedom and power to do what it wishes. My goal would be to hold more community meetings and also to invite citizens to speak at our committee meetings where there is more time and flexibility and to use those meetings to explore issues that have not yet commanded the city’s full attention.

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?

MR: To address the issue of diverse representation on the various boards and commissions, we need to maintain a spreadsheet with data about those currently serving on boards and commissions. Analyzing the data on a regular basis in order to be properly prepared for upcoming openings AND to determine who may be under-represented. In order to have more people serve, I believe we should not have individuals serve on more than one board or commission. On a regular basis, through press releases, social media, etc., we need to invite residents to submit letters of interest and resumes.

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?

MR: In order for citizens to express their ideas and concerns more frequently and more effectively, we should hold periodic meetings in various Norwalk neighborhoods to foster more input. And, of course, all councilmen should make their phone numbers and e-mail addresses know to their constituents – and be timely in their response time to any citizen inquiry and/or suggestion.

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)?

MR: The Common Council has the power to “watch over” the Redevelopment Agency more closely than it does, and I think that would be a very good idea.

Members should attend agency meetings to keep informed and to serve as intelligence gatherers For the mayor. We might consider charter change to reorganize the role of Redevelopment Agency, Planning Commission, Zoning Commission, Building Department, etc., and the Council should initiate comprehensive review of land use regulations.

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?

MR: We need to work with Superintendent Rivera to ensure that current spending levels are efficient and effective. The council can actively review the budgets and should actually attend BOE meetings occasionally.

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?

MR: Cities don’t attract pawn shops – the economy attracts pawn shops. Big box stores are another matter. They are attracted by faulty zoning and Norwalk’s has been bad. Although this is not the purview of the Common Council, I fully support Harry Rilling’s proposal to change the zoning rules to deter these stores and to attract more mixed-use and multi-story developments. These provide much greater property tax revenue and many more jobs which could be the solution to a number of Norwalk’s problems. We need to actively market Norwalk to desirable grand list targets that would truly reduce residential taxpayer’s burden.

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?

MR: I have not.

Candidate: Nick Sacchnelli (D)

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

NS: I feel that my professional background will be a valued addition to the council. I believe that there is an opportunity to gather and disseminate information to the constituencies above and beyond current methods. I have been providing a marketing and promotions service for the culinary market for the past five years and I have developed and utilized many tools to gather demographic information as well as to disperse information to large demographic groups by given dates and deadlines.

In addition I have been a district manager at best buy for the past seven years. In my current role I am in charge of managing the remote work force. With this my direct employees work in areas of New York and New Jersey while I am here in Norwalk or in my office in Trumbull, Conn. Because I am not physically there all the time I am often placed in a position to leverage my peers to be successful. I have been a recognized leader many times in the past due to my ability to work with large and diverse groups and to be effective. I am not the leader that barks orders and expects results, I have learned to be successful as a team player I measure the task at hand and resource the individual/s that are most apt to accomplish the task, whether it be through background, training, or independent knowledge. I feel this is important as a council member to understand that dynamic of accomplishing a goal,

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?

NS: I am rapidly familiarizing myself with our charter and although I do not feel I yet have the right to speak with conviction on a specific charter change. I do believe that there is necessity for allowing a town charter to be a living document as to best serve the people. As long as there is a limit to the number of items to be changed within a specific period. I am aware that there has been conversation around extension of terms in specific offices. With the forefront of the people’s best interest in mind, I do see the value in extending the term of the key figures in our law writing body, such as the mayor or the at-large council members, to allow time to follow through and follow up with planned initiatives without being forced into a position where they might lose focus every year and a half to consider campaign strategy.

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?

NS: This again I feel comes to the lack of utilizing all measures available to reach our citizens. I believe that many of the same people are reappointed because they are comfortable with the system and are clearly in the know. It is much harder to get your foot in the door and there needs to be passion and awareness of the topics our city is facing to choose to fight a battle for what to many is recognized as a thankless job. In my professional career I spend a lot of time on staffing and making sure I line up the right person with the right job. But the sad truth is the right person is not always the individual applying for that job. Council members have the opportunity to put a spotlight on pertinent issues from day to day. Issues that might prompt people to motion and put their own name on the line as I am today.

I had the pleasure of speaking to a career development program at Norwalk High School this Wednesday. My goal was to get the students involved in local politics and to speak on the issues. I chose not to speak on party lines or to win individual favor; my conversation started with basic questions around their current familiarity with local politics and was surprised to find out how passionate these youths where around the issues. However, they spoke freely, passionately, and intelligently around Syria, Obama care, the government shutdown.

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?

NS: I believe the council is in place to serve the public. I believe there should have as many outlets to the citizen as possible. It is the council’s job to represent their constituents. As I stated earlier I do not believe we disperse information through all the outlets that are relevant to today’s society. I believe there should be social network integration, we should tweet the council’s topics of discussion. We should have a council Facebook page. I might go as far as saying we should Vine or Instagram council meetings. These are tools that are already available and have no cost associated. They are constantly “pushing” information to out laptops, tablet, and smart phones. No new infrastructure is required and we aren’t casting a new mold, we are literally giving people what they are used to. They are comfortable tweeting back, hash tagging, and commenting on news feeds. We live in a real time world; no one waits for the morning paper anymore. There is no reason why we should wait for a Common Council meeting for the people to have a voice. As well as let a council meeting pass that a citizen would have liked to speak at, but missed, because we are not reaching them in a way that is familiar to them.

This is not something I am taking a guess at. Professionally, I work for a Fortune 500 company that invests countless dollars on research to make sure that we are reaching our customers.

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)?

NS: Norwalk is a beautiful city and at its current state should not be directly compared to its neighbors. But as the question was asked, I looked into not only Stamford and direct neighboring cities within Connecticut, but I started researching other areas of the country as well to try to get a grasp of what could be done better or differently. I found that there is no real consistency around land use and stalled projects and there is no one approach that has been proven more effective over another. In addition, I myself need to be humble in admitting I have little background or knowledge in this matter. That said I would like to answer with less fact than I originally intended but more of personal belief. I believe that the approach taken should be the approach that is most beneficial and least disturbing to the community. Therefore in order to properly administrate such a belief the council should appoint people who have such backgrounds to make sure we maximize potential and allow the decisions to be made by an unbiased party with all the tools and recourses available to do so. If I was to go back to the original verbiage of the question comparing Norwalk to Stamford. I would love to find a home for the youth enrichment program I recently read about who lost its space out to a big developer that did not necessarily put the community first.

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?

NS: The Board of Ed question and education as a whole is what prompted me to run. As you may know my father is a long-standing teacher at Norwalk High School and the last tech ed teacher at the high school level in the city, therefore I have a great passion in this realm. The simple answer to this is I would like to ask more questions! We are struggling to find additional resources and minimize cost when we are clearly misallocating the resources we currently have. There needs to be oversight and accountability.

The youths of the city should not fall prey to budgets. I can speak for what I see in regards to my father’s situation, and please internalize this. I know you will agree a question should be asked. There are many different forms of learning styles and when I was talking to a successful friend of mine who shall remain nameless, he recounted a story of how he was not a fan of traditional education and didn’t understand how he would ever need things such as geometry and knowing he was going to be a plumber like the rest of his family he was considering dropping out and taking up his trade. He told this to his old electronics teacher Mr. Bakes (who has retired and his position was never back filled) Mr. Bakes showed him how geometry was a part of his everyday work.

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?

NS: It is true we do need to increase commerce we also need to support our long-standing businesses with an ever-present backdrop on the overall effect on the community. While answering this question, I began to think further into to development strategies that I have seen work in other areas of industry that might be beneficial to all parties involved. As a consultant I was thinking of what values could be added to entice me to bring my business to Norwalk. I feel that we should encourage possibly incentive long standing businesses that are willing to sit on a government regulated council that represents their direct demographic. For example if the SoNo culinary demographic would sit down and pool their resources and market as a whole (which I have assisted in forming and was highly beneficial to the businesses), this will increase their footprint and increase business this type of organized marketing council will naturally and autonomously keep an uniformed message and will attract like business as they would be catering to like clientele. Due to the pooled resources the merchants will have further reach than as individual units and as a whole they indirectly will be marketing Norwalk.

In addition this will often discourage big boxes in these types of niche markets and communities because research dictates a unified body of merchants will be able to market against a big box or undesirables and keeps balance within a community.

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?

NS: I pledge that I will make my decisions with honesty and integrity, with a clear understanding of the interests of my constituents.

Comments

One response to “League of Women Voters of Norwalk Voter Guide: Dist. D Candidates”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Mr. Mercurio, Mr. Verdone and now Ms O’Toole. None were on the council at the time that budget was passed. All suggest a constituent concern is silly.
    .
    I am disappointed in the LWV that accepted these identically wordred answers as useful resources for the voters. They tell us only what one of our already elected councilmen has to say (I wager its Mr. McCarthy) and give us no insight at all into the verbal skills or thought processes of these new young guns.
    .
    Are they going to take orders in lockstep on the council? Is this laziness? Can we count on someone who has had their homework done for them to read and understand those meaty council packets?
    .
    Is this why they collectively refused to provide answers to NON?

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