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Meek: ‘This needs to stop’

Common Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D), upper left, holds up his cell phone to illustrate hot spot technology, a reference to City Hall not having internet Jan. 10, during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Common Council’s sole Republican member said he will not vote to approve any more City spending until “this City figures out how to conduct public business in public.”

Bryan Meek’s announcement Tuesday came two weeks after he and NancyOnNorwalk arrived at the Council Chambers in City Hall, expecting the meeting that had been noticed via an agenda, only to find the doors locked and no one inside. Turned out, the internet wasn’t functioning in the building and the hybrid meeting had been shifted to online only.

Meek, appointed to represent District D when the seat became available due to a retirement, had received an email and a phone call but said he’d been traveling and hadn’t gotten the information. City officials said they’d announced the change on Facebook in an effort to alert the public.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, meetings must be accurately noticed to give the public a chance to participate.

On Tuesday, Council President Greg Burnett (D-At Large) made no mention of the “consent calendar,” a list of every item on the agenda that no one opposes which ordinarily begins the voting portion of the meeting. Instead, he gave the floor to Recreation and Parks Committee Chairwoman Darlene Young (D-District B) to introduce the first item for consideration.

Meek offered to make a comment about the item, a $34,874.44 purchase of three Toro Workman GTX EFI carts through a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) grant, then read from a prepared statement:

“Two weeks ago tonight, we authorized $6.2 million in spending during what was arguably an illegal meeting.

“Sure, Council members were notified 90 minutes prior about the internet outage at 125 (East Ave.) and also via phone message. But the public was only notified by a Facebook post on a page that maybe a few hundred people ever bother to look at frequently.

“There were no signs posted at City Hall in the lobby, nor in the vestibule out here the locked Council Chambers. The security guards knew there was no internet but were unaware that the meeting was being conducted via Zoom only and they only knew that they were not requested to unlock the Council Chambers that night.

“Anecdotally, members of the public also had difficulty accessing the Zoom meeting.

“If this isn’t illegal, then at best, it is unethical. And moreover, completely unacceptable.

“For $10 a month, I have access to Verizon’s network via hotspot. This is 10-year-old technology in my hand. How can this City not have reliable backup mechanisms to internet outages? Things happen of course, and even backups aren’t failsafe but in the past, pre-COVID, when there were issues with the simulcast of Common Council meetings they were recorded and posted to YouTube after the fact within a day or so. The meetings in Council Chambers simply weren’t scratched. Members of the public were not dependent on scanning Facebook to see if we might decide to show up either.

“This needs to stop.

“I’m sorry to lengthen your night by a few extra minutes with extra votes – ”

 

At that point, Burnett stopped him with an instruction to address the item, the three carts up for purchase.

Meek said his comments were related and he was almost done. “It’s required under Mason’s rules when one objects to any facet of the consent calendar. Here I object.”

He continued with his statement, “Until this City figures out how to conduct public business in public, I will not be voting in the affirmative to approve one single nickel of spend, not on tonight’s 2.3 million ask nor any money in the future in any future meeting until we get our act together.”

No Council members offered any response.

The effect of Meek’s announcement is that the ritual of a Council member reading the consent calendar is on hold. Instead, each Chairperson will read the items from their Committee and everyone will vote.

Meek voted no on all the items. On one item, an approval for data share with Norwalk Public Schools, he said, “While many and several of these items have no dollars that we’re authorizing, they assume capacity in the resources that we’re paying for. I don’t know if we have capacity, or need to take on additional capacity. So my vote remains no, even though they appear to be $0.”

Council member Heidi Alterman (D-District D) also voted no on the item.

“It’s not because I’m anti-data sharing,” she said. “It’s not because I think any particular entity is not good at what they’re doing. I’m a big fan of our Health Department. I think when it comes to sharing weights of elementary school students and middle schools, especially with young girls, there needs to be increased sensitivity. So that’s why I’m a no vote on this. But otherwise, I’m for the program.”

That brought the half-hour meeting to a close.

The meeting two weeks ago was similarly uneventful and also lasted half an hour. NoN is not aware of any citizens who attempted to attend in person.

Activist Diane Lauricella, who has attended many City Hall public meetings via Zoom, said she couldn’t dial in for the public comments period.

Bike/Walk Commission Chairman Tanner Thompson spoke to the Council and later told NancyOnNorwalk that he had no problem attending via the public link.

After Tuesday’s meeting, NoN asked Meek to clarify his comment, “members of the public also had difficulty accessing the Zoom meeting.”

“I heard of one who could not access electronically 2nd hand, but heard there were more,” he said.

The problem was fixed the next morning, according to Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews.  On Wednesday, she explained:

“On January 11, DBO and Crown Castle ran tests from our IT Department’s data center and identified that the connectivity issue stemmed from DBO’s data center. DBO conducted an emergency repair operation and re-ran the cable between 7:30 AM and 9:30 AM. At 9:30 AM, the City’s internet was restored.

“DBO and Crown Castle’s incident report concluded that the internet outage occurred due to an accident caused by one of the DBO data center’s Contractor’s technicians, who installed the cables in the secured data center. They also concluded that the internet outage that occurred outside of City Hall on January 10 was not connected to City Hall’s internet outage as they initially thought.”

 

DBO first won Norwalk’s contract for the City’s metropolitan area fiber optic network (MAN), connecting municipal and school buildings, in 2005, the company said. The contract expires in in October 2025, according to Woods Matthews.

Meek said Tuesday, “I will not be voting for any more appropriations as long as we can’t conduct public meetings legally, but more importantly ethically and within the spirit of a free and open government.”

Rilling was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

NancyOnNorwalk sent an email to every Council member, asking if they had a response to Meek’s comments. One replied. Jenn McMurrer (D-District C) said:

“Of course, Mr. Meek has the right to request anything off of the consent calendar, as we all do.

“I for one would not be able to serve on the council if every meeting we attended was in person. We make $46 per month to do this very important job and many of us have children and our meetings are mostly held in the evenings when those children are having dinner, doing homework, and getting ready for bed, precious moments that I already miss many of because of how many meetings we attend. That $46 does not cover childcare.

“The meeting he spoke of was a one-off and the only person who showed up from the full council in person was Mr. Meek despite the fact we were all emailed multiple times and called individually. I personally did not receive one piece of communication about it being a problem except from Mr. Meek.

“I also find it interesting that when we are in person, he often does not attend and takes advantage of the virtual option as we all do from time to time. The only reason I was not in person tonight is that I have bronchitis, but whenever there is the opportunity to show up I do. I think however you can show up, you should show up, and the work should speak for itself.”

Updated, 4:10 p.m., 5:15 p.m.: More information.

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15 comments

Lisa Brinton January 25, 2023 at 6:54 am

Sadly, there are no checks and balances under this administration. There is no transparency. No bid and mistake ridden contracts, routinely make their way to the council with no query, save Mr. Meek.

The public sees nothing regarding the city’s business because most is conducted in caucus behind closed doors. Thirty minute, rubber-stamp council meetings have become the norm and like the subcommittee meetings are dominated by self congratulations and little ‘oversight’ on behalf of residents.

We face the city’s largest budget crisis in my Norwalk lifetime – largely due to a BOE – another nontransparent, rubber-stamp organization – that started the budget season with an 18% increase ask – now down to 12%.

We’ve had unprecedented development, yet still can’t fund our city and schools. Both of these non-transparent and seemingly financially illiterate organizations have already started hurling accusations at one another. Ironic given they’re on the same team!

Democracy is dead when less than 30% of eligible voters ~ 15,000 in a city with 100,000 residents actually vote and where nobody sees a problem with the ‘local mayor’ funding a decade of reelections with outside law firms, developers and third party parasites feeding off the residents of Norwalk.

It’s gotta be lonely for Mr. Meek to watch his peers silently stonewall him because he is a Republican, never mind a CPA. Single party rule drives the wrong behaviors and we’re about to see it play out this budget season.

Does anyone on the common council or BOE, besides Mr. Meek have the courage to challenge the obvious? Are you afraid or blinded by the party rhetoric versus speaking up for residents? Guess we’ll find out over the next couple months.

Bryan Meek January 25, 2023 at 8:46 am

This isn’t about me or the night I attended virtually because I was coughing up a lung or the nights of committee I missed due to conflict.

The zoom calls do not allow for members of the public to see other members of the public. This has an isolating feel for participants. “Is anyone watching me speak?” “Should I speak not knowing who is here?” “If I knew who was here, I might speak.” “Wow, look at how many people showed up, I think I’ll speak”.

It’s not right or wrong that we took this away from our public, it is plain and simply WRONG.

Zoom is more than capable for allowing for this, so it is clearly intentional.

Back to two weeks ago, the failover plan was illegal. The meeting should have been conducted in CC chambers. Notices should have gone out via all channels available and someone should have logged into the zoom meeting to let members of the public know that it would be recorded for future consumption….due to internet outage. We use the reverse 311 system for less

Bryan Meek January 25, 2023 at 8:54 am

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with working virtually, it’s the shutting out of the public and isolating them that needs to stop.

Drew Todd January 25, 2023 at 9:01 am

Why are these meetings NOT held in person?! Enough of this Zoom nonsense especially when you represent the people of Norwalk. It’s funny for how many years the CC met in person but since COVID’S unnecessary Lock Downs as we have learned everyone seems to have an issue with attending meetings in person. If you can’t do the job don’t serve. It’s that simple. And further Bryan is 100% correct again! Maybe the CC should stop playing with our Monopoly Money which they think it is and start listening and being held accountable.

Fred Wilms January 25, 2023 at 5:14 pm

All CC and committee meetings should be back in person. Zoom can remain as a supplement for the public or for those Council members who are sick. Our elected representatives maybe got too comfortable hiding out on Zoom in front of their fake City Hall backgrounds? Come on – act like leaders, jump into your cars and drive the 5 minutes to City Hall. Our kids are back in school, as are our teachers. The metro north parking lots are starting to fill up again. Don’t lead from behind.

Rick Muldowney January 25, 2023 at 8:31 pm

Meet in person. Wear a mask if you’re compelled. The interaction of humans in person trumps zoom any day

Tysen Canevari January 25, 2023 at 8:55 pm

I love how councilman Jenn McMurrer stated that if meetings were in person then she couldnt do the job. Really, What the heck do you think that you signed up for? My dad served on the zoning board for many years and didnt get paid or didnt call into meetings. Its called volunteering for civic duty. Dont run again if you think it is a chore to show up to city hall. Mr Meek and Mr Wilms are correct. Our schools host sporting events and concerts but city hall cant have a meeting in person. Shame on you!

Claire Schoen January 26, 2023 at 9:13 am

@Tysen – Who looked after the kids when your dad so graciously volunteered for his civic duty? I am all for getting back to in-person meetings but let’s recognize that we live in the 21st century and child care is an issue for working families.

Andrew Mattiello January 26, 2023 at 10:52 am

I think it’s important to continue to allow for the virtual aspect of these meetings, that way those who can’t attend can still participate, or watch as needed. With that being said, it’s also very important for these to be in person again, and it’s not just about people being allowed to speak up. It’s important for our Council members to be able to look into the faces of their constituents as they talk, as well as when they vote. The people of Norwalk deserve to be able to participate in person for these meetings, as well as to be able to participate via Zoom if health or other reasons keep them from being able to attend.

Erica Kipp January 26, 2023 at 11:13 am

Meetings should be back to in person and there needs to be transparency. There is nothing like human collaboration and face-to-face, there IS something missing when constantly meeting online. Norwalk is thankful to have Meek.

Michael McGuire January 26, 2023 at 12:36 pm

I appreciate the fact that Bryan Meek is asking the tough question and engaging with the public via venues like NON. I wish the other CC members would be so inquisitive and engaging.

Kudos to rookie CC member Jen McMurrer as well for her recent piece in NON. It gives me hope that the Democratic Party might be moving away from chronic group think. Who knows actual public debate within the party might be right around the corner.

David Muccigrosso January 26, 2023 at 1:39 pm

I just want to shamelessly shill that Bryan should use this holdout as an opportunity to demand RCV.

Come on, Bryan! It never hurts to ask.

Bryan Meek January 26, 2023 at 9:46 pm

@David. RCV is low on the list. I think minority rule would go a lot further…i.e. 1/3 of seats go to the highest finishers in the losing party. I would rather see the effect of that first. BTW all of our commissions are actually governed by minority rule provisions. Only the BOE and the CC win by pure majority. Only 2 others out of 169 towns operate this way. I’d like to see a 4 year mayor term and this simple change to start.

Tysen Canevari January 27, 2023 at 6:20 am

@Claire. My mom did after working at Silvermine School all day as the secretary. She didnt expect the city to pay for child care like some people do. Too often now we wish to be behind a camera instead of face to face. I was one of three boys.

David Muccigrosso January 27, 2023 at 10:08 am

@Brian – Minority rule seems like a great way to entrench a power imbalance, not ensure reasonable representation.

Setting aside “1/3” of the seats doesn’t give you a fighting chance, it just gives you a platform from which to complain about the majority when you lose all the same.

Proportional representation, on the other hand, gives you the exact same “each seat you win goes to your party’s highest finisher” without automatically gifting the other party ANYTHING. And it even makes it more likely that the majority would split! If all that Lisa needs to get a seat or two is to clear a 5% threshold, well, we KNOW she can do that under PR. And who knows whether WFP, Greens, or Libertarians might catch a seat or two, either?

At any rate, under PR, you’d have half a chance to assemble a coalition to actually overrule the Democrats from time to time.

To me, that’s better than embracing “minority rule” just so you have a platform to complain from. But I’m not you.

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