Norwalk equity drive hits speed bump: Led By Us is out

Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels speaks to Common Council members Wednesday.

NORWALK, Conn. – Led By Us, a firm hired by Norwalk to lead an Equity and Justice for All initiative, has been let go, Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels said Wednesday.

“April, May, June, July of 2021, as I pointed out, there were some various differences in the approach, the strategies, and how the firm showed up in our community. And we’ve had many, many conversations over that period. But we made a very, very difficult decision to separate. And that happened in August 2021,” Daniels said to the Common Council Community Services and Personnel Committee.

The Bridgeport-based Led By Us & Associates was hired in March to lead the equity initiative inspired by the May 2020 death of George Floyd. It had been a long time coming, as Mayor Harry Rilling announced the effort in June 2020. Daniels explained the reasons for that Wednesday, saying that initially, “we did not get what we felt were a quality of RFPs. So we made a decision to go out to bid yet again.”

He said, “During that height of that summer, you know, a lot of organizations were rushing, engaging equity consultants, and so it was really difficult. And our budget was ($150,000). And equity consultants had an opportunity to find the best bid and best price to for them as businesses.”

Now, “Over the past four months varying views in the approach persisted with the consulting firm, we have some disagreements … it was challenged,” Daniels said. “We felt that some decisions that they’ve made, weren’t in the best interest of our community.”

Daniels spoke of poor turnout for the community input effort, with about 100 stakeholders participating though the City was looking for “our non-traditional community members who say, ‘What do you want my input, you’re not going to care what I do.’”

When the decision was made in August, Led By Us was given 45 days for the deliverables in the contract, Daniels said.

“The due date was September, around the deliverables that we asked them to submit,” Daniels said. “It’ll also be important to say that, as I pointed out, you know, this was $150,000 program. And based on the close out, we have paid $75,000. And we have $75,000 left, which is a combination of city funding, and ($50,000 from) the Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.”

The Community Foundation was involved in the “difficult decision,” Daniels said. Norwalk received the “deliverables” in November, including an “unfinished report,” which will be released to the public.

“They also provided a Community Action Partners Group proposal, this is not something we asked for. But based on their recommendations, they suggested that the City should look at this as well,” Daniels said.

“Engaging in community is difficult,” he said. “…Oftentimes vulnerable and marginalized communities often have a distrust in the community. I think we’re seeing that right before our eyes with the vaccination strategy. …There’s a large population in our country in our community that just distrust the government.”

COVID-19 itself is a hurdle, Daniels said.

Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) seized on the idea that distrust keeps people from participating in efforts such as the equity initiative. Citizens need to see results, actual change in their lives, she said, criticizing the resources that go to the superintendent of schools and the police department.

“If you do more for the community, especially on an economic base, they will then trust you more. Right?” Révolus said. “… When we’re talking about equity, equity, I feel like we’re just using trigger words to sound good, because an event that happened, but that event has been repetitive. I grew up with, with what happened in California, right, watching a man get shot by police. I grew up with a community of people getting arrested for what was put into their community, right? So then generation of men left our families because of what’s happening to us.”

She said, “A lot of this, to me just sounds like rigmarole talk and jargon, right? But when we really come out and say you know what, I’m going to help you get a business. I’m going to help you get your kids to college, I’m going to help you have a voice for real. I think that’s when you’ll see the community show up more.”

“I think we all agree that the work is needed, and we want to complete the work. What is what is your process? Or how, how are you guys gonna facilitate going to the next stage and not just being in a limbo?” said Council member Nicole Ayers (D-District A).

“I think once people get the report, and I think this is the issue,” Daniels said, focusing on a process to get feedback.

Council member Heidi Alterman (D-District D) suggested using Google forums to get feedback.

There are people who aren’t up to using Google or who consider surveys white noise, Révolus said.

“We just need to stop being in this scared place and come back to our community and just talk to them. That’s literally and I think you would find out so much,” she said.

“At this point, what is the message to the community, the city of Norwalk as it relates to this initiative?” asked Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large).

“I would say get involved,” Daniels replied. “…I think we also have to honor and acknowledge that this is an issue in any city … trying to get people at the table. I think that’s the challenge.”

“It is my understanding and from the presentation that was presented to us tonight, that the Common Council was the one that empowered the work to happen, they rubber stamped the action to be taken,” Ayers said. “So the thought or the initial process maybe came from the Mayor’s Office, but it came to the Common Council for the action to be taking into place. … There is work that needs to be done, I believe at the Committee level by Council members to ensure the further work of this to do to be done.”

Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels speaks to Common Council members Wednesday.


12 responses to “Norwalk equity drive hits speed bump: Led By Us is out”

  1. Jason Milligan

    I think it is sad that we are just finding out that Kelvin and the Equity & Justice for All commission broke up last August. I spoke to Kelvin and I was eager to work with him to make it easier for businesses to open in Norwalk. The cumbersome process disproportionally affects minorities / the BIPOC community.

    Diana Révolus, if you want to help minorities start businesses, just make the process easier for all businesses to get started. Minorities are the majority of new small businesses that I see. The current system is stacked against them. (Btw I remember you when you worked evenings at Kinkos 20+ years ago. You did a lot to help me get my business started back then)

    It takes months to open a simple store. The process is brutal, and it is designed so you have to hire a white lawyer to help you navigate the process and rules. Rules that were written by white lawyers.

    I can tell you that on Wall Street the overwhelming majority of my tenants are minorities. These are smart, tough, driven people that the government is doing the opposite of helping.

    The government makes it harder to open. They blocked Mr. Mango. It took a year to get the minority, female owned & operated dentist to open on Wall Street. It took the new owners of Bistro83 4 months to just reopen the CB restaurant without any changes or renovation.

    Currently, we have Byron’s bakery and a high-end nail salon ready to open on River St. (both minority owned business). Who is blocking them? The lily-white redevelopment Agency with their oppressive rules.

    The Redevelopment Agency offers grant money, and lip service to helping minorities and women open businesses. In order to get the grant money, you need to hire a white lawyer to navigate the cumbersome, lengthy application process.

    Want to help the community?

    Get out of their way. Make the process easier to open a business.

    Make it as easy as a mayor campaign office to open…

    (Maybe Byron should just label the bakery a campaign office. Then he doesn’t have to follow the rules.)

  2. John O’Neill

    A few questions about this process:
    1) Whoever vetted this group in the first place obviously should not be allowed to sign off on anything going forward. If this was a trial run they failed miserably.
    2) A difficult decision to part ways? You’re kidding me right?
    3) Think about “WAR” – Work/Accountability/Respect. Maybe if our schools went to “WAR” those kids currently left behind would feel better about themselves and close the equity gap – Until that happens all the rhetoric and all the funding will be wasted.

    This program was simply a distraction, not well thought out and obviously not well executed. I could think of 1,000 ways that money could have been spent to help those in need.

  3. Alex Kemeny

    what are “Deliverables”?Sounds like Propaganda pamphlets to create more divide between people. If you want to bring the community together , it should be done working through the churches! Give the churches the funds to run program to help healing! Not some outside equity consultant who has no investment in our city other than the money you hand over to them!The local churches would love to do an outreach program and they are trusted by the community! Sign me up! I’ll be the first in line to volunteer and help these churches develop an outreach program!

  4. Justataxpayer

    When we really take a step back, Mr Milligan’s post makes so much sense. I can’t help but wonder how politics come into play. I’d hate to think that a minority business owner had the audacity to be a Republican. If so, they are swimming upstream

  5. Claire Schoen

    @Jason – Might be sad that we are just hearing about this – but at least we *are* hearing about it, thanks to NoN. Dear readers, if you want to help build community, remember your local news source – NoN is here for you!
    Want to help out? Let us know – [email protected]. Writing, editing, web support, fundraising, events coordinating.. the list goes on!
    [end of commercial interruption]

  6. Steve Mann

    Shouldn’t community leaders be able to lead without the consultants? Certainly an issue like community development which is so basic to what electors expect leaders to accomplish should be performed “in house”. Just asking.

  7. Audrey Cozzarin

    Yes, Steve M, early on after the BLM focus last year, I think we all assumed a consortium of leaders (church, civic, education, leaders from all corners of community) would be created to dialogue and collaborate in ways to address inequities and hurdles to a good quality of life and opportunity for all. I have to admit being miffed at yet another consultancy being hired, and am not surprised at the outcome now. The city handed off this large and challenging task instead of trusting and allowing the community itself to respond. Always a lesson learned.

    Sometimes the remedy must come from within, after deep reflection, deep listening, and true collaboration–when we all have a stake in it.

  8. James Cahn

    Looks to me like my district Rep, Diana Revolus and Nicole Ayers already have a better idea of what to do and more boots on the ground than this dopey “equity” consultant. I’m loving the leadership and the resistance to “all words and gestures, no action.”

    I’m in, ladies, let me know how I can help.

  9. Piberman

    If “equity’ is a major concern in our mostly One Party City why aren’t we seeing more Latino and African American candidates on the Party’s list of candidates running for public office ? And efforts to encourage a much larger number of minority locally owned businesses in our City.

    If “equity” is a major concern of our BOE why aren’t we seeing greater efforts for our minority public school grads to meet CT Edu Dept requirements in maths and sciences and secure 4 yr college degrees ? If “equity” is a major concern of our City Hall why aren’t we seeing greater efforts to attract major businesses to our City with its 10% poverty rate so all our City residents can have access to good jobs ?

    Do we really need pay major sums to consultants to tell us that we ought focus on securing better public school education, college access and better jobs for all of our City residents so the American Dream is accessible by all of our residents ? Do we really need consultants to tell us we ought do better than provide Big box jobs whose salaries are insufficient to raise a family in our City ?

    Even though we rank just 48th in CT per capita income and pay public school salaries equal to our surrounding wealthy towns most of our grads fail to meet CT Edu Dept requirements for math and sciences. And most of our grads fail to secure 4 yr college degrees. Why aren’t we securing better outcomes with our public schools ? We spend the monies but don’t achieve the results. Especially for our minority students. Isn’t the task of securing much better school outcomes that of our BOE rather than hiring consultants to tell us what we already know ?

  10. James Cahn

    Apologies to Diana for missing l’accent aigu, btw.

  11. Thomas Belmont

    The problems here are found in every Democrat run City. The Trump administration had started am initiative to ‘Free’ the Democrat cities from soft bigotry, propaganda programs and the general detention of success. Instead, the TA brought plans for the advancement of Free Market Capitalism, promotion of the general welfare and the trashing of brutal regulations.

  12. Jo Bennett

    Just look at that – in the span of one day, NoN readers come up with more useful suggestions and insights than it sounds like our consultants could produce for as long as we kept them on the dole. Enough of the madness of highly paid chiefs getting by on farming out their work. Do your jobs.

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