Updated, 2:25 p.m.: Comment from Tom Livingston; 7:31 a.m.: Copy edits, revised headline
NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s the news from Tuesday’s Common Council meeting:
- Livingston to lead Council for year
- A legal staff transition
- Hempstead calls legal settlement in fraud case ‘fair’
New Council leadership
“The City continues to move in a positive direction, and I know we would all like to keep that going,” Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said, after being elected Council President.
Livingston takes the reins from John Kydes (D-District C), who was named the new majority leader, replacing John Igneri (D-District E). The “new” minority leader should be easy to figure out because there’s only one member of the Republican caucus, Doug Hempstead (R-District D).
Hempstead made a quip of it, as is his style.
“I said I didn’t want to do it again but I lost the argument,” Hempstead said, of what must have been a heated discussion in the caucus room that only he was in.
Igneri nominated Livingston, and commented that although they both live in Rowayton, he wasn’t friends with Livingston before they were running mates in 2013.
“I have come to respect him a lot,” Igneri said. “He is a level-headed guy. Unfortunately, he is a lawyer but he does ask the right questions, he does cut to the chase so to speak and he gets the job done. I think that’s what we need as Council president.”
“I know Tom will be the type of person to make sure this Council is part of the process from the beginning to the end,” Kydes said. “I hope you will add as many white hairs to the Mayor’s head as I have done in the last year. That’s when you know you are doing your job.”
Hempstead said Kydes has done a wonderful job as Council president and noted that he’s had respectful disagreements with Livingston.
“I think that’s key to Council leadership, being willing to listen to everybody,” Hempstead said. He called Livingston “very analytical.”
Livingston said he’s learned much from Kydes and Igneri.
He hopes to continue working with Mayor Harry Rilling to “help resolve issues surrounding POKO and developing the Wall Street/West Avenue area. Of course, we will continue to address potential disruptions caused by the Walk Bridge project.”
He also wants to continue promoting a “healthier, more sustainable city,” and enact a plastic bag ban in addition to the bike share agreement recently approved, he said. Livingston noted that it’s going to be a challenging budget year with the “big ask” coming from the Board of Education and the revaluation of properties.
Council members are hearing from seniors and others who wonder if they can continue to afford to live in Norwalk, and the Council will work to balance those needs as it has in the past, and re-address senior tax relief, he said.
“This is an election year and we all know that,” Livingston said. “But I am optimistic that as a Council we will continue to work together to arrive at a budget that is fair to all stakeholders.”
Callahan promoted, Jean hired
Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane Beltz-Jacobson has moved on, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said. He explained that Associate Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan is moving up and Attorney Christie Jean has been hired as Associate Corporation Counsel.
The Council unanimously approved Jean’s appointment and Callahan’s promotion to Assistant Corporation Counsel.
Jean is a 2007 Stamford High School graduate who graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2014, according to her resume. She has been an associate at Robinson and Cole LLP for four years, one of more than 200 attorneys in a $100 million practice. According to her resume she has represented state and municipal governments in bond issuances and other debt obligations, and analyzed federal, state and New Haven laws in addition to legislative and regulatory proposals.
Coppola said she was top of her class at UConn and has great references and recommendations.
He noted that Callahan stepped up when Beltz-Jacobsen left, and previously helped on “so many issues” and “significant matters” when he began work in Norwalk in May.
Beltz-Jacobson took early retirement in mid-October, according to minutes from a September Municipal Employees Pension Board meeting.
Legal settlement approved
The Council unanimously approved the proposed settlement to Norwalk’s lawsuit against the Hanover Insurance Group, which stems from an October 2016 wire transfer of $894,464.83 to scammers. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The lawsuit followed Hanover’s refusal to cover Norwalk’s loss, a payment which would at most be $490,000 as the policy has a $500,000 limit and a $10,000 deductible.
Rilling on Monday promised a press release on the matter, possibly as early as Tuesday, but Coppola said Tuesday that a statement won’t be released until the legal settlement is finalized.
Livingston declined to comment.
The settlement is “fair,” Hempstead said to NancyOnNorwalk. “I think for us to get anything out of this was a good thing,” he said.
Asked about the mistake which lead to the loss, Hempstead said, “Stuff happens.”
“It wasn’t intentional, and we are not the only municipality, we are not the only that went through a period like that,” Hempstead said. “But I am very happy with the settlement. I didn’t think we were going to get anything so for what we got, in totality, was very good.”
Farmington fell for the same scam, to the tune of more than $2 million. Norwalk could have wired more than it did, had the fraud not been discovered before a second payment of $894,464.83 went through.
Livingston on Wednesday left a comment on this story, explaining:
“All of us on the Council and in the City were in fact very disturbed by the loss. We appreciate that it is taxpayer money and took it very seriously. That is why the City pursued all legal remedies, including the claims approved last night. Unfortunately, this type of crime is a reality in today’s world, and as Mr. Hempstead noted, we were not the only municipality hit by this scam. What we need to do, and what we have done, is review what happened and make sure that steps are taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
A criminal investigation is ongoing.