NORWALK, Conn. – Bryan Meek promised Tuesday to “put a fork in the Mayor’s eye,” should he be appointed to replace Tom Keegan on the Common Council in July. Norwalk District D Republicans then did just that, giving Meek the nod over Carl Dickens, who had emphasized the importance of getting along with other people in government in order to get things done.
Matthew Merluzzi had sought the seat but withdrew, saying he loves being on the Conservation Commission and that work is more important to him. The vote in favor of Meek wasn’t close; though Republicans didn’t announce the tally, former Council member Doug Hempstead sat across from NancyOnNorwalk as he put hashmarks on paper while counting the 15 ballots and it was obvious that Meek won by a substantial margin.
Keegan is moving to Florida. He was first elected in 2019 and has been the only Republican on the 15-member Council since then, taking over the unenviable role of sole opposition party member held by Hempstead for the previous two years. In that time, there have also been no Republican Board of Education members. Democratic Mayor Harry Rilling has had a solid Council majority behind him since 2015.
‘Pause and think’
Meek, who lost his BoE seat in 2019, first requested that Republicans table the vote for two months, as there’s no hurry. District D Chairman John Romano said a new Council member needs to shadow Keegan and the group had a good turnout of 12, plus three votes that had been cast by email.
The district has 20 members able to vote.
Meek began his remarks by saying he’d “like to see somebody on our Council that fights for our interests, our goals,” even if it’s only one vote of 15, and that Republicans need to think about a slate for next year’s municipal election in hopes of getting Republican values back into the city.
“Let’s pause and think about what we want to do,” he said. “Do we want to go up there into the council and talk to the mayor or do you want to stick a fork in his eye? I want to stick a fork in his eye. OK? Figuratively.”
Meek said he would sit down with reporters he considers to be unbiased and get out the news about the “bodies in the city that need exposure.”
“We’re talking about dumping $200 million into Norwalk High. We can’t even pave West Rocks Road. All right? That’s a $2 million job. Why hasn’t that been done for the last 10 years when it needed to be?” he said. “Those are the things that we need our local people talking about talking to the citizens about.”
If you drive down Flax Hill Road you might lose an axle and, “These are things we need to fix desperately in the city,” he said. “We need people to stand up there and point these issues out.”
He spoke of traffic and apartments and said, “Nobody’s thought about the infrastructure.” Whether or not children are entering the school system because of the apartments, everyone uses a toilet and, “When’s that going to explode?” he asked, alleging that the wastewater treatment plant produces nauseating smells on hot summer days.
“This is a nightmare that’s going to get worse and worse and worse if we don’t have someone sitting up on that Council every day and reminding them that this is not going in the right direction,” he said.
And while the Council is sometimes described as a full-time volunteer job, “you don’t really need to be up there for 30 hours a week, you need to be at the Council meeting,” Meek said. “And you need to be at the finance meeting.”
An accountant, he had said he had just filed about 500 tax returns. Calling the Council role a full-time job discourages potential volunteers from stepping forward, he argued.
Romano characterized the Council seat as “20-plus hours,” because there’s only one Republican on the Council.
Dickens began by saying he wasn’t born and raised in Norwalk but chose to live here, committing to four years but staying for 22.
When he ran for Council with Keegan in 2019 he was unknown but got more than 1,600 votes in-district, which he was told was good, he said. Meek is right about communication via the press, and, after being appointed to the Oak Hills Park Authority, he reached out to reporters.
His efforts at building relationships as OHPA Chairman paid off as Oak Hills eventually gained City approval to reconfigure its debt, he said.
Then when COVID-19 closed the course, “We got nothing,” he said. “There was no money that they were going to share with us…. So we started working together with other groups and raised money.”
One generous donor provided $30,000 and hardworking employees took pay cuts, he said.
“So we clawed, we scratched. I was working seven days a week, 10 hours a day trying to find money to get the place open so. And we did,” Dickens said. “…It took a lot of hard work and keeping some peace within the family of the board and with the city to keep things open and move things forward. And if you haven’t been to Oak Hills, I highly suggest that you do.”
He’s been on Boards with members who didn’t know he hated them, he said. But he disagreed with Meek: “It is a full-time job.”
Although both candidates were told they’d have five minutes to speak, Meek later stood and offered a rebuttal to Dickens. That turned into a back and forth.
While the Council could be “a million hours,” “the more efficient you are doing it, the more things you’re going to cover,” Meek said. “… I’m skilled at doing this. I feel like I can do it.”
Dickens later said his relationship with Keegan is so strong that they “caucus” once a week, and he’s up to speed on City business.
Meek said, “Are you suggesting that there is information that is not known to the public that you guys are acting on?”
Dickens made a reference to watching Council meetings.
“I know where the bathroom is at City Hall. And I know I know Robert’s Rules and I know the Charter,” Meek said.
“This is not necessary,” Dickens said.
“I don’t want to hear that you need to know what’s going on to get involved,” Meek said.
‘Our way back’
The Committee voted to go ahead and choose a Council member, though Meek had argued that perhaps another volunteer would come forward if they waited.
Having won the vote, Meek said he’s not committed to running for the seat next year, but “what I am committed to is getting two Republicans elected to the Council out of District D like we always had.
“This is our way back,” and if Republicans don’t get the two Council seats next year, “The city’s done,” he said.
His goal is to have two Republicans representing District D after the next municipal election and to have as many Republican District D Council at large candidates as possible, he said. “We’re going to ask tough questions out of Council. We’re going to ask the tough questions in front of the press … They can’t ignore us. There’s a lot of crap going on in the city right now that we need to fix.”