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League of Women Voters of Norwalk voter guide: Dist. E candidates

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 LWV responses from the four District E candidates, in alphabetical order:

Candidate: John Igneri (D)

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

JI: In the last two years on the Common Council, I have become known as a voice of reason; that is, someone looking for a sensible solutions to the issues facing the Common Council. I also tend to work on a bi-partisan basis on the various council committees. This comes from my being a successful person in business for 40 years and a commissioner in the Sixth Taxing District since 2009. As a parent of children who attended Norwalk Schools, and as a person who over the years has continued to volunteer my time to various civic organizations, I have come to understand the diversity of our city, which makes me an effective council member.

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?

JI: I am familiar with the charter but in no way am I an expert. I do believe that there should be a charter revision commission established. The areas of concern are the two-year terms for the mayor and council, as well as the need to expand the police and fire commissions. The business community and other interest groups see the two-year terms for the council and mayor as an impediment to stability and long-range plans for Norwalk. How can we plan long term when we only serve short term, they ask? I agree. Today, Norwalk must have cohesive long-term strategic plans for our future. How can we deal with the rising tides and flooding anticipated in future years, how do we plan for economic growth and diversifying our tax base?

The police and fire commissions now only have three members, one being the mayor. At a minimum, I would like these commissions expanded to five members each so we can represent the cultural and gender diversity of this city.

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?

JI: Appointments to boards and commissions is a political process. Unfortunately this process does not seem adept at qualifying diverse people to serve, or training those people to get involved in such activities. Instead we see the same old names appear time and time again. Another suggested charter change could require the mayor to have a waiting period before all appointments so the public can have more time to comment. We thus create more transparency. The Common Council could also create a “citizen advisory committee,” one which will identify and train people who wish to serve the city on committees or commissions. In the meantime, I will continue to listen to my constituents to bring forward and advocate for qualified, diverse candidates for boards and commissions. I will be a stronger voice in the ear of the mayor (no matter who is elected) to make sure our diverse community has a stake in helping run their city.

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?

JI: I believe public participation is critical so council committees can make informed decisions. The current system can be improved but it is difficult. If we allow longer public participation than three minutes we can spend hours listening to citizens and the committee will never have time to deal with its business.

We need to create more opportunity for the public to be in dialogue with city leaders. I was involved in starting, about two years ago, Council Conversations. Meetings were held in each district. The council members were there to just listen to the public. Each district is unique and we learned much from the public speaking their minds.

They are an excellent form of public participation, and should be reinstituted in 2014.

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)?

JI: Neighboring communities are making investments in their human infrastructure to promote their cities. That is lacking here in Norwalk. We have approached the business of growing Norwalk the same way for decades. There is also a perception that there is more crime in Norwalk than any of our neighbors, as I recently learned talking with a developer. That’s why so often more desirable projects gravitate towards our neighbors and we are left with the ones less desirable.

Norwalk has to envision and produce guidelines as to what it wants and fight the perceptions of a higher crime rate. What we want goes beyond the zoning code but speaks to the look and size of development. If we are going to be committed, then we need to do the hard work to make sure our regulations are working for us and not against us; decide to be more aggressive with instituting our own “economic development team”; and finally promote and market Norwalk so that it becomes more attractive to prospective entities of interest.

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?

JI: More joint sessions with our colleagues can be helpful. With Dr. Rivera now superintendent, the communication between the council and the BOE is more critical. Every budget is tough and we often make it tougher with our in-fighting and lack of community goal. It’s time to get politics out of the way of education. And Democrats and Republicans need to be cohesive with our message to the state of Connecticut that our needs have grown and our kids deserve better than what they are getting from the state. We also need to talk more about the great things happening in Norwalk public schools.

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?

JI: I would work to see Norwalk develop short and long-term plan as to what types of businesses will find our city most attractive. We then we must go out and actively pursue those types of firms while building an infrastructure to support them once they relocate to Norwalk. For example, we have a wonderful train station in our city but have not developed more office space conveniently around that location. If we did, workers will travel by train to save time and fuel prices and we would have fewer cars clogging our streets. Instead we have many empty lots growing weeds and accumulating trash until another box store comes in to develop it. Box stores do bring low-paying jobs and do not significantly increase our tax revenue. The tax burden remains on the residential property owner.

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?

JI: No, I have not signed. However, I do take the time to express my opinions to any interested group, fill out questionnaires and gather insights. My service is to the constituents that elect me to represent them. I have been trusted with this tremendous responsibility and I take very seriously. I look forward to the opportunity to serve the residents of District E on the Common Council for another two years.

Candidate: Dave McCarthy (R)

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

DM: I have a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Georgetown University. I spent eight years as an officer in the United States Navy. I have worked for GE Capital and IBM for the 15 years since graduate school here in Connecticut. I have worked in and out of government, so I understand both sides of the process and how to effectively manage government processes as well as negotiate to get the best deal for the taxpayer.

Though I am in a political role, I am not a politician, I am someone who wishes to see their city made a little better, and I have the tenacity and intelligence to get those changes made.

I do not tolerate those that seek to self-aggrandize and profit from a role within our city government. I am not one who simply sits back and lets others do the work. I have been a leader since my time in the military, and as such I am a target at times, because I am not just a bystander willing to show up and vote the way I am told.

On the Common Council in the last two years I have led the charge to implement single-stream recycling, the blight ordinance, garbage collection outsourcing, and was one of the primary architects of the agreement that fully funded the BOE budget this fiscal year. I had to fight for all of these extremely reasonable and worthy issues every inch of the way.

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?

DM: 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?

DM: 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?

DM: 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)?

DM: 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?

DM: 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?

DM: 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?

DM: 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: Kate Tepper (D)

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

KT: I believe I can bring a more direct, positive and practical voice to the Common Council. I want to help reinstate the goodwill that lies behind government service and demonstrate with intelligent and well-researched policy decisions, the benefits that a well-run local government can bring to its citizens.

I’ve had a rich and varied life, living and working on two continents, and that has given me a unique perspective on different peoples, situations and cultures. I grew up in London during World War II and, as a teenager in the difficult years that followed, I learned two very important lessons: how to manage with the resources you have and the value of community and cooperation. Nobody in that dreadful time could have survived without the help of others.

I’ve sailed a small boat across the Atlantic and, when my husband was lost at sea, I learned what it was like to be a single mother with a child to support. When I came to this country I worked at three jobs to support myself and my daughter. I studied to become a pharmaceutical copywriter and medical conference planner, specializing in anesthesia, diabetes and hypertension.

I’ve volunteered at the VA and the PTA and have always been politically active, particularly in regard to women’s equality. I’ve laid bricks, hung sheetrock, put up wallpaper, tiled bathrooms and welded pipes.

I have a practical and thoughtful approach to problem solving that will, I think, be a valuable addition to the Common Council.

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?

KT: I have read parts of the City Charter but would hardly say I can recite it chapter and verse. I do know, for example that this document has served as the basis for running the city since its incorporation and that it deals with things like the various taxing districts, municipal services, taxation, parks, libraries and schools. It establishes the relationship between – and the duties of – the Common Council, the mayor and the various boards and commissions.

Proposed charter changes have often been focused on changing the length of terms served by council members and the mayor. Extending those terms to four years with a limit of two terms in office could enable all council members, and the mayor, to spend more time on the business of the city and lessen the time needed to run for office. In addition, elections are expensive to run, and more widely spaced elections could provide some budget savings.

Helping the Common Council serve the people should not require an expensive and controversial revision of the charter. What is required are a will and a determination to understand the responsibilities and powers that go with the role of councilperson and to use them as wisely and effectively as possible.

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?

KT: One possible solution is to empanel a committee comprised of several Common Council members as well as diverse members of the community who can serve as advisors. For example: past serving commission members, neighborhood association members, business association members. The panel would take resumé submissions anonymously for the first level of vetting. This would allow the panel to ascertain the criteria, qualifications and life experience that are important to the many different stake-holders. It would also help to equalize some of the advantages that accrue from being connected to the “right people” in the administration.

The constant re-appointment of the same people by the mayor tends to discourage new energy and ideas going forward, and this should certainly be closely scrutinized before any re-appointment.

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?

KT: This question makes our public comment process sound very negative. Though not without problems, our public comment process is largely consistent with that of other municipalities and has the benefit of allowing public comment at the beginning of a meeting so that those who wish to speak do not have to wait through an entire meeting in order to speak. Except in exceptional circumstances, the time allotted for public comment should be reasonably limited, as should the time allowed for each speaker. Those unable to speak due to time constraints should be asked to present a written comment that will be formally acknowledged. Council members also have homes to go to!

I would encourage members of the public to take advantage of several other avenues of communication in order to make their concerns known – through customer service, city departments, phone calls and emails to Common Council members and commissioners and gathering citizen petitions etc. Unfortunately, these avenues of communication are not always convenient, transparent or responsive. For example, the city’s web site is available for 24 hours a day and should be upgraded to provide an easily understood and friendly avenue of communication that directs customer concerns to the right department and also delivers timely information on the status of those concerns back to the customer.

Council committee meetings, where proposals are refined BEFORE being submitted to the council would better facilitate public understanding and create a more cooperative interaction between City Hall and the public.

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)?

KT: For any development to be successful it is imperative that financing is secured and budgets fully funded for the entire development or project.

The public should be involved in the initial stages of any project to ensure that impacts on the community – for example, traffic congestion – are fully considered. There should be penalties built into all contracts so that any major changes in scope due to poor planning or lack of financing do not impact the city’s finances.

In order to achieve maximum results, the Common Council should interact frequently with all city departments, commissions and committees as a project works its way toward approval and during its progress to completion.

Statistically, it is small businesses that provide the most jobs and it would be helpful if Norwalk became a small business magnet. Setting up a “one-stop shop” that would provide the financial and permitting assistance start-up businesses need as well as expert help in locating suitable properties in the city would provide a great service incentive to encourage small businesses to locate here.

“Green” jobs grew by 3 percent last year. An aggressive outreach program to bring green jobs the city would put Norwalk on the forefront of this development. Providing the conditions that can help small business grow will help expand economic opportunities and encourage workers to settle here – thereby expanding the tax base.

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?

KT: Budget discussions that pit the BoE against the rest of the city budget present us with a false choice and I would work to present this yearly budget battle in a more informed light. The belief that using taxpayer money to fund education takes away tax money from other investments that the city must make ignores the fact that better educational outcomes benefit the city by creating the foundation for an advanced workforce and attracting new residents to Norwalk who value its school system. Working-age parents are huge contributors to our community through taxes and a vested interest in the vitality, standards and livability of their children’s schools and community.

The Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula is still an issue that is forcing us to dedicate more residential taxes to the schools, particularly as we are required to begin implementation of Common Core standards. Working more closely with our state legislators to advocate for adjustments to the ECS formula that would more fairly represent the city’s diverse population, demographics and income disparity would be one of my priorities.

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?

KT: The Common Council, working in close cooperation with the city’s boards and committees, should work to ensure that the master plan for the city has both a short- and a long-term vision for development that reflect the priorities of its citizens with regard to resources, energy management, pollution control, safety and quality of life. Close examination of these parameters should guide every part of the development process so that Norwalk becomes a natural venue to consider as a place to do business. The continued development of large, one-story warehouse-type stores will not create the well-paid jobs we need and does little to increase our tax base.

We have failed dismally to market Norwalk’s ideal location on the east-west connection between New York and Boston and its easy access to major highway, railroad and maritime transportation, and I will push hard to improve this image.

An economically and culturally diverse, well-educated workforce with solid infrastructure and transportation will create a marketplace for new and relocating businesses. With a formal and well-structured plan in place, it is far easier to make efficient use of our often limited economic resources. We cannot continue making poor investment choices that stagnate, fail or take years to come to fruition.

I, too, have a stake in this community and will endeavor to see that strategic planning based on good data, civility, accountability; sensibility and transparency are improved on my watch.

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?

KT: NO!

Candidate: Emily Wilson (R)

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

EW: When I opened my law practice on East Avenue several years ago, I had the opportunity to become involved in my community. I joined the Board of Directors for the Norwalk Senior Center, have served for nine years, and am currently the president of the board. I also served three years on the Conservation Commission, and another two years on the Zoning Commission, this past year as the chairman. By living, working and volunteering in Norwalk, I have worked with many of the city’s departments. I have a solid understanding of many of our municipal functions. All of which has equipped me to be an advocate for my district and for 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?

EW: 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?

EW: 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?

EW: 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)?

EW: 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?

EW: 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?

EW: 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?

EW: 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

3 responses to “League of Women Voters of Norwalk voter guide: Dist. E candidates”

  1. Osgood Schlater

    Wow! Except for their biographical material, Emily Wilson and Dave McCarthy published identical answers to the League of Women Voters, including identical cut-offs when they went over 250 words. The question is, which one wrote the answers, or was it the the Chairman of the Republican Party? Are they Siamese twins, or can they speak for themselves? Apparently, Emily Wilson has trouble speaking, so in the LWV forum, she had to read what she had to say, and during the reading she lost her place and had to remain silent for the last twenty or thirty seconds. Not so good. Dave McCarthy has no trouble speaking, even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. However, at the LWV forum, he successfully verbalized that he is one mean guy.

  2. Don’t Panic

    Add two more to the list of Republicans who have all copied the same answers. Consistency in a party platform is one thing, but this leaves no opportunity to evaluate each one on their own merits. Do we really want to elect a bunch of Stepford politicians?

  3. RU4REAL

    Wow, hope there wasn’t a cover charge at the door?

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