Norwalk council makes it easier for citizens to participate

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Common Council members Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), left, and John Igneri (D-District E).

NORWALK, Conn. – New rules: Your presence is encouraged at Norwalk Common Council meetings. You may be allowed to speak at committee meetings, too.

The new council session began Tuesday night with joyful oath takings — including all 15 council members, individually administered by new Mayor Harry Rilling — six unanimous votes and an announcement: the rules of the Common Council have been updated, the first time since 1996. Council meetings will now begin at 7:30 p.m., a half hour earlier, to accommodate and encourage public comment. Committee chairpersons can recommend to the full council that a committee member can be removed from a committee if the member misses two meetings. Resumes for people being nominated for appointment for city boards, commissions and authorities will be submitted to the council 10 days in advance of council meetings.

By the way, no surprise, Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) was elected council president. There were no other nominations. As previously noted, Jerry Petrini (R-District D) is the majority leader and John Igneri (D-District E) is the minority leader. Donna King was approved as the new city clerk and Erin (Halsey) Herring is the new assistant city clerk. Mario Coppola was sworn is as Norwalk’s new corporation counsel.

Under the new rules, council committees shall hold public hearings and are encouraged to hold informational meetings for the public. Those meetings do not have to be held in City Hall.

“Overall we made a lot of additions to this that encourages the public to come out an participate in the process,” Hempstead said. “I think that’s the key component of what we tried to work into these new council rules.”

There was a rule in the 1996 version that public speaking would be limited to a total of 15 minutes. That was a rarely enforced technicality, Hempstead said. It was removed.

There has been no mechanism to remove an often-absent committee member, Hempstead said. The full council will vote on a recommendation that a member be removed from a committee.

“Our past two years we had problems getting quorums certain nights,” Hempstead said. “That’s bad government. That’s not efficient government.”

There are eight new members of the counci, who may not realize the workload involved with what they have been elected to, he said.

Why now?

“Our last council there was a discussion early on about trying to get a rules committee together to get this changed. It didn’t happen,” he said. “So I sat down, after we got elected, with our caucus, and said, ‘Look, let’s incorporate the suggestions that came from the Democratic side at that time,’ which actually was the majority when it started, and incorporate it.”

Earlier in the day, Rilling named Republican Charlie Yost to the Police Commission. Yost joins Democrat Fran Collier-Clemmons, as reported here Tuesday morning, and Rilling on that panel.



6 responses to “Norwalk council makes it easier for citizens to participate”

  1. All this sounds encouraging!

  2. Diane C2

    Easier public participation? Somebody pinch me – I must be dreamin’…..
    Good start guys and gals (congrats to all, btw). Let’s keep the momentum of this rolling. We taxpayers have lots of ideas for improving government transparency and public engagement.
    Also, seems the civility thing may not be working yet – can all elected officials make a good faith effort to not insult or diminish the concerns of the residents and taxpayer? Thanks.

  3. Don’t Panic

    Agreed @Diane.
    That includes op-ed columns.

  4. Piberman

    Real progress would post resumes on the City’s web site for all to see and allow Speakers before the Council to post their full statements on the web. As long as spokecomments are restricted to a minute or two citizens will stay home. Council members would some new ideas of running effective meetings by attending BOE meetings.

  5. Civility is a two-way street. Just because it suits you now is why you feel you are owed such treatment.

  6. Casey Smith

    piberman – “running effective meetings by attending BOE meetings.” Well, if you are looking for sturm und drang maybe, but not for a model of civility.

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