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.”