Norwalk needs to grow up: 5 bad habits that need our attention

By Lisa Thomson, REd Apples of Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. – If one were suddenly dropped into Norwalk, with no prior knowledge of the city, and happened to read the op-ed page, letters to the editor, or blogs, one might surmise that the residents and politicians of our city enjoy arguing about just about everything. This person would read how as a city, we lurch from one controversy to the next, whether with our schools, parking, golf course, environment, city planning or manner of paving our roads.

However, as many of us realists understand, things are never as bad as they seem, but neither are they as good as they could be.

As a former business executive, now mother turned activist, I have dared to venture into the political playground of Norwalk, mainly in education, but over the years have identified some of the most common bad habits that impact our quality of life as residents. Anyone seeking to be elected or re-elected to public office, whether it be the Board of Ed, Common Council or Mayor’s office should be prepared to put forward their positions and solutions and not just high level rhetoric.

At our most strategic municipal operating level, I’ve summed up what I consider to be Norwalk’s Five Most Common Bad Habits collectively developed over the years. They include:

1. Inconsistent or disregarded practices by the status quo

2. Limited transparency in matters of public interest

3. An inclination to ignore best practices from other towns

4. A laggard’s approach to technology deployment

5. Outdated policies, fiercely guarded by gatekeepers, that hinder progress

Norwalk BOE     086-20130305
Te.nsion at a recent Board of Education meeting takes a toll on Steve Colarossi.

Many of the people who run our city or seek political office start with the best of intentions, but in short order become bullied or become the bully – and get far too caught up in local personality politics. The end result is either exhaustion by those seeking change or a running down of the clock, when it comes to pursuit of the things that really matter in our city. Since most offices are two year terms, it seems we spend more time campaigning than managing our city.

The phrase “all politics is local,” couldn’t be more appropriate for Norwalk.  Perhaps it’s our history of town consolidation in 1913 that reinforces the incredibly localized neighborhood tribalism versus the greater good of a single Norwalk – although, that was a century ago!  I don’t even think it’s a Democrat versus Republican thing, since so many run for office in one party, only to end up serving in another.  Maybe it’s geographical, with I-95 and Route 7 cutting the city into four distinct quadrants that divides us. But one thing’s for sure, we’re all Norwalkers once we receive our tax bills.

A prominent political friend once said, “Norwalk needs to grow up,” and he couldn’t be more right.  The 4 year old economic reality of this country and state demand it. The party is over and neither politicians nor residents can afford to indulge any further in our bad habits. We need to manage our city more efficiently, cooperatively and productively.

We may have limited control over what goes on in Washington or Hartford, but we do have a say when it comes to how we run our town. This year, voters need to be very mindful of the plethora of candidates. Demand specifics.  No platitudes. Anyone who’s taken the time to read this op-ed already knows the impact that any one of the five bad habits has on our schools, city planning, services or quality of life – not to mention our wallets.

So, it’s time for Norwalk to break some of our costly bad habits.  Supposedly, we’re one of the Top 100 Cities to Live In in America.  Time to start operating like one!

Lisa Thomson


16 responses to “Norwalk needs to grow up: 5 bad habits that need our attention”

  1. NormalNorwalk

    The problem is the crypts vs. bloods debate here in Norwalk. The crypts only have one elected official that they endorsed last cycle and the bloods have two new elected officials they are backing. The new mayor candidates haven’t disclosed which gang they are in, but it is a real issue here on the streets of Norwalk.

    This has nothing to do with the fake crypts and blood siting by the Norwalk policeman. This is real. This is Norwalk. And we need non-gang members to start voting and getting involved.

  2. EveT

    What does NormalNorwalk’s comment mean? Does this refer literally to street gangs? (The name of the actual gang is Crips, not Crypts.) Or to some secret in-groups in city politics? I hope someone will explain.

  3. Suzanne

    From your words to every candidates ears and every elected and appointed official currently serving in the City of Norwalk. What I am reminded of is other small towns in America (or medium sized depending upon your criteria) that I have been to or spent time in that represent the best of what town politics and governance can do. Anyone wanting to view another successful paradigm only need to see the video presented in Mike Mushlak’s article on city development in this column about Portsmouth, VA. It resembles many of the assets with potential that Norwalk has but the big difference? Their government works, they listen to and develop to the needs of their constituency. They re-wrote the book on developmental policy across the board leaving the political hackerism behind. Norwalk is entrenched in the most dysfunctional pragmatism, the lowest common denominator politics available and this lack of function shows. Many citizens do and want to participate only to be spat on by councils, authorities, commissions , the mayor’s office, the City Council: here is this great asset, people who care and want to make things better, and Norwalk throws it away. Thank you for delineating what is not working so clearly, Ms.Thomson, and I hope yours is the beginning of a real conversation toward change.

  4. Lisa Thomson

    Eve – I think the posting by Normal Norwalk is a form of satire – comparing the different factions in the DTC to the gang issues in Norwalk. With 4 candidates within the Democratic Party, there are obviously factions supporting each of the candidates. I am an unaffiliated voter, but it’s not rocket science to figure out that there are not enough votes yet in the DTC for any candidate to get the endorsement of the party and avoid a primary. Of course it’s still early days.

    Suzanne, Thank you for understanding my objective this election season – to keep focused on the ISSUES. Candidates that attack each other, rather than attacking the issues only further denigrate public service and hurt themselves and our city. But we as residents have allowed it to become the norm. Hopefully, I will be able to break down each of the 5 bad habits in more detail and will be looking for candidates to respond with their plans for addressing them.

  5. Tom

    Attacking the other candidates is their way of taking the focus off their own inadequacies. That is how today’s politicians deflect attention away from their own poor performance and incompetence. Stand by, it is just getting started. We need someone with vision and managerial experience – not a career politician and bloviator.

  6. IMOHO, applaud writer Lisa Thomsen for her keen review. Hopefully these 5 common bad habits are addressed and we rehabilitate ourselves into an “ubber blue ribbon” city.

  7. Tim T

    Hopefully come November once the current mayor is voted out of office we can start this repair.

  8. Tim T

    One other thing is we need to get a police department that can actually do something about the crime in Norwalk.

  9. BARIN

    Thanks Lisa, nice review, let’s face it though most politicians will promise you anything to get elected.

  10. Hobbes.the.Calvinist

    I’m a Norwalker and I don’t need to “grow up”. What I need is for pseudo-reformers to stop speaking in parables and vague generalities. What I need is alleged reformers to take a stand!
    Suggestions to improve government would have a lot more impact for me if, and I know that this is a big if, the “reformers” applied them to their friends as well as their foes.

  11. Lets keep to topic, timmy t, and not start another rant & rave session.


  12. Suzanne

    Hobbes.the.Calvinist: Please watch the video above. There is a perfect example of what happens to reformers who try to pragmatically make a difference and take a stand. Reasoned arguments, factual information, informed alternatives, these are not welcomed by the current government. If you have been to any council, authority or other public meeting, you would know this to be true. Having attended my share, I can tell you that alternatives are not desired if a lack of transparency and bullying will do. There have been plenty of suggestions made through this news venue as well as The Hour and Daily Voice none of which the current government is interested in and, frankly, I don’t know why. Maybe having one’s hand on the purse is considered the most powerful thing one can do for City government? Not when spent unwisely.

  13. Hobbes.the.Calvinist

    Suzanne- you weren’t exaggerating. The Oak Hills Commission is not a shining example of good responsive government.
    But I still go back to my initial point– if you really want change, you need to go out there and make it happen.
    I don’t see anything that Lisa Thompson or her Apples have ever done for Norwalk. Until they hold Haynie accountable for her nonsense, they will be just another political group looking for scapegoats and making excuses for their clique.

  14. Suzanne

    Nobbes.the.Calvinist: Now the real point you wanted to make! I am not sure you have read the letter quite as carefully as you might. I would also ask you to give examples of how you have made positive changes happen in Norwalk then, perhaps, your comments could be seriously considered. I don’t know Lisa Thomson and don’t know anything about “her Apples”. This, however, does not detract from the points she is making about good governance. I do not see any scapegoating nor excuses for a clique but, rather, some good points that coincide with my experiences in trying to effect change in my town. My point is, the topic of the letter is what is important here not Lisa Thomson or her organization, and the challenge is, how do you “make it happen” when the powers that be are more concerned about self-service than public service?

  15. NorwalkVoter

    One way that Norwalk can change its ways would be to start taking responsibility for the cleanliness of the city. Litter is still a problem. Nothing has changed in this city. How do you take pride in a city where the residents and business owners don’t take responisibility for their sidewalks, parks and streets. Each individual creates much too much litter but they think nothing of making it someone else’s job to dispose of it properly. If you walk the streets of Norwalk, in any section, you see the results. When will Norwalk take pride in how our city looks. If our streets and parks are clean, we are more likely to keep things that way. Carry your trash home with you and don’t make it someone else’s job. And remember to recycle.

  16. Suzanne

    Norwalkvoter, I love this comment. It is true that the literal surface issues, litter, broken windows, neglected landscapes affect the overall not just appearance but livability of a City. This premise is what makes Community Based Policing so effective. New York City is a prime example of this when statistical models showed an overall drop in serious crime when CBP was enacted under the Giuliani administration. This is the “crime fighting” model used to this day in NYC.

    Pride of place among shop owners is especially effective: clean windows, clean sidewalks, beautification and, yes, recyling responsibly adds up to a better community.

    Thank you for your comment.

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