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Norwalk promises to ‘do the hard work’ on equity

Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels, center, speaks during last week’s Common Council Community Services meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Equity and Justice for All initiative isn’t dead, it’s just a little derailed, said Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels.

“With anything, you can course correct,” he said.

Some Norwalkers may suspect otherwise, given that the equity initiative was slow to start after Mayor Harry Rilling announced it in the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 death and the jolt the community got about a month ago, when Daniels divulged that the Bridgeport-based firm hired by Norwalk to spearhead the initiative, Led By Us, had been let go in August.

Daniels promised that the firm’s report would be released and that’s happened: it’s in the packet for the latest Common Council Community Services Committee meeting.

Committee members discussed it and their frustrations last week, developing a consensus for action:

  • Form the Equity and Justice for All Commission that Led By Us had been hired to create
  • Find funding for a full-time Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) officer, who will work with the Commission
  • Identify and go after “low-hanging fruit”

A recommendation in the Comprehensive Conditions Analysis Report prepared by Led By Us.

‘Enough material’

“This is not easy work,” Daniels to the Committee. “I think someone mentioned, it’s complex, it’s difficult. And there’s many perspectives of how this should get done.”

But, he said, “We do have some foundational pieces that were done…. I think we do have something to work with.”

The Led By Us report comes across as “fluff” at first but then makes points that Norwalk has either started working on or is aware of, Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) said. Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) agreed that there were “certainly some things missing” in the document.

Equity Comprehensive Conditions Analysis Report 22-0216 Led By Us reduced

But the report in combination with the 1993 Blue Ribbon Report on Race Relations provide “enough material” to move forward, Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) said.

“I’m sure there’s other data sources that we could look at to really frame the work or where we want to go,” she said. “… We can’t just not do the work.”

She suggested a DEI officer, saying, “We need someone that is grounded in the city, to do the work in helping us move this initiative forward.”

Révolus said residential oversight of the police department “was a big part of this equity piece” and “we start with one thing, and it gets overlooked.”

As an example, Norwalk ACTS was founded to study black and brown children getting expelled from school “and we’re not talking about that at all right now,” she said.

A excerpt from the Comprehensive Conditions Analysis Report prepared by Led By Us.

A police civilian review board was also mentioned by citizens during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Rilling’s original Zoom call in May 2020 was called “specifically to address police accountability. There were so many citizens on the call that it lasted over an hour longer than planned,” Bob Giolitto, a member of the Saint Paul’s Race and Social Justice Coalition, said in an email read by Daniels.

“We were talking about a Committee that was supposed to be resident filled, that actually oversees what’s happening with the police department. That’s not being looked at here,” Révolus said.

“This goes way beyond just the police department,” Rilling replied to Révolus. “This goes into looking at systemic racism throughout the city of Norwalk, and what we can do to identify it, and eliminate it, or do the best to mitigate it.”

He had envisioned a permanent Commission and, “We need to get the Commission in place.”

While Rilling thought the City could hire a facilitator to train the Commission, “because we’re going to be bringing people together from various walks of life, people who very well may not have experience in trying to do these kinds of things,” and “stay with them for a little bit of time until they get up and running,” Ayers pressed for a permanent DEI officer.

“Systematic Racism has been a fabric of the United States since its exception. So we would sell ourselves short to think that we can solve this in a time frame of six months, 12 months, 24 months. These are big systems that we’re talking about,” Ayers said.

She said, “When you start to scratch the surface and some of these things are revealed, you need a qualified person to help get people through the process and get the community through the healing process. You cannot just bring somebody on for six months to train people, and then they walk away, we are setting ourselves up to fail. So when we’re looking at the longevity of this Commission, we need to tie to that conversation.”

Rilling said he liked that idea. The DEI officer would guide the Commission, help do research and go out with the Commission into the community and “ask the questions that a lot of communities don’t want to ask.”

As for the Commission itself, “It should be young people, it should be people who are vetted in the community, people who live the experience, people who know what’s going on, because I don’t know everything that’s going on in the community,” Rilling said. “I don’t know, I’ve never been a subject of racism. But there are people out there that have.”

 

Led By Us

Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) said that when the equity drive began, “I thought it was just a real big bite. And by that, I mean, it was a whole bunch of things that we were trying to do all at once. And I think that that may have bogged this down a little bit on that.”

“It definitely was an ambitious plan,” Daniels said. “But when you work with a consultant, the relationship is that ‘we create this ambitious plan and then you let us know if you can do it.’”

Led By Us leaders and Norwalk officials kick off the Norwalk Speaks! campaign in May 2021 in Ryan Park. (Courtesy photo)

Led By Us agreed to get it done, he said.

“They decided the actual scope of work, and in the manner of what areas that they would do, they decided that the police interaction component (would wait),” Daniels said. “So it’s not ‘the City failed.’ It was a part of the process that when you engage in a consultancy, during that initial meeting, you talk about what does that timeline look like?”

Led By Us wanted to do the police component in “quarter four,” and the relationship ended before that part of the process, he said.

“There’s a lot of misperceptions of what happened. And I’m not at liberty to kind of go into detail,” Daniels said, citing the separation agreement with Led By Us.

“When you try something new, there’s always bound to be hiccups,” Rilling said. “What we’re trying to do now is cure those hiccups, and move forward in a way that we anticipated.”

 

A recommendation in the Comprehensive Conditions Analysis Report prepared by Led By Us.

Action plan

“I know people will say ‘we’re trying to be patient, but our patience is running thin,’ or ‘our patience is gone,’” Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large) said. “But I guess we’re asking work with us, we are doing work, we’re trying to move this down the road. And as stated, we’re trying to do it the right way. But more importantly, we’re trying to do it in a way that it has impact.”

It’s a “phased approach,” he said. The report “in some cases, confirmed our belief and understanding of certain situations. And in other cases, it did open our eyes to ‘we definitely need to do more work here in Norwalk.’”

Phase two is establishing a Commission and phase three would be “execution, implementation and actually making a difference in the city of Norwalk.”

“My office is 100% committing committed to getting this done, but also committing to getting it done right,” Daniels said. “So the question was, what is right, what does right look like? And so I just think it’s important that we stay honest and true to a process that has started.”

Daniels said his office would identify “low hanging fruit” to shepherd through the Mayor’s Office and Rilling’s cabinet, “to start thoroughly looking at the report and identifying what are those opportunities that make sense.”

“I’m thinking is in the least we have some Ordinance (Committee) members come to our March meeting,” Community Services Committee Chairwoman Dominique Johnson said. That way they can “talk about this at length,” hash out the scope of the Commission, the duties and powers, and maybe the Ordinance Committee can begin working on it in April.

“I also think there’s some things that we can also be doing in those recommendations, some of those recommendations need to be deferred to other city departments,” Ayers said. “I don’t know why we need to wait to do that for a whole 30 days.”

Johnson invited the public to submit feedback on the Led By Us report by March 16. Council members’ email addresses are here.

13 comments

Too Much February 22, 2022 at 7:02 am

If the US has been systematically racist since its inception then why are are so many non-white people trying desperately to enter our country? And, by the way, can anyone name a country that has elected as their leader a person who was from a race that made up just 13% of that country’s population? Equal opportunity, not equal outcome.

Piberman February 22, 2022 at 12:49 pm

City Dems espousing “equity” don’t seem too concerned about our City government’s most visible “inequity”. Namely the failure of our public school system, with mostly Black and Latino students, failing to meet CT Edu Dept standards for graduation. Nor do most of our grads ever secure 4 yr college degrees according to CT Edu Dept data.
Most of our City’s budget is devoted to our public schools. Why are City officials seemingly indifferent to the repeated failures of our highly paid public school administrators ?

Our surrounding towns spend the same funds per student and manage to run superior public school systems where almost every student meets CT Edu Dept standards for graduation and go on to get 4 yr college degrees. Is it because residents in surrounding towns have much higher requirements for election to their BOE and their BOE demands excellence ? Or because our surrounding towns demand good government and that starts with good schools ? Or is it because they really care about educating their kids in contrast to Norwalk where our leaders have other concerns ?

Seve February 22, 2022 at 1:42 pm

Just another waste of time and money for a bogus made-up problem. How about more diversity/inclusion in Norwalk politics–like electing some Republicans?

Piberman February 22, 2022 at 2:42 pm

Too much:

Every nation in the Americas was ‘racist” by virtue of importing slaves from Africa and destroying their native peoples. But Africa has never been considered “racist” even though that’s where slaves were easily “purchased” by willing rulers. Slavery was endemic throughout Africa in those years and had been for centuries. No one ever labels Europe “racist” even though they destroyed 6 million Jewish citizens. No one ever labels China “racist” even though under Mao’s leadership some 30 million were killed. Only America merits the name “racist” ?

Dems like to use the term “racist” hoping to secure Black votes. Hoping Blacks will not remember that Dems controlled the Confederate States for nearly a century and for a century after the Civil War while thousands of Blacks were lynched. Dems rarely mention that 100,000 freed Blacks served in the Union Army suffering 40,000 killed.
Dems don’t often mention one-half our US Armed Forces is composed of minorities something no other major nation as ever achieved. Those who have served in the US military can readily attest its not “racist” as that term is conventionally used.

Dems do control our major cities with their horrific violent crime rates and failing public schools. So far there’s no major evidence that such leadership has significantly helped their Black populations. But Dem leadership is never called “racist’.

If we truly want to encourage equal opportunities for all citizens we ought focus our energies on our public schools. Norwalk is a good example of what needs be done. Even though we match student funding with our surrounding towns having superb schools our City pubic schools where most students are minorities fails to educate our students so they meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards.

So far no elected City official has called that result “deplorable”. When it comes to educating our kids Norwalk doesn’t get the job done. But decades ago we did have well regarded public schools. So the question remains. Why doesn’t Norwalk have public schools that educate its kids, most minority kids, so they meet CT standards ?
What changed ? Did Norwalk become “racist’ ?

Not likely. More likely its because our elected leaders don’t care enough to manage our public schools serving mostly minority students. We don’t care enough to elect BOE members with the abilities and desire to manage a public school system that educates our kids to meet CT graduation standards.

For those who call America “racist” try and find another nation with a similarly large Black population who enjoys a similar standard of living ? American Blacks enjoy a higher standard of living than the billion Africans living in sub-Sahara Africa.

We’d be far better off not using the perjorative term “racist” and focusing on our energies at fielding a public school system that properly educates our kids. Running our public schools is the most important activity of our local government. And we’re failing seriously.

George February 22, 2022 at 5:28 pm

ONCE AGAIN …. What is racist about Norwalk?

I love Norwalk. I love its diversity. No one I talk to has ever heard of racism here.

What policies in the City are racist?

““This goes into looking at systemic racism throughout the city of Norwalk, and what we can do to identify it, and eliminate it, or do the best to mitigate it.””

SYSTEMIC implies POLICY.

Explain to us Mr. Mayor, what POLICY exists that is racist? If it does not exist..then guess what… this is just you using identity politics pandering for votes isnt it?

Piberman February 22, 2022 at 5:31 pm

I’ve read this column several times and I’m still confused ? Just what is the objective of this group ? Reduce “racism in Norwalk” ? Reduce “racism in City gov’t” e.g. City Hall, BOE, City Depts ?” Reduce “racism in city residents” ?

Where’s the concern about a mostly Black/Latino City public school system where most grads fail to meet CT Edu standards ? Where’s the demand for greater competence by our school system ? Is there a “racist problem” in our public schools or a real competence by administrators problem ?

Where’s the concern about substantially improving the access of good jobs in Norwalk ? We’re a transient City with lots of Big Box where City Hall is our biggest employer. Why aren’t those concerned with “racism” concerned with bringing good jobs to Norwalk ?

Maybe the story is getting our mostly minority student public school system to meet CT Edu graduation standards is just too much hard work for our City leaders. As is encouraging many more good jobs – ones good enough to raise a family – to our City.

So if we all pledge to end “racism” we’re on the right path to being “good citizens”.

If City leaders in our One Party City really want to help our minority citizens lead better lives why not start with getting our overly paid school administrators to educate our kids so they meet CT Edu standards. And work hard on attracting major new businesses to our City bringing good jobs.

When our City officials have improved our schools and brought major new jobs then we can sit down and have a nice long discussion about “racism”. Those concerned with “racism in Norwalk have the cart before the horse. Our big problems are our failing schools and lack of good jobs. Talking about racism all day won’t solve either of thsoe concerns. Nothing will change here unless we “encourage” our City officials to roll up their sleeves and get to work on our schools and attracting new jobs.

Current ECS Situation Demonstrates Inequity February 23, 2022 at 8:36 am

This group should focus on one thing. ECS. Simply call out the gross inequity in Norwalk’s $900 per student vs. Hartford’s $10k.

Then demand our leadership do something. (vs the NOTHING they are doing now) Maybe then Norwalk will wake up and demand Bob Duff 1. Acknowledge Norwalk is getting screwed 2. Actually fight for equity 3. Advocate for the 70% of the student body that are POC.

Equity team. This is your low hanging fruit.

Steve Mann February 23, 2022 at 11:55 am

I refuse to self-flagellate over my skin color. Norwalk is one of the most diverse, multicultural areas in all of Connecticut if not the Northeast. Amazing how Democrats continually manufacture heart-wrenching narratives that play to their base, and then continually do nothing for that base.

Piberman February 23, 2022 at 3:43 pm

Every time the City school budget is discussed there’s never any shortage of voices demanding change in CT’s ECS and demands for “equity”. Demanding our local Legislators “do something”. Plus claims its lack of funding that’s responsible for Norwalk’s well known inability to educate its students so they meet CT Edu Dept graduation standards.

Lets throw some light on the subject. If theirs a “school equity” funding issue in CT it involves our 3 largest cities. They’re 15% of our population and home to most of our Black residents.

Here are the 2019 per capita income estimates for CT, Norwalk and our largest cities.
(Wikipedia).
CT. $44,496
Norwalk. 43,317
Hartford. 16,796
Bridgeport 19,854
N. Haven 21,789

CT Legislators focusing on real needs would devote the lion’s share of ECS to our 3 major impoverished cities. But our Legislators like to spread the wealth around. Even our high income towns receive some ECS funding.

Rather than “claiming ECS is unfair” those really interested in securing public schools in Norwalk that meet CT Edu standards for our students ought demand much higher competence from our BOE and highly paid school administrators. Paying CT’s top Supt salary while most of our students fail to meet CT Edu standards just illustrates we need a more competent BOE. And City leaders demanding our schools properly educate our children. Not focused on high salaries for administrators.

Our Common Council members need ask if spending more monies on our public schools will actually improve student performance ? Our history suggests not. If neither our Supt or our BOE has a public plan on how to improve student performance so they meet CT Edu standards why give more monies to the public schools ? Unless raising school salaries is more important than educating our kids.

Michael McGuire February 23, 2022 at 6:04 pm

Community Service Committee members – the above commenters have a really good point. Focus on education it is the great equalizer, regardless of race. It always has been.

Seeking Equity is like nailing jello to the wall. Reason, Equity means something different to everyone. The very concept of Equity is elusive. It’s why you are unclear and frustrated.

However, we all know what is equal and fair treatment.

The ECS debacle is the low-hanging fruit. Start there and apply ‘equal’ and ‘fair’. I believe most Norwalk citizens would see Equity in that.

Current ECS Situation Demonstrates Inequity February 24, 2022 at 10:10 am

Fixing ECS doesn’t solve education outcomes. Not at all. It would however give this group an easy target to work to solve. (and identify our state senator as having done nothing on the topic)

Student outcomes also can’t be fixed with better head office mgmt. Wouldn’t it be interesting if equity (in whatever definition) would be tied to student initiative, accountability and drive to excel. (missing in NPS, very much present in surrounding towns)

Piberman February 24, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Our citizens demand a high degree of professionalism from our Police Department.
Because public safety is highly regarded as an essential public service.

So why do we look the other way while 70% of our City budget is spent on a failing public school system with no expectation of major improvement ?

Is it because we value our personal safety much more than providing our kids with a decent public school education ? Is it because most of our public school students are minorities that we can focus attention away from our public schools to explore “equity”?

Norwalk residents pride themselves on our City’s diversity. But our failing public schools send out another message. And its not one we ought be proud of. Norwalk residents pride themselves on funding our public schools at per student spending levels similar to our surrounding wealthy towns with their superior schools. But when it comes to demanding most of our students meet CT Education guidelines Norwalk residents look the other way.

So Norwalk residents are proud of living in a diversified City. But not proud of our failing public schools where most students are minorities. Looks like we have “selective diversity appreciation’ in our Norwalk. Rather than spend monies on “diversity studies” why doesn’t our Mayor and Council demand our BOE fix our failing public schools ?

If we’re proud of our diversity why not demonstrate it to our public school students ? Would we have a failing school system if most students were not minorities ? In a City whose per capita incomes match the CT average ? Where half the adults have 4 yr college degrees ?

What prevents our Common Council and Mayor from publicly demanding major improvement in our failing public schools ? Didn’t we elect our BOE to properly run our schools so our kids get a suitable education ? Or was it just for the glory of being on the BOE ?

In our One Party City is our failing pubic school system just an expression of who we really are ? A City that worries about high taxes and seems indifferent about its failing public schools ? A City that seeks diversity but ignores its public schools ?

Piberman February 28, 2022 at 1:16 pm

Does anyone really believe that Norwalk’s BOE long standing inability to oversee a public school system that adequately educates our children so they meet CT graduation standards would be improved with a more generous ECS formula from Hartford ?

We’ve long been matching outlays per student with our surrounding wealthy towns who have superb school systems. We embarrass our City paying CT’s largest salary for our Supt overseeing a failing school system.

If we really want a good public school system that educates our kids the first place to make changes is electing BOE candidates with the skills and determination to make the appropriate changes. Comparing the backgrounds of our BOE with surrounding towns illustrates why we’ve failing to properly educate our kids.

No amount of additional funding from Hartford will give Norwalk a school system we’re proud of. That takes much more competent BOE members. Our City leaders have other interests than our public schools.

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