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Meek alleges Dem majority cuts public out of conversation

Lone Republican accuses Council of ‘contempt for anyone who dares participate’

Common Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D), July 12 in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Common Council member Bryan Meek sees a larger pattern in Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) refusing his recent request to include an item on the Council agenda. “We have a government firmly in place and mostly unchallenged that does not want the public involved,” Meek said.

Meek, a Republican appointed to represent District D, submitted a resolution for the agenda of the Sept. 27 Council meeting; it pertained to the City’s long-standing high profile lawsuit against real estate broker Jason Milligan. Livingston denied the request. Since the resolution called for a public hearing on the lawsuit, Meek contended that the public was therefore denied its chance to weigh in.

Citizens have since been able to speak about the situation swirling around Milligan. But Meek has broadened his criticism, accusing Livingston, the Council majority, City leaders and administrators of a broad practice of stonewalling public involvement in Norwalk’s civic affairs. “All meetings and outreach are set up as a pretense for the appearance that the public is welcome,” Meek told NancyOnNorwalk. “But all the actions and inactions clearly demonstrate contempt for anyone who dares participate.”

He alleges the practice has become “institutionalized” under the Democratic administration.

Council practice ‘for years’

Milligan has been accused of unfair trade practices in his purchase of properties slated to become part of Wall Street Place phases II and III, often called “POKO.” The City has declined to comment on any matters involving the lawsuit, keeping details confidential as it seeks millions of dollars in damages from the alleged 2018 violation of a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA).

Meek’s drafted resolution called for the Council to set a public hearing to publicly discuss and vote on Milligan’s latest settlement offer. The resolution was “rejected under the guise of it impacting current matters of litigation,” Meek said Sept. 23. On Monday, he said the info came from Livingston.

Under Council Rule 22, the public is restrained from speaking on anything that is not on a Council meeting’s agenda. The Council President sets the meeting agenda, reportedly with input from Committee chairpersons. Meek said the rule “prohibits members of the public from discussing anything the council president does not want discussed at a public meeting.”

Rule 22 states:

To encourage public participation, a period will be set aside for public comment before the start of the meeting’s business on items to be taken up at the meeting.  Each speaker will be limited to three minutes and the comments must address an item on the agenda.  Committee Chairs are encouraged to adopt this practice.  If a member of the public wishes to submit information electronically or otherwise in writing, it shall be made a part of the record.

 

“One person and one person alone gets to say what the public is allowed to talk about,” Meek wrote. “Past minorities were at least able to have some say via the placement of resolutions in the Council packets.”

“The Council president constructs the agenda after consulting with committee chairs. This has been Council practice for as long as I have been on the Council, and presumably long before. It is also the practice for most, if not all, boards and commissions in the city,” Livingston wrote Monday.

He said, “There is a process for individual council members to add an item to the agenda during a meeting. For reasons I can only surmise, Bryan chose not to follow that process.”

It would require a two-thirds majority vote for a Council member to add an item to the agenda during a meeting.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Fred Wilms said he agrees with Meek: a proposed resolution should be included in the Council agenda and be voted upon, no matter that it pertains to a pending lawsuit.

Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez did not respond to an email on the topic.

Coppola: Confidentiality is part of the settlement process

On Sept. 28, in an email chain which he forwarded to the press, Meek sought a legal opinion about the Council rules from Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola. Meek subsequently provided Coppola’s legal opinion, labeled “confidential attorney-client communication,” to the press.

Coppola, in the opinion dated Oct. 7, took issue with Meek’s inclusion of Milligan’s settlement offer in the draft resolution. Coppola said that some of Milligan’s “background information” was “not accurate.” Milligan had “misleadingly” presented “multiple legal matters in the pending litigation as undisputed,” when the judge has ruled in the City and Redevelopment Agency’s favor, according to Coppola. By discussing the settlement offer in public, the City would be “participating in confusing the public at best and misleading the public at worst,” Coppola wrote.

It would also be impossible to discuss the settlement offer without revealing confidential attorney-client privilege communications, Coppola wrote, warning that revealing the offer would have “significant adverse prejudicial effect” on a possible settlement and on prosecuting the case. Federal and State laws “are fundamentally founded on the long-standing judicial principle that maintenance of confidentiality within the sphere of settlement negotiations are necessary to foster settlement,” Coppola wrote.

Coppola told Meek that Council members do not have an unfettered right to add action items to the Council agenda. “The operative Council by-laws indicate that Items submitted to the City Clerk for inclusion of the Agenda are subject to exception taken {by the} Council President or Committee involved.”

Coppola’s opinion continued, “I am not aware of any widespread debate among Council membership about the ability of the Council President and Chairman of the Committee involved to take exception to requests for placement of Action Items on the Agenda.”

The Council could change its bylaws to take that power away from the Council President if it wished, he said.

Additionally, the City Law Department is “the proper party to make a request to put an item of this nature on the Agenda,” Coppola said, citing a 1991 opinion issued by then- Corporation Counsel Donald F. Reid. He quoted the opinion as saying, “it is inappropriate for individual members of the Council to unilaterally assert themselves into the operation and administration of the City to the extent that such functions, powers and duties have been so delegated.”

Coppola cited multiple legal cases and Mason’s Rules to support his opinion.

“I stopped reading the citations after the first one that came from a criminal case involving a sexual assault of a minor.  I’m no jurist, but I think I’d look around for some other citation to lead off support of my opinion with,” Meek said.

Coppola also referred to the City’s Code of Ethics, which applies to Common Council members. It states that a

City officer “shall not disclose confidential City information other than in accordance with established City procedures or with appropriate authorization from the City.”

Milligan sent his settlement offer to the press before Meek submitted his resolution. Neither of Norwalk’s news outlets had published it. It may have been on social media.

Meek said the offer was already public and, “My resolution didn’t ask for anything else but for the public to be able to weigh in on it, regardless of its merits.”

Requests restricted to those ‘blessed by majority rule’?

Meek alleged that Coppola said he couldn’t get an opinion from the Law Department despite “the plain language on the charter which says ANY member of the council can seek legal opinion.”

In an email exchange Meek provided to the press, Coppola initially said he’d provide the opinion but requested that Meek send future requests directly to him rather than create confusion by sending them to everyone in the law department.

On Oct. 10, Coppola said it’s Council policy for members to make such requests through Committee chairpersons.

That violates the City Charter, Meek replied. “Absent any ordinance revoking this, I fully expect the Law Department to comply with my requests as an employee of the city.”

He continued, “There is nothing about requesting opinions from counsel having to be blessed by majority rule (via committee chairs installed by majority rule), because it’s common practice not just here but also in surrounding jurisdictions according to counsel.”

Coppola, in a response to NancyOnNorwalk, said the policy “has not and never will prevent any Council member from obtaining a formal legal opinion or legal advice from the Corporation Counsel.”

His full statement:

“Section 63-2(E) of the City Code provides that the Law Department shall render formal opinions and give necessary legal counsel and advice when required by the Common Council or any member thereof, the Mayor or any board, agency, commission or department, and that the Corporation Counsel may require that such requests be in writing.  The general policy of the Corporation Counsel is for any board or commission member to make any request for a legal opinion through the respective chair and for any Council member to make any request for a legal opinion through the respective Chair of the Committee for which the opinion is requested or the Council President.

“The requirement is not intended to prevent any Council, board or commission member from being able to obtain a legal opinion, but rather to ensure an orderly process for requesting and issuing legal opinions.  This policy helps to ensure: 1) that the respective chair is aware that an opinion has been requested, 2) to allow for appropriate coordination, 3) to avoid multiple Council, board or commission members from requesting legal opinions about the same or similar issues, and 4) to avoid multiple attorneys in the Law Department from separately receiving requests from different Council, board or commission members to provide a legal opinion or advice regarding the same issue(s).  The policy has not and never will prevent any Council member from obtaining a formal legal opinion or legal advice from the Corporation Counsel.”

 

In a follow-up to NancyOnNorwalk, Meek said, “His opinion on how opinions are requested is also in direct violation of the Charter’s plain language on the subject. He is trying to have it both ways. The bottom line is they don’t want anyone to talk about what they don’t want talked about.

‘Contempt’

Meek, in the Oct. 17 email, said, “I’m looking for the most rapid solution possible for the Poko disaster and our current counsel is clearly not up to the task.”

On Monday, he said, “what the law department offered is only an ‘opinion’.   My opinion is this city is losing badly on the legal front nearly everywhere you turn.  There is no transparency on the cost beginning with the Mosque and through today.” The legal expenditures and settlements “must be over 8 figures.”

Meek’s criticisms follow Milligan’s Sept. 27 attempt to speak to the Council about Coppola and the legal department, a topic not related to anything on the agenda. Mayor Harry Rilling ruled Milligan out of order, later calling it a “stunt.”

Since then, Milligan and others have had their say, in a public comments period held at the Oct. 17 joint meeting of the Council and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

Meek said he’d gotten them that opportunity, asking the City Clerk to reissue the agenda because public comments hadn’t been on it.

On Monday, Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews, said, “It has been the practice of the Common Council for Special Meetings to include only the item the meeting was called to address. … In this instance, Mr. Meek requested public comment be added to the agenda and the Common Council President concurred. The item was added.”

She provided nine Council Special Meeting agendas to show that not including public comment is a “practice.” The oldest agenda was from Nov. 4, 2020, the most recent from Feb. 15.

While Meek characterizes the alleged “contempt for anyone who dares participate” as “institutionalized,” he also said it may not be intentional.

He wrote, “Sending out broken links, non-conforming agendas, unheralded policy decisions, figuring out zoom technical issues 30 months later, using covid for excuses to skip out on public meetings while mingling at fundraisers, putting out press releases that climate change is causing the drought, nothing to do with 30,000 more toilets being used, while ignoring the sewage spills, etc… I could go on but these have just become normalized / acceptable behaviors.”

Reminder: NancyOnNorwalk requires full names from commenters. For more information, go here.

Updated, 3 p.m.: More information.

13 comments

David McCarthy November 1, 2022 at 6:47 am

Meek is clearly correct, and the legal games being played reflect what one party rule results in…

Tysen Canevari November 1, 2022 at 6:51 am

Kudos to Bryan Meek for speaking up. It’s amazing how everyone on the council succumbs to Harry’s way. It is obvious that he gets flustered by confrontation. I thought he was going to need EMS instead of security when Mr Milligan was attempting to speak. Of course, Mr Livingston came to his rescue calling for a recess. What a breath of fresh air to have someone challenge the practices of the evil emppire. Case in point; we have a drought because of no rain. go take a look at the reservoir. The 30,000 apartments in Norwalk have no effect on the water supply according to the mayor. I wish that Fred Wilms, Mark Suda, and the rest of the republican party would step to the plate and be more vocal. Kudos to the independent Lisa Brinton who continues to enlighten us with factual information. Will the council please agree now to name the plaza at the police station after Harry. That and his 2 pensions is all he wants to retire. Do us that favor please!

Jason Milligan November 1, 2022 at 7:03 am

The council rules are 5 pages.

Can you share them with everyone?

Public participation is strongly encouraged throughout the council rules and the code of ethics.

The rules also give each member the ability to add items to the agenda.

Bryan Meek November 1, 2022 at 9:33 am

…. She provided nine Council Special Meeting agendas to show that not including public comment is a “practice.” The oldest agenda was from Nov. 4, 2020, the most recent from Feb. 15.

Thanks for proving my point that shutting out the public and ignoring CC by-laws where convenient has become institutionalized.

David Muccigrosso November 1, 2022 at 9:36 am

I usually take a jaundiced eye towards process complaints, because people tend to use them as a mask for partisan politics. But it’s clear that Bryan is highlighting a real problem and trying to unearth the truth. This controversy has been plagued with secrecy since the start, and the only way it’ll get fixed is if people start telling the truth – otherwise, this dumb court battle could easily stretch on for another 5-10 years.

However, Bryan, it DOES stretch the imagination a bit to complain that the public has not been given its say. This issue has been going on for YEARS now. There have been countless hearings and meetings. The public is well aware of the broad outlines, if not whatever sordid details are being hidden, and we’ve had multiple opportunities to register our outrage.

It’s just that public dissatisfaction isn’t enough to overcome one-party rule. So, the same bad actors stay in power. Sure, you can blame people and call all of CT’s Democrats hypocrites… but that will never stop them from voting blue. The plain fact of the matter is, it’s NOT the hypocrisy — EVERYONE is a hypocrite! — it’s the two-party system. DUH. Dismantle that system, and you’ll dismantle one-party rule.

Feel free to keep tilting at windmills, though. It’s a free country. I’d say “it’s no skin off my back”, but actually, it IS — because every year you and the other partisans keep tilting at the same dumb windmill, is another year we’ve wasted on not doing the one thing that will dismantle one-party-rule.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s time to give Ranked Choice a try.

Audrey Cozzarin November 1, 2022 at 11:07 am

I’ll pose the new model of “What If,” to unleash our power of imagination to together create a future we want:

What if our elected city officials actually represented the people?

What if the public truly felt encouraged to participate in their community and civic life, with mechanisms provided to enable their voices to be heard?

What if through more open and regular public participation issues affecting our community could be better resolved, with a feeling of satisfaction in good outcomes?

What if Norwalk became a model city, a leader in smart development, in a clean environment, an exciting educational center, safe walking/biking routes, a thriving and healthy community where neighbors know one another and enjoy life?

And, why not?

Nora King November 1, 2022 at 12:58 pm

This is one-party rule and hence why the political systems are failing the average person. No party should be the only voice. This is the total issue with the BOE and why it is falling apart and failing our kids.

Patrick Cooper November 1, 2022 at 1:06 pm

“A fish rots from the head” is a well-known phrase in the business sector, cliché and jargon but typically accurate. The thesis is – when companies or businesses struggle or fail, the likely root cause is poor leadership. Norwalk rots from the head.

Happy to see that Bryan alone is doing his job – and questioning those things that have been issues for quite some time. Issues that his predecessors wouldn’t touch. Issues his colleagues who wear the letter D refuse to acknowledge.

Harry is a bully – and his ever shrinking circle of sycophants enable his worst instincts. He simply can’t tolerate anyone who dare question him – even when warranted. This is on full display during the highly staged 3-minute public comments – where he interrupts or cut’s off anyone who is saying things – often facts – that he simply doesn’t want the public to hear. Less examined is the continued purge of less-than-100% complicit D’s on the common council, or in the various District D-committee’s. He’s running out of compliant acolyte’s.

The Mayor and the council are presumably elected to represent ALL of Norwalk’s residents. Since Harry has been elected (2013) – that mission has been undermined by a small group of people who currently control every aspect of Norwalk – and they don’t intend to lose that grip simply because someone has pulled their shenanigans into the light. They fight – often dirty. Contempt isn’t the half of it.

I’ll say it again – Harry Rilling will go down as the worst mayor in the history of Norwalk. This town – now a city – has been hijacked by the state and special interests – care of a compromised political bully – and that trajectory is all but impossible to re-direct. He’s had allot of help – but it’s largely been Harry whose created the West-Bridgeport we have today. Hooray.

Michael McGuire November 1, 2022 at 4:21 pm

Patrick,
I think you are correct that things rot for the head down. But I don’t think that is the case here. Nor do I think Mayor Rilling is a bully. Let me explain.

Technically we have a weak Mayor, Strong Council form of Government in Norwalk. This structure is why Mayor Rilling can appear to come across like a bully. This is largely due to the structural conflict between the City Charter and the Democratic party. Not his personality.

The Democratic party at all levels is a highly organized, monolithic, top-down organization with strong central control. This allows the Democratic party to speak with a unified voice, at all levels, on virtually any issue they choose within hours of the decision to push that issue. This organizational structure has allowed the Democrats to run rings around the Republican party, literally.

But there is a price to pay for this, a democrat breaking from the party line is never allowed. This is why you get group think. This is why Red Pilled Democrats are so reviled.

This also explains why the Democratic CC members locally rubber stamp everything that appears to come from Mayor Rilling. In the party structure the Mayor is above the CC member. Go a level higher and this is why Mayor Rilling can’t get ECS and other good things for Norwalk unless the party allowed it. If Bob wants a new school Bob gets a new school. Bob is above Harry. Bob can’t get ECS since it’s not good for Hartford, and so on and so on right on up the line to the White House.

However, when taken to extremes which is where we are today, really bad ideas can be, and are promoted simply because the Democratic hierarchy thinks they are good ideas. Remember no dissent is allowed.

Ask yourself are these good ideas: open boarders, demonization of literally half the American public, CRT, censorship via media and big-tech collusion, shutting down school parents, a two-tier judicial system, weaponization of the DOJ and FBI, a blackbox voting system, late term abortions etc. etc. Has anyone heard anything negative on any of these issues from any of our democratic elected officials – from Blumenthal/Murphy to our democratic CC members. Crickets, every one of them.

Thankfully there appears to be change on the horizon. And even the quiet democrats I know are starting to ask questions. Maybe we all should pay more attention to people like Brian.

Jason Milligan November 1, 2022 at 4:51 pm

There is a statute that limits my ability to share what took place at mediation.

I have been advised to be careful what I say, but I really would like to talk about it.

It seems ridiculous that a public party can keep secrets, and we know that this administration does everything withing their power to keep everything secret. The confidentiality in this case is being used to shield what the municipality is doing and how they are handling things.

The confidentiality could be waived by consent of each party.

I would wave confidentiality in a heartbeat. In fact, I hereby waive it right now.

Please press the public parties to also waive it.

I can’t imagine how it would hurt the public to know how they are being represented.

Tysen Canevari November 1, 2022 at 9:34 pm

Its all s shame. I just wish the mayor would be more open to his constituents except when he has to cut a ribbon and get a free dinner.

Victor Cavallo November 2, 2022 at 12:55 am

Settlement negotiations are not rendered per se confidential by any judicial principle. They just can’t be introduced into evidence in any judicial proceeding. Whether settlment negotations are kept “secret” in municipal matters is a strategic act.

Tom Belmont November 2, 2022 at 5:33 pm

Councilman Meek is discharging his duty with great competency and regard to his constituents, to the city, and all of its resident citizens. I appreciate his candor and prowess in pointing out the outstanding problems and dilemmas the town and city is faced with. As my District Rep he has my gratitude.

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