Mosby to Norwalk council: You’re breaking the law

NORWALK, Conn. – A litigious Norwalk citizen said Tuesday that he has his sites set on the Common Council, drawing the first effort from Mayor Harry Rilling to shut down a speaker who has wandered off course.

John Mosby first said he was speaking as a former union leader in support of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members who were at the meeting in relation to the Maritime Aquarium lease up for consideration by council members. He then went on to speak of his legal actions against the Board of Education, which were inspired by a contract change that affected his son.

“The Norwalk Board of Education have charges laying against them now in the Labor Board, and also they’ve got charges under the Freedom of Information Act,” he said. “What I seen is they rigged the contract on workers. … When you have public officials doing that it’s a dangerous thing.”

The new three-year contract for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1042 was approved by the BOE in May. Mosby’s son, Alvin, spoke at a May BOE meeting protesting a change in that contract: He could no longer get insurance benefits if he retires at 55. The age for that is 59 under the new contract.

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons said at the time that the contract had been negotiated in good faith by union representatives.

The elder Mosby said Tuesday that he had gotten a copy of the contract via a Freedom of Information Act request. His complaint concerned a recent FOI commission hearing.

John Mosby speaks at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

“The Board of Education always use their lawyer, but you know who they put on me? They put the Corporation Counsel on me. We had a big fight up there,” he said.

Violation of the charter — the BOE is separate from the city, he said.

Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola leaned over to say something to Rilling as Mosby spoke and seconds later, more than three minutes into Mosby’s rant, Rilling tried to shut him down.

“Are you advocating for the union?” Rilling asked.

There was a little back and forth.

“If you don’t do something with the corporation counsel I’m getting ready to file charges against the Common Council,” Mosby said. “That’s what I’m trying to get across to you. You are violating the city charter. Mayor Moccia never did something like this, he let the board handle their own thing. I’m not against you mayor, I’m trying to tell you about it.”

“This has nothing to do with the Board of Education,” Rilling said, as part of the back and forth.

Mosby said he would not be bullied. “You guys think you can do anything you want,” he said. “I’m going to warn this Common Council. We’re not going to let you get away with this.”

Rilling said after the meeting that he feels it important to let citizens have their say.

“I know we have a three-minute rule, but unless something is going on extremely long I don’t feel a three-minute cut off time should be carved in stone,” he said. “I believe in letting people speak. I said that when I was running for office, but Mr. Mosby was clearly off topic, not speaking about anything that was on the agenda. That’s why I kept asking if he was here to advocate for the workers. That would be fine, but he was bringing in the Board of Education, corporation counsel, and it really wasn’t on topic.”

A lawsuit filed by Mosby against the BoE in August 2007 was in court through October 2012, according to the state’s website. Mosby filed a lawsuit against Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) last October.

Mosby was the topic of a scathing editorial written in 1996 by then-Superintendent Ralph Sloan. Mosby cost Norwalk taxpayers $60,753 in 1995 with litigation, Sloan wrote.

Mosby took his complaint about the city’s lawyer representing to the BOE at last week’s BOE meeting.

“You all rigged that contract…” he said, explaining his FOI complaint. “… When I went up to Hartford, when I went into the meeting, I was looking for the board’s lawyer, I had the corporation counsel. I want you all tonight to know if the corporation counsel is going to represent the Board of Education I would like you all to find out because under the charter it say the board is supposed to have its own lawyer. I would like you all to get back to me and let me know what you are going to do about that.”


12 responses to “Mosby to Norwalk council: You’re breaking the law”

  1. SilenceDogood

    The “Cooperation Counsel”? Is that like an “Escape Goat”?

  2. EveT

    This is all because of a change in eligibility for insurance benefits after retirement, raising the age from 55 to 59? Good grief. How many workers today are eligible for ANY insurance after retirement? I’m not saying employers should not provide it, but having to wait until age 59 to retire with full benefits does not seem unreasonable.

  3. John Levin

    Perhaps a new hobby is in order?

  4. Ridiculous-ness!


    What would mike mushak do?

  5. ScopeonNorwalk

    The Corporation Counsel is inexperienced and costing the city.

  6. Casey Smith

    Scope – Interesting that you think Coppola is inexperienced. ….Coppola’s write up on Berchem, Moses & Devlin, Inc. website says differently.

    “Mario F. Coppola practices in the areas of municipal law, land use and zoning, property tax assessment appeals, real estate transactions and general civil litigation. Mr. Coppola has handled hundreds of zoning and tax appeal matters from the administrative level through the Connecticut Courts.

    Mr. Coppola has served as a Town Attorney for the Town of Trumbull since 2009 and an Assistant Town Attorney for the Town of Westport since 2006. Mr. Coppola regularly provides legal representation and services to other municipalities, such as the Towns of Easton, Madison and New Canaan.”

    I kinda get the feeling that Berchem, Moses & Devlin don’t just hire any law student that happens to be passing by.

  7. Inquiring Mind

    So, just for clarification’s sake, was Mr. Mosby there supporting the Aquarium workers or was he threatening a suit against the Council because the City’s Corporation Counsel was working with the BOE or was he complaining about the BOE in general?
    It’s very curious…
    The City now has a say in who the Aquarium, a private entity, hires or fires?
    The Council is now liable for who the Mayor chooses as Corporation Counsel?
    The City is now liable for terms in BOE contract settlements?
    Very interesting.

  8. Mike Mushak

    Ridiculous-ness, thanks for wondering! I am not touching this one. That’s between this gentleman and the lawyers apparently. However, I do think that at one time a long time ago public sector employees made less than the private sector, and they were promised generous benefits to make up for it. Now that public sector employees make more than the private sector, it does not make sense to continue with the same level of benefits. We just can’t afford it. That’s why new hires in Norwalk no longer have guaranteed pensions, and they have to pay more into their healthcare, which was negotiated last year. As our Finance Director Tom Hamilton stated once, it is simply unsustainable. I agree with him. I think it is rare for anyone these days to support the old system, no matter their politics.

  9. anonymous

    I agree with you @Mushak.

  10. the donut hole

    if this isn’t a poster child for ending public service unions, I don’t know what is.

  11. Mike Lyons

    Mr. Mosby is flat wrong in his complaint about the Corporation Counsel representing the Board of Education. Both the City Code and the policies of the Board of Education provide for representation of the Board by the Corporation Counsel’s office. Section 63-2 of the City Code says that the City Law Department (Corporation Counsel’s office) shall “represent all city officers, agencies, boards and commissions in all matters of law.” The Code says the Department shall “represent and appear as and be the attorney of record in all … claims of the city and in all actions or proceedings in any court or before any board wherein the city or its officers, officials, boards, agencies or commissions or employees, by reason of any suits growing out of their official duties, shall be parties defendant or parties in interest.” This is why Deputy Corporation Counsel Spahr represents the Board in matters before the CHRO and the FOIC (such as with the FOI claim filed by Mr. Mosby).

    The Board’s policies mesh with these provisions. Board Policy 9125 says that “the services of the Corporation Counsel of the City of Norwalk will normally be sought by the Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools”. The Board policy goes on to discuss use of outside counsel other than the Corporation Counsel:

    “The Board of Education and/or the Superintendent of Schools may retain the services of one or several attorneys in order to tap particular areas of expertise whenever:
    1. Interpretations or rulings requiring immediate action are unattainable through the Corporation Counsel due to his/her absence or excessive work load, and/or
    2. The special problems of the school system require the assistance of attorneys with wide experience in educational issues.”

    So, in matters that are fairly typical of general municipal law practice (CHRO and FOIC complaints, some litigation, employment matters, general legal advice) the Board uses the Corporation Counsel’s office. In more specialized educational areas (particularly collective bargaining with employee unions and arbitration matters), we use outside counsel from two different firms selected by the Board through an RFP process in 2011.

    Now it is true that the Board of Education has independent authority from the City. But we are not completely separate from it. Not only does most of our funding come from the City, but, as our lead outside counsel, Tom Mooney, has noted in his book “Connecticut School Law”, “A board of education in Connecticut has dual status. For some purposes, it is an agency of the town, and it is subject to charter requirements concerning election, civil service and other matters.” For instance, the school system does not own Norwalk’s school buildings – the City does (“Local boards of education do not own property used for school purposes; it is owned by the municipality and is dedicated for school purposes”). This is why “the responsibility for overseeing a school construction project is typically delegated to a school building committee appointed by the municipality” (not the Board).

    The fact that the Board of Education IS a city agency and subject to the City Charter makes it perfectly appropriate for us to make use of the City Corporation Counsel’s office in many areas, while using outside counsel in others. As noted above, this is explicitly recognized in both the City Code and the Board’s policies.

    So, far from “violating the city charter” as claimed by Mr. Mosby, we are in fact precisely following it.

    Case closed.

  12. Mike Lyons

    A follow-up comment on the allegation that the Board of Education “rigged the contract on [custodial] workers.” This is nonsense. The Board entered into extensive negotiations with the custodians union that took months to complete. Many negotiating sessions were held, at which the union was always represented by its attorney and a significant group of union leaders and members. An agreement was reached on the terms of the new contract, and the attorneys for the union and the Board signed off on it. The union voted by a large majority to approve the contract, which was then submitted to the Board, and we then approved it as well. The final clean copy of the contract was then drafted, OK’d by the union and Board attorneys, and signed by the union president and by me.

    It is true that just before the Board vote, Mr. Mosby’s son objected to the provision increasing the retirement age from 55 to 59, but since that was a provision the bulk of his union had agreed to, the Board went with that majority and approved the contract with that (very reasonable!) change.

    Nothing in this process was “rigged”. It was all above board, all approved by the union’s attorney, and even the State union (AFSCME) representative praised the contract (see http://m.thehour.com/mobile/news/norwalk/schools/board_of_education/boe-approves-contract-with-custodians-despite-urges-to-revisit/article_ad25432d-b35a-51a5-b4ae-6982117e9740.html). In fact, the State union official, after Mr. Mosby filed his complaint, noted that AFSCME was not supporting that complaint: “In May American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 4 Public Affairs Director Larry Dorman called the contract “reasonable.” AFSCME is the parent union of the custodians. Wednesday, Dorman clarified that his organization is not party to the complaint.
    “I can’t emphasize enough that our members almost unanimously voted in support of the collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “Our members not only supported the agreement but understood it with near unanimity.” See http://m.thehour.com/mobile/news/norwalk/schools/board_of_education/custodians-allege-boe-engaged-in-unfair-labor-practices/article_e532d4ea-bf71-58a4-b459-3cc29eb9401d.html.
    The contract was negotiated fairly, and I have no doubt that we will prevail at the State Labor Board over Mr. Mosby’s latest complaint.

    Michael W. Lyons
    Sent from my iPhone

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