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Norwalk political notes: Pressuring ConnDOT; Council Committee shifts and DTC’s attempts to attract new members

A view of the Walk Bridge in July.

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political info for you:

  • Citizens seek Walk Bridge hearing; some hope to stop Manresa Island construction
  • Council power structure shifts via updated Committees
  • DTC offers information session for possible new members
  • SRO controversy: King continues her accusations regarding reduced NPD presence at Norwalk Public Schools

Citizens expect a public hearing

Norwalk citizens say they have forced a State public hearing on a permit the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) needs to begin reconstruction of the Walk Bridge.

Katherine Snedaker, in a social media post, sought 25 signatures for a petition to force the hearing. The petition was closed when 50 signatures were reached.

ConnDOT is seeking a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) permit for the work, which will disturb the marine environment in the area of the antiquated railroad bridge over the Norwalk River. The permit would also allow construction activities on Manresa Island, while confining them to happen after Aug. 1 or before April 15 in any calendar year, to protect nesting ospreys.

Village Creek residents and others tried to prevent Manresa from being used.

Janice B. Deshais, DEEP’s Director of Adjudications, said Tuesday that her office did receive a petition last week.

“It will be acted on shortly,” she wrote. “If the request is approved, a status conference will be scheduled.  Notice of this conference, which will set hearing dates, and all other hearing dates will be posted on the DEEP Calendar of Events (under All Events) at www.ct.gov/deep/calendar.”

Common Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large), an attorney, said in the social media post that she supports a hearing and explained why:

  1. “It puts pressure on ConnDOT to respond to community comments. There is a comment period that opened yesterday and runs for 40 days. If there is no public hearing, then there is limited pressure on ConnDOT & DEEP to respond to any of those comments, as the comment process doesn’t really lead anywhere. If there is a public hearing, then there will be pressure on them to address those comments received this month, as well as other comments that will get made at the hearing. The hearing itself also create some opportunities for opponents of some or all of the application to raise challenges. Even if the project ultimately moves forward, DEEP can force ConnDOT to (or ConnDOT can agree to, under public pressure) abide by restrictions on times/days worked, what safety and environmental measures must be employed, what noise reduction mechanisms must be used, etc. There are already some such restrictions in the application, but I don’t think they are adequate. The public hearing could lead to improvements, even if it doesn’t stop the project entirely.
  2. “ConnDOT has other viable options to build the bridge spans at other sites owned by qualified contractors (ConnDOT received bids to do so). ConnDOT has chosen, for reasons of its own convenience, not to do so, and to instead impose major burdens on Norwalk residents. If we make it less convenient for them to use Manresa, e.g. by requiring they engage in a public hearing, among other things, they may opt to instead use a more appropriate option – for instance a facility not located in the middle of residential neighborhoods.”

 

Committee assignments

The new Common Council term has begun, with one freshman leading a Committee and revisions to the Committee structure under consideration in light of the City’s administrative reorg.

Committee assignments have been announced at the beginning of the Council’s term in recent years, but this time veteran Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E), elected President on Nov. 16 in an 8-7 vote, said Committee assignments would be made later. A week later, Livingston told NancyOnNorwalk that details needed to be tweaked.

Livingston has now released a list of Committee assignments, outlining who is where in the power structure where the real work is done. There’s a reason the details weren’t ironed out: a bit of rejiggering is underway.

“We are looking at possible changes to the Health and Public Safety and Community Services and Personnel committees to better reflect the City’s organizational structure,” Livingston wrote. “Specifically, it is proposed that the Health Department report to the Community Services Committee.  To help balance the workload, the Public Safety Committee would take on personnel (along with other miscellaneous matters).  It is also proposed that we change the name of the Planning Committee to better reflect its role and City structure.  It makes sense to do this at the beginning of the term, and the changes will be considered and voted on at our next meeting on December 14.”

There was a Health & Public Safety Committee; now a Public Safety & General Government Committee is planned, to be led by freshman Council member Jenn McMurrer (D-District C). McMurrer won election this fall after getting onto the ballot by forcing a primary. Nick Sacchinelli, who did not seek reelection this fall, led the Health & Public Safety Committee.

There was a Community Services and Personnel Committee, led in the last term by Barbara Smyth (D-At Large). Now it’s planned as a Community Services Committee, to be led by Dominique Johnson (D-At Large).

John Kydes (D-District C) has led the Planning Committee since November 2015; he’s listed as leading the renamed Committee.

Greg Burnett (D-At Large), Darlene Young (D-District B), Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) and Livingston are continuing as chairs of the Committees they’ve been leading. (Finance Committee, Recreation & Parks, Ordinance and Land Use & Building Management, respectively.

Common Council Committees 2021-2023 1st Year-11-20

 

DTC members to be elected Jan. 10; information session planned for Dec. 16

Speaking of power, Democrats dominate City government and it’s the 55 members of the Democratic Town Committee who endorse candidates for elected office. McMurrer is an exception in winning an endorsement via a primary; usually the DTC’s choice makes it to the ballot and Democrats have won nearly every office in the last three municipal elections.

Supporters of Jody Sattler, a registered Democrat who ran as an independent this fall, found out last week about another DTC power, its role in appointing folks to fill empty seats. Unsuccessful in getting Sattler into the BoE seat held by the late Mike Barbis, they expressed interest in getting into the DTC and its largely overlooked role in deciding who gains public office.

If it’s a matter of timing, they’re in luck: new DTC members will be elected in January.

Most DTC events are being done virtually during the ongoing pandemic but that would be tough for the January caucuses, so they’re scheduled for in-person voting from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Jan. 10, Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez said Monday. Locations have not been determined but will be noticed at least five days in advance, as is legally required.

Two years ago, the DTC had “kind of info-session thing,” and will do it again, she said. It will “give people the opportunity to understand how they can get involved, what they can do, if running for the DTC makes sense for them now or if it does in the future, or if you know, a district committee is more of a level of commitment that people would …be more interested in.”

It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 16 on Zoom. You can contact the DTC here.

The Republican Town Committee also elects members in January. There’s nothing on the RTC website about caucuses but a holiday gathering is planned for 7 p.m. Monday at Station House, located at 232 East Ave.

 

King: Hosten is a liar

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten spoke at Monday’s DTC meeting, delivering a BoE update that offended former DTC member Nora King.

“I do want to address a rumor that seems to be circulating online, which is that school resource officers were cut out of school budgets, it’s completely false and unfounded. It’s not a thing,” Hosten said.

King protested that Hosten was telling a lie. Melendez reminded her that only DTC members could speak at the meeting.

Hosten said that while SROs were cut, it wasn’t a Board of Education decision. The school district’s budget did not defund SROs.

“Our SROs went from 8 to 2 and in September this was addressed,” King wrote in the chat. “Colin is lying.”

The Norwalk Police Department is “definitely having some serious staffing issues,” Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca said in November. Shorthanded due to long term injuries or illnesses, officers were being shifted away from the Marine Unit and School Resource Officer (SRO) duty and community policing onto patrol, because, “We need us enough officers on the street to keep the city safe at all times. And that is our first priority.”

King’s comments prompted DTC member Diane Keefe to end Monday’s meeting by volunteering, “I hope to never see anybody write in a chat that anyone else is a liar. If you feel like somebody is saying something that maybe you disagree with, you need to have the assumption that people are telling the truth, and they may be misinformed about something. I think part of being Democrats is being civil. That’s one of our values.”

The DTC needs to discuss a platform “so that we’re all clear on what our values are, and that we can be out in 2022 early and often, to try to attract more people who have not yet realized that they’re Democrats by the values we live by and the values we talk about as a team,” Keefe said. “So I just think civility is one of those values and that’s all I want to leave you with tonight.”

King wrote late Tuesday, “Colin uses the DTC as his pulpit. I have told the truth about the SROs and the BOE and it is all on video and recorded. Colin was wrong and he did lie about it and shouldn’t have spread mistruths just because he has a powerful role that he is not qualified to have. SROs are critical to our schools and the fact that he is doing nothing to get our SROs back (we had 8) not 2. I know {Mayor Harry Rilling} said 3 but they are not all on duty every day. Some of these SROs are now doing 6 to 8 schools. Not okay.”

7 comments

David December 8, 2021 at 6:50 am

I do not understand the conflict on Manresa just require them to go in by boat the physical location is absolutely ideal for major construction without majorly disrupting any of the local businesses there is no functional location closer than Stamford to do major work with that scale and you could arguably eminent domain a couple of sites in South Norwalk and make something work but they would only harm local businesses and the one business that would probably benefit from it it would mostly be a retirement exit if they did get the deal that would not be good for the community as a whole. That said if we can leverage some cleanup at Manresa out of the deal that would be great that place should be a major waterfront attraction I’m thinking of Marina and park and yacht club

Taxpayer December 8, 2021 at 7:19 am

If there is any evidence that SRO’s were cut because of the budget than the Chairman is lying, or more civilly put being mis-truthfull. Does anyone know why the SRO’s were cut? What an embarrassing week for NPS. Also if the police accountability act has contributed to the serious police staffing issues then proponents of the bill could help patrol the schools until proper officer staffing levels are achieved. “One party rule, fix the schools.” What a horrific week for our children.

Nora King December 8, 2021 at 10:32 am

This is why meetings should be in person. Colin is not qualified to be leading the BOE. My opinion. As the Chair part of your job is to hold NPS administration accountable. He doesn’t have a clue on how to do this hence why the wheels have come off the NPS bus in the past year. The DTC and the mayor should be ashamed of them selves for not having in person meetings. They are using the mute button so only their thoughts and opinions are what goes out to the public. It needs to stop. The DTC has become an alliance for one man and not about the values and needs of ALL Norwalk Democrats. The Dems have one excuse after another for not holding in person meetings. Yet they go out to any social event in Norwalk and most of the times maskless.

John O'Neill December 8, 2021 at 11:31 am

Although Nora King technically was out of line, many within the school system feel her frustration and would like action not words on SRO issue. It shocks me the Teacher’s Union has not chimed in. Here’s the problem from my vantage point:
Whether it is admitted or not by the Board and the Central Office there are more fights going on in our upper schools. Teachers have been put on leave when they protect a kid getting beat up by holding back aggressor. So, what is the expectation for teachers regarding breaking up fights?? Do they protect the kid getting beat up by holding back aggressor?? Wait a minute – They are told not to touch kids in any way!! Are they put on administrative leave if they do so? Some are and Some aren’t..There is no clear line..Teachers are told to use their best judgement…What the heck does that mean?? Subjective procedures lead to confusion and most likely beat up students and or suspended teachers. THAT is why people like Nora and many others (including teachers) are fed up, frustrated and confused. The sheer presence of SRO in the area contains this issue.
In conclusion, you have confused teachers, lack of proper security staffing, students who know they probably won’t be punished. C’MON MAN –
I thought I’d finish with the Definition of Common Sense:
“Sound and Prudent judgement based on a simple perception of the situation”
All those involved may want to write that 100 times so it sticks..

Mark Smith December 8, 2021 at 3:49 pm

Responding to David:
Hi David. I represent several of the surrounding neighborhood groups that will be affected by the construction. While it’s true that businesses will be affected if the bridge is assembled in Sono, there are far better places to build that bridge. The GC of the project himself stated that he would prefer other locations to Manresa. It’s the DOT pushing this location. The ecosystem surrounding the island is home to a vast variety of wildlife, from Bald Eagles, several species of Heron, fox, and Terrapin Turtles and so on.

The DOT is stating that they will abide by all the existing rules DEEP lays out, but even now, before the project has begun, they are already flaunting rules. Both the Harbor Commission, and the Historical Society have already lodged complaints on DOT practices.
NoN reporting here: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/fortpromisesbeingbroken/
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/conndot-work-violated-deep-permit-norwalk-harbor-management-commission-says/

Why would we trust that once they are very much hidden from sight, that they will suddenly start to be good citizens?

The project can be completed for less money elsewhere, with less impact to a rare treasure. ConnDOT should not be granted access to currently private land, but we agree on one thing: That location would make very good public land. We ask for your support while we work toward that very goal.

Mitch Adis December 8, 2021 at 9:02 pm

@Mark Smith. If there is a better location to do the work, please share with the rest of the class.

Mark Smith December 9, 2021 at 11:05 am

Hi Mitch –
Thanks for your reply.
There were 5 locations identified as candidates for the bridge assembly by the DOT.

One of them, in Mississippi, would save the project over 2 million dollars. Which I’ll grant is a small number of the overall project cost, but 2 million bucks is still 2 million bucks to the taxpayers.

Additionally, there is a site in Ravenna NY that is roughly a wash in terms of cost. Both these location specialize in large scale construction projects like the Walk Bridge, rather than trying to tailor a location like Manresa that was never intended for this use.

Lastly the GC of the project himself stated that once the bridge is on a barge, it doesn’t matter of its moving 2 miles or 200.

The DOT has arbitrarily chosen this location, and at this point I only have guesses on why theyre digging in their heels when there is money to be saved elsewhere.

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