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Mushak ejected from meeting as he asserts document was tampered with by DPW

NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk zoning commissioner who was asked to leave a Common Council committee meeting Tuesday evening went out the door with the words, “There is something really fishy going on here.”

Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak interrupted discussion at the Public Works Committee meeting to assert that Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord had lied. Committee Chairman David McCarthy at first told him to “write a letter.” Mushak replied, “There is something going on here that is very serious,” as he asserted that a public record had been altered. The back and forth continued until Mushak left.

The issue stemmed from an ongoing discussion about fixing Norwalk’s sidewalks. An unmentioned part of the conversation, alluded to without naming specifics, was a claim filed against the city last month by Dry Hill Road resident Robert Celli, who asserts that the sidewalk in front of his property has been damaged and should be repaired.

Dry Hill Road was recently paved in a project that began last fall and ended this spring, according to Alvord. Celli is not the only resident who is puzzled; Sharon Meinck told NancyOnNorwalk last week that she did not understand the inconvenience forced upon residents in the lengthy process any more than she could understand the fact that the sidewalk in front of her home is concrete up to the middle of her yard, and asphalt to the driveway.

Alvord explained last month that the city is obligated to put in concrete in the “urban zone,” which is defined by census tracts. Less expensive asphalt can be used in the suburban zone, he said. Meinck’s house is in both zones, apparently.

Tuesday night, Alvord said the urban zone is set up by the Planning and Zoning Department.

Not true, said Mushak, who produced an urban zone map he said he had gotten from P&Z.

“This is from (DPW Engineer) Dick Linnartz, not from Planning and Zoning,” Mushak said, as McCarthy informed him he was out of order. “I’m sorry but this is jerrymandered on Dry Hill because somebody on Dry Hill complained.”

This is shown at 2:45 in the video above.

After the meeting Mushak explained the issue to NancyOnNorwalk. He said he asked Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn to explain the urban core. Wrinn said it coincided with the First and Second Taxing Districts.

“I said ‘Can you confirm that with DPW?’ Wrinn contacted DPW and then this map appeared,” Mushak said.

A notation on the map says it was revised in January. Another notation says, “Classification revised 2/2014.”

The urban zone map does not coincide with the taxing district lines.

“It makes no sense. These two maps do not match up,” Mushak said. “… I want to know the rationale of who determined the classification.”

Wrinn told him the map came from Linnartz, he said.

“Why does Hal keep saying this was determined by Planning and Zoning when Planning and Zoning had no idea what I was talking about when I asked for the urban core map?” Mushak asked. “They had to go back to the Public Works Department. Why is Hal saying this is Planning and Zoning? And then this map appears from DPW, not from Planning and Zoning. And it cuts off three blocks of Dry Hill Road.”

Correction, 11:30 a.m., Robert Celli not Roger Celli

Comments

31 responses to “Mushak ejected from meeting as he asserts document was tampered with by DPW”

  1. M. Murray’s

    Is all this over concrete vs asphalt?

  2. Oyster

    More like who gets sidewalks at taxpayer expense and who has to pay for themselves. And a city mandate to pay for a more expensive product on top of that. Would you like it if the City gave your neighbor a new roof for free and then told you you had to pay for yours using only the most expensive materials available at twice the cost?

  3. Mike Mushak

    This is about a totally absurd and irrational process where as Councilman David Watts described last night, the city “picks winners and losers”. The city is telling 6 unlucky homeowners who were left out of the sidewalk replacement on Dry Hill Rd, on the southern end near Westport Ave., out of a total of about 60 who had their sidewalks replaced by the city in the mile-long renovation project, that they have to pay for new sidewalks themselves. Oh, and they have to be expensive concrete, not asphalt, even though the city defied it’s own rules all along the same road and even used asphalt to patch areas in the “concrete zone” and used concrete for several lucky homeowners in the “asphalt” zone. The cost of those concrete sidewalks to the north, in the “asphalt” zone, would have more than paid for the asphalt to complete the project and get the entire Dry Hill corridor repaired. Instead, you have angry homeowners who feel as though they were penalized for no reason, even though they pay the same taxes as everyone else on the street who got their sidewalks replaced for “free”.
    .
    This is also about the absurdity of declaring a “concrete-only” urban zone on a dubiously-prepared map that splits neighborhoods and blocks right down the middle, essentially penalizing hundreds of property owners who have to use concrete to replace their sidewalks even though they have historically had asphalt and live in areas where all the sidewalks are already asphalt. The absurdity gets even worse: if you repair your asphalt sidewalk without a permit, you get a fine from the city, but pif you try to get the permit, and you are in the “urban zone”, you now can;’t repair your asphalt sidewalk but have to replace the whole thing with expensive concrete.

    The policy actually works against folks who want to maintain their existing asphalt sidewalks, which actually are more flexible and easier to repair as they “bend” over tree roots for example, instead of lifting in huge slabs like concrete does resulting in dangerous vertical drops instead of “flowing” over the roots. One neighbor of mine even had the city engineer tell them they couldn’t repair their existing asphalt sidewalk, but had to use concrete, and that the city would “help them” by cutting down the beautiful mature trees for them because they would end up dying if the homeowner had to dig a foundation for the wider concrete sidewalk. All of this man’s neighbors have asphalt sidewalks. So the homeowner, who started out trying to do the right thing, just gave up in the face of this absurdity and we still have an impassable sidewalk where we could have gotten repairs done at no expense to taxpayers.
    .
    Ultimately this is not about just concrete and asphalt, but about a completely dysfunctional decision-making process that makes no sense, picks winners and losers, angers taxpayers, and exposes the fact that we have a Public Works Committee that seems not the least concerned about what happened on Dry Hill Rd. because of a ridiculous urban core map that even the city ignored in their decisions.
    .
    What was not discussed last night at all was the fact that it absolutely make sense to replace all of the sidewalks at the same time when a major road project is done, as it is easier and more efficient, and ultimately provides a safer and more attractive environment for everyone including children, elderly, and those with physical challenges. It also preserves property values and is a good investment for the city to make, since it results in a more stable and sustainable tax base. What happened on Dry Hill mostly made sense, except for the wacky decision to leave out 6 unlucky homeowners who have to dig into their pockets to replace their own crumbling sidewalks, all based on an absurd map that identifies entirely residential neighborhoods all over the city as “urban”, including Bettswood, Marvin Beach, and Spring Hill, all areas with extensive asphalt sidewalks already and even where the city has installed new asphalt sidewalks in places, but where individual homeowners are forced to spend much more on concrete if they want to fix or replace their existing asphalt. It is beyond absurd.
    .
    Which all begs the question: Why do we have a DPW and a Common Council Public Works Committee Chair that can’t figure out how to fix this huge problem that penalizes some taxpayers and rewards others? And why do we have to continue to rely on absurd “urban core” classifications and a “Roadway Standards” policy that contradicts the map itself with these simple words on page 14: “In urban areas sidewalks shall be concrete. In residential areas they may be asphalt or concrete”.
    .
    I showed up at the meeting to try to help fix this huge problem based on absurd classifications that make no sense, and when Hal Alvord said something that I knew wasn’t true, I used a “point of order” as a member of the public, which is my right, to correct the record for the committee. Chair Dave McCarthy found that out of line and asked me to leave the room, and so I guess we now have a policy that Hal Alvord can say anything he wants to the committee with impunity, no matter how untrue it may be. We should all be worried about this, including the steady flow on no-bid contracts steered towards favored vendors selected by Alvord alone that are of great concern to many. Taxpayers, beware.
    .
    As Abe Lincoln once said,” You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.”

  4. M. Murray’s

    I’m on your side on this one. Either the city pays for all sidewalks or none. And if it is the homeowner’s responsibility, it should be their choice for asphalt or concrete.

  5. Suzanne

    A point of process: as usual the Public Works Committee knows what the problem is but is ineffectual in terms of how to fix it. A bottom line mentality rather than a service to the taxpayers’ mentality reigns and seems to stultify any creative discussion. Basically, the “can was kicked down the road” yet again with sidewalk repair. And, it is very curious that a Kafkaesque approach is being taken regarding the as yet unidentified “urban core” – one is left guessing. Concrete or asphalt? Asphalt or concrete? Toss a coin and decide but you may be fined for doing it in the most reasonable, practical, environmental way available depending upon where you live, as yet unidentified accurately by Public Works. I nominate the Environmental Advisory Committee to split the City of Norwalk Map, coordinate a volunteer team, assign each one to a region and map out each region’s sidewalks through easily available cell phone photographs and, say, 3-line notes that could be superimposed on the map for accuracy. This could be digitized for that single engineer to confirm when walking the streets or in hard copy for Public Works meetings. At least there would be a knowledge base for what needs fixing and what is fine. It would be the DPW’s responsibility and public and committee approval/feedback to clearly define the urban core. Then, fix the d— sidewalks already.

  6. EveT

    Mushak says that Alvord said that P&Z determines the map of the urban core, but the map shown at the meeting came from DPW, not from Planning and Zoning. And it cuts off three blocks of Dry Hill Road. Is this true or not? Was the map tampered with? If so, who altered it and why?

    I would think that affected homeowners on Dry Hill must be awfully upset. Were they at the meeting?

  7. peter parker

    Just another example of Hal Alvord’s total disregard for the rules and taxpayers! I ask once again, where is our fine Mayor on this issue? Mr. Mayor when do you intend to do something about Mr. Alvord’s conduct? Alvord serves at the will of the Mayor. Something smells rotten!

  8. Bruce Kimmel

    For the record:
    .
    While many of the points that Mr. Mushak made regarding the “urban zone” are worthy of discussion, that issue was not an essential part of last night’s agenda. We were more concerned with an informal assessment of sidewalk conditions and decided to use the existing “urban zone” for the analysis, even though we, too, have questions about the so-called zones and how they may impact property owners. We were simply seeking information about the condition of sidewalks and nothing more.
    .
    The article above does not convey what actually happened. Mr. Mushak interrupted an interesting discussion and was soon screaming at committee members. I and others repeatedly tried to calm him down, but he continued to yell and thus was asked to leave the meeting by Mr. McCarthy, the committee chair. In my opinion, Mr. McCarthy handled the outburst rather well.

  9. Bruce Kimmel

    For the record, again: The video above starts with Mr. Watt’s comments about sidewalk repair and fairness. What it left out is the earlier discussion about Connecticut state law when it comes to sidewalk repair, which places the responsibility on the property owner, and requires the city to take serious actions against those owners who fail to repair sidewalks. If the city does not act, it can be sued should an accident happen.
    .
    We are currently rewriting our sidewalk ordinance to make it conform to state law; we also are discussing a reimbursement system with a sliding scale so that low-income residents can have their sidewalks repair with minimal costs.

  10. jlightfield

    Is anyone paying attention to the sidewalks on Connecticut Avenue between Scribner and Fairfield Ave.? I ask because it seems that CONNDOT is now widening the road and rebuilding sidewalks except that the sidewalks they are replacing are a combination of:
    .
    concrete but the sidewalk has no verge so pedestrians are expected to walk next to traffic
    .
    asphalt with asphalt curbs, which will be damaged by plows and have to be redone like Fort Point St.
    .
    concrete but electrical poles are “planted” in them at various obstacle points.
    .
    Sadly, while all this drama is evoked over residential sidewalks, commercial sidewalks which contribute to the image of Norwalk are left to be replaced by the antiquated guidelines that allow these asphalt patches, utility obstructions and general eyesore implementation.
    .
    Could anyone on the common council please take up sidewalk design guidelines within the Public Works department?
    .
    My recommendations would include the minimum sidewalk width of 8 feet to be unobstructed, (that includes stairs) that a 2 foot utility or amenity zone be always a strip abutting the roadway that is in addition to the 8 foot sidewalk, and that is asphalt is allowed that the curb continue to be granite.
    .
    In zoning there is a regulation that allows for clearance between obstructions to be a minimum of 3 feet. This has created instances where trees, fire hydrants and lights can end up being clustered. The mimiim distance should be 6 ft.

  11. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Shame on all the council members of this committee. It is my understanding of rules of order that anyone can make a point of order when something is said to be allegedly false. The chair must rule on it – in this case the chair just tried to suppress Mr. Mushak by talking over him instead of ruling on the point of order. And shame on every member of this committee, Democrat and Republican alike, for not insisting that an allegation of dishonesty not be discussed and ruled upon. So much for representing the public – one year and five months to re-election time.

  12. peter parker

    Mr. Alvord lied in a meeting and as a point of order a civilian may take issue and bring it to light. Sounds like this council is not in search of the truth. It also sounds like Mr. McCarthy thinks he is the King of the world. Who does he think he is? If homeowners are responsible for sidewalks why were all but about 6 given new sidewalks on Dry Hill Road with the taxpayer’s dollar? This was also done of Strawberry Hill. Mr. Kimmel open your eyes! Where are the parameters that make up that “phony” map DPW gave to Mushak? I think an FOI request is in order!

  13. Dennis DiManis

    As usual, Ms Lightfield cuts right through the mustard. If not for nasty Norwalk politics, she’d still be zoning chair.

  14. Suzanne

    Eight feet is an incredibly wide sidewalk. Is this a standard practice for commercial use? Here are the guidelines for pedestrian and wheel chair use as recommended by the Federal Highway Administration: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalks/chap4a.cfm
    *
    The video I watched does not show Mr. Mushak “screaming” as claimed by Mr. Kimmel above. He only raised his voice when the Committee tried to suppress his statements based upon a meeting rule of order
    *
    It’s a clue: the more you listen, the more you will hear in probably a much more civil way. The point is a valid one that Mr. Mushak was making based on current Norwalk regulations.
    *
    The Committee chose to talk over Mr. Mushak – based upon Mr. Watt’s statements, the point was well taken and clearly a part of an agenda Mr. Kimmel seems to think did not exist for that meeting.
    *
    Public Works and Mr. Alvord knows how to use Mr. McCarthy quite effectively to bulldoze salient topics. I think Mr. McCarthy thinks it’s the other way around.

  15. Oldtimer

    Mushak pointed out inconsistency in what Alvord told the committee, nobody asked Alvord to explain. McCarthy then asked Mushak to leave, and he left ?
    Is Alvord lying ? I would expect the committee would feel some obligation to find out. Why is McCarthy so quick to protect Alvord ? Why did McCarthy go far beyond his authority and ask a member of the public to leave a public meeting ? Isn’t he interested in getting the truth ? What is it going to take, a federal grand jury ?

  16. Mike Mushak

    The committee showed no interest whatsoever in finding out the truth about the issue at hand after I brought it up and was rudely interrupted before I could even finish a sentence by mbers of the committee. I did not say Mr Alvord lied in this case, but I said what he had said earlier about the map coming from P and Z was not the truth. There is a distinct difference. After I left no one seemed to care if what I said had a bearing on the $20,000 we were about to spend. Itight have been only $10,000 if the urban core was what P and Z traditionally said it was, and not what DPW now says it is in stark contrast to howr Alvord described it as “coming from P and Z.” And why do we need to study this at all? Spend a few hours driving around the streets with a clipboard and a camera and take a simple inventory. We all know the sidewalks are bad! Enough with the studies already!
    .
    Mr Kimmel is not correct in stating the issue I brought up was not directly related to the agenda. The agenda was about spending yet another $20,000 to study how bad the sidewalks are in the “urban core”, which is an area described by the Asst Planning and Zoning Director as the commercial business strips (makes sense), and the First and Second Taxing Districts only (which sort of makes sense as they are more “urban” but still contain residential only neighborhoods which should not be described as urban). The First Taxing District line excludes all of Dry Hill Rd, stopping at the very bottom of Dry Hill. When I asked Mr Wrinn to confirm this with map, a strange map appeared from DPW staff a week later that shows an irrational and random outline of the ” urban core” that cuts through mid- blocks including 3 blocks of Dry Hill Rd, and includes neighborhoods no one would ever call “urban” in the general sense of the word including Bettswood, Marvin Beach, and Spring Hill, all areas with plenty of existing asphalt sidewalks that homeowners would be required to spend 4 or 5 times on concrete instead of asphalt to replace or repair their walks. The implications to taxpayers are enormous, perhaps $6 or $7,000 instead of $1,500 to replace a typical walk, and the forced removal of mature trees with roots that ashalt could mold around but concrete would require a deeper footing and removal of the trees. This is a huge issue that needs clarity, but we didn’t get it last night even though I originally brought it up 6 months ago in the committee meeting as an issue that needs resolution.
    .
    Talking about an ordinance change that requires the full replacement cost of sidewalks be borne by property owners does not solve the problem at all, but makes the potential that we may have an intelligent process of full renovation of roads and sidewalks at the same time, as it should happen as a smart investment in neighborhood stability and preserving property values, and that David Watts has been asking for, that much harder in the future. It’s as if the entire issue has been muddled by bureaucrats not listening to each other or their constituents, or using common sense.

  17. piberman

    Imagine if similar concerns were demonstrated over the City’s egregious spending by the BET and Council Finance Committees ?

  18. One and Done.

    Suzanne wrote “A bottom line mentality rather than a service to the taxpayers’ mentality reigns and seems to stultify any creative discussion.”
    .
    Thank you but please don’t speak for me. I for one applaud the few in our government who manage the bottom line.
    .
    Those who get creative in government are pushing off my retirement goals and worse racking up huge debts for my children.
    .
    We need less, not more. More government is what is causing most of our societal problems.
    .
    One and Done.

  19. PNolin

    The whole notion that a landowner is obligated to maintain city sidewalks is of an ancient dubious vintage. How constitutionally can a city arbitrarily foist off its duty to the adjoining land owner? The City should take on sole responsibility for its duty to maintain sidewalks it chooses to install.

  20. Suzanne

    One and Done, and yet you object to the various volunteer committees that are seeing success in coordinating efforts to a specific goal that directly benefit the City and City schools. You can’t have it both ways.

  21. TLaw

    Well it wasn’t too long ago that mayor Rilling took on the sidewalk issues as a part of his campaign. Perhaps now is the time for him to speak up.

  22. One and Done.

    No Suzanne, the task forces are only serving to waste time of paid city resources who already have a job to do. It is up to the Mayor and the Council to provide direction, not task forces.
    .
    If you think Task Forces are the way to achieve objectives, please point me to one accomplishment of the scores of them established by President Obama. They are nothing more than lip service to the lap dog media outlets who give them credence. Nothing will come of these other than them taking credit for things that were already happening. All they are doing is getting in the way to provide the Mayor with cover for not doing his job.

  23. Jlightfield

    I would like to publicly thank the SoNo Task Force for achieving a simple task of having Public Works schedule street sweeping to the curb after notifying on street parkers of the date and time. I also thank all public works staff and elected officials who made this happen. We were happy to build on that task in Norwalk Center and look forwArd to planning ahead for further street sweeping and snow removal.
    .
    The long term impacts and cost reductions will occur for all residents because the storm drains will stay clearer longer.
    .
    This is just one example (sorry tapping on one of those 21st century devices) that demonstrate the effectiveness of private /public partnerships. And yes 2 volunteers on the Norwalk Center task force picked up flyers from City Hall and distributed to residents affected.
    .

  24. Peter Parker

    YES WHERE IS THE GOOD MAYOR IN ALL THIS MUCK? MAYBE HE’S AFRAID TO GET HIS HANDS DIRTY? ONCE THING I CAN SAY FOR DICK MOCCIA, HE WASN’T AFRAID TO ROLL UP HIS SLEEVES AND GET DIRTY! I’M STARTING TO THINK THE MAYOR ONLY KNOWS HOW TO APPEAR FOR PHOTO SHOOTS!

  25. Dennis DiManis

    The northern half of Dry Hill Road never needed sidewalks in the first place, but like so many other narrow winding thru roads in Norwalk, what it has always needed is police presence to curb the constant reckless speeding.

  26. Don’t Panic

    Assigning the sidewalks (and liability from) sidewalks to the homeowners is particularly odious in a city that continually imposes safety hazards on those sidewalks through its public works policies. Poles, signs and utility boxes that block the right of way. Garbage pickup policy that forces the homeowners to put cans on sidewalks. Yard waste that sits around for a whole week until DPW gets around to it. Plowing snow onto sidewalks repeatedly. The list goes on and on.

  27. Dennis DiManis

    The Yard Waste doesn’t sit for a week. It will sit until October or November.

  28. Suzanne

    One and Done: let’s agree to disagree. I think Task Forces are a valuable resource (see J. Lightfield’s entry) allowing citizens to participate in government and their City’s improvement in a positive way. You don’t.

  29. Same old Same old

    One and done very well said. The only thing this Mayor has done so far is created useless task forces. Soon he will be finished with half his term and has accomplished ZERO.

  30. Don’t Panic

    Current pickup policy for yard waste is to put it out Sunday night and LEAVE IT OUT FOR THE WHOLE WEEK until DPW can pick it up. From the city’s guidelines: Residents of the 4th Taxing District MUST have their Yard Waste curbside on the MONDAY of the scheduled week of pickup, as the truck will pass by only once during that week. If you believe you are missed for a yard waste pickup, please call Customer Service on Monday of the following week.

  31. Nora King

    The city should be 100% responsible for sidewalks that the city taxpayers are using. They should be part of the overall plan when are streets are paved. Hal Alvord has been passing the buck for the pass ten years. It is about time the city of Norwalk hires someone to run DPW that actually lives in the town they are paid to serve.

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