By Mike Mushak
NORWALK, Conn. – In his recent letter, Norwalk GOP Chairman Art Scialabba unfairly attacked Democratic mayoral candidate and former Police Chief Harry Rilling for voicing his opinion publicly about the direction Norwalk should be heading in terms of planning and development, specifically regarding the proliferation of traffic-generating big box stores.
This is one of the most serious subjects every taxpayer and public official in our great city should be concerned about at this crucial point in our history, when hundreds of blighted, empty storefronts and trash-filled vacant properties line our once vibrant and walkable downtown areas that are struggling to compete with the national retailers.
Mr. Scialabba made a shocking charge that Mr. Rilling has shown “bias” in his public comments and now needs to resign from the Zoning Commission. It appears that Mr. Scialabba has a double standard for GOP and Democratic commissioners, with an obvious “bias” favoring his fellow GOP members.
One need only look back over the past two years when GOP commissioners openly stated their “bias” publicly with no reaction from Mr. Scialabba or other officials.
In July of 2012, GOP Commissioner Joe Santo (who was chairman at the time) wrote a letter to the editor favoring a pro-big box zoning amendment, after the hearing closed and before we voted on it ( it passed with conditions added by other commissioners to lessen its negative impacts).
In 2011, current GOP Common Council member Dave McCarthy continued to serve on the Zoning Commission as he ran for office, stating publicly and freely his “biased” opinions about planning and zoning issues, including requesting an unprecedented and clearly “ biased” letter of endorsement for his own campaign from the intentionally bipartisan commission, with no reaction from Mr. Scialabba. One can only imagine his swift reaction if Mr. Rilling attempted to do the same.
In the meantime, and at least up until the election in November if and when he is elected (just as Mr. McCarthy did in 2011), Harry Rilling should continue to serve as a distinguished member of the Zoning Commission, and I am sure will base his decisions on the evidence presented by applicants and the public in the hearings as all commissioners are committed to do.
In fact, the entire commission would have to resign if we followed Mr. Scialabba’s new dubious standard, as every commissioner has stated “biased” opinions on the record, easily viewed by applicants and their lawyers on the city’s website. The Zoning Commission functions better as a collection of diverse “biased” opinions, which makes for healthy debate and informed decisions, even when these are controversial as they often can be. Norwalk is a typical city with a diverse opinionated citizenry, which is something to celebrate and not criticize as Mr. Scialabba often does in his attack letters.
City residents should welcome hearing the ideas and opinions from Mr. Rilling as well as from all the other candidates for public office from both sides of the aisle, on how to improve our troubled city.
Norwalk voters and taxpayers would be much better served to hear Mr. Scialabba offer up his own solutions to our serious problems, including defending the eight-year record of Mayor Moccia, whose stance on so many issues remains murky at best. If the Norwalk GOP and Mayor Moccia’s vision for Norwalk includes building more big box stores across the city as a solution to many of our problems, and the type of growth we should encourage to draw in even more traffic from out of town, then Norwalk residents should know this important fact.