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Norwalk tackles its antiquated charter

Attorney Steven Mednick speaks remotely to the Common Council in April. Mednick said he’s done five charter revisions in the last two years.

NORWALK, Conn. — Seven Norwalkers have been appointed to a charter revision commission, kicking off a process aimed to bring voters proposed changes in next year’s election.

Patsy Brescia, Rick McQuaid, Carl Dickens, Tyler Fairbairn, Angela Wasunna, Benita Watford and Michael Witherspoon will work with Attorney Steven G. Mednick to give Norwalk’s antiquated charter its first comprehensive revision since being written more than 100 years ago. They’ll begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday with an informational meeting, held in person and via Zoom.

“The residents of Norwalk deserve to have a modernized charter that is easy to understand and gives them a better sense of how their government works,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said in a statement. “The Common Council carefully selected an impressive group of commission members from across the City, who have diverse backgrounds and a broad range of experiences to strengthen this process. I have every confidence in the members we selected, and I encourage the community to share their input during the entirety of this public process. The Charter revision process is a unique opportunity to make sure Norwalk has a charter that reflects the public’s ideas, is easy to navigate and enhances good governance.”

  • Patsy Brescia will serve as chair. A Common Council member from 1967 to 1973, Brescia has served on the Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees for the past eight years and is its vice chairwoman. She also on the Lockwood Mathews Mansion Board of Trustees and was its chairwoman from 2010 to 2021, according to her resume. A resident since 1964, she also served for three decades as Norwalk YMCA trustee. The real estate broker was Council President in 1970-71.
  • Rick McQuaid is Norwalk’s Town Clerk, known to just about everyone in town. A Republican, he is a former Fair Rent Commissioner and former Planning Commissioner who has also held positions on the Ethics Board and the Norwalk Housing Authority. He’s been on NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now) Board of Directors (20 years), as well as the Friends of Cranbury, and the Norwalk Maritime Authority. A veteran Common Council member before being elected Town Clerk in 2011, he was an Intervention Specialist at Naramake Elementary School from 1999 until 2011 as well as the Norwalk Recreation and Park’s Play to Learn Director from 1999 until 2012, his resume states.
  • Carl Dickens has been president of Jack T Wolf LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in sales training, media acquisitions, targeted marketing and advertising programs and consumer research, since 2015.  Before that, he was senior vice president for Kantar Media, managing an inside and outside sales staffs responsible for a diversity of clients. Dickens has been an Oak Hills Park Authority member but resigned to be on the Charter Revision Commission.
  • Tyler Fairbairn, the Community Development Administrator for the Town of Greenwich and President of the New England chapter of the National Community Development Association, grew up in Connecticut and has lived in East Norwalk for eight years. The father of three has served on the Naramake Elementary School Governance Council for several years, including most recently as parent co-chair, and is on the Norwalk Little League Board, his resume states.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University and has been working in community development his entire career, managing federal grant funds and designing plans to address the needs of the most vulnerable, low-income residents in their respective communities.
  • Angela Wasunna is Vice President, Emerging Markets Policy at Pfizer, leading the development and implementation of policy issues related to drug pricing, intellectual property, health systems, healthcare financing and regulatory reform in Emerging Markets. She was previously Pfizer’s Assistant General Counsel for Intellectual Property Policy, having received her law degree from the University of Nairobi Kenya, and advanced law degrees from McGill University, Canada and Harvard Law School. She has also served as consultant to several agencies including the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and the Department for International Development, UK (DFID).
  • Benita Raleigh, who holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from Syracuse University, worked for New York State in various capacities before stopping work outside her home in 1989 to raise her children. A resident of Norwalk for 36 years, Raleigh was a volunteer at Hilltop Homes and was on its Board for two years, and currently is a member of the Brien McMahon Alumni Association. She volunteered as a member of Rowayton Elementary’s Human Relations committee and was a member and eventual president of the McMahon Site Council when it was first started.
  • Michael Witherspoon earned a law degree from North Carolina Central University and also has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina. He’s run his own law firm since 2007 and served on the Norwalk Zoning Commission for more than five years, in leadership roles before the Commission was merged with the Planning Commission in January. He’s also a Norwalk Hospital Board member and the Observatory Place Condominium Association’s Attorney.

 

“Not more than one-third of these appointees hold any other public office in the City of Norwalk, and not more than a bare majority of appointees are members of one political party,” a resolution passed by the Common Council on Sept. 6 states.

Norwalk’s singularly backward charter hasn’t had a comprehensive revision since it was written in 1913. Evergreen Solutions, in developing its efficiency study presented in March, took note. There’s a “desperate need” for a Charter Revision Commission because the charter is “all over the place,” consultant Betty Ressel said.

A charter is a blueprint, a document to establish accountability for government officers and administrative functions, Mednick said. In April, the Council awarded him a $100,000 three-year contract to guide the charter revision process.

The Commission has been given eight months to revise the Charter and present a recommendation to the Council for approval. It will continue to hold biweekly hybrid meetings on Wednesdays, a news release said. Its first public hearing meeting is planned for 5 p.m. Oct. 5.

“We plan to take an objective review of the Charter to try to make it clearer for everyone to comprehend,” Brescia is quoted as saying. “By listening to the public’s input, our goal is to reorganize the document to give residents a better sense of how their government works and enhance transparency and accountability.”

13 comments

Johnny cardamone September 20, 2022 at 7:35 am

This is an encouraging development it would be good if they would post the old charter since so few of us get a newspaper anymore, this could allow more public input. Perhaps this will also help in developing a master plan for Norwalk so we have a clear idea of the direction of the city which many of us have concerns about the priorities of our development and our future.

David Muccigrosso September 20, 2022 at 1:58 pm

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for us to implement some of Lisa’s proposed reforms!

Let’s have a charter with RCV, multi-member districts (instead of winner-take-all districts), and a nice big mail-in voting period for elections scheduled on EVEN years to coincide with generals and maximize turnout.

David McCarthy September 21, 2022 at 8:56 am

David Muccigrosso…not my business anymore, but I can tell you, moving elections to even years is a bad idea. The municipal election is drowned out by the national or state and no one actually pays any attention to the issues that likely affect them most. Fort Lauderdale did this shortly after I moved via a referendum in August in which 2% of voters came out. Municipal offices are now a lock and no opponents can get a word in….

David Muccigrosso September 21, 2022 at 2:09 pm

@David, do you really think that’s worse than the problem we currently have, where interest groups run everything because there’s zero turnout? I prefer even years.

Michael McGuire September 21, 2022 at 5:18 pm

David Muccigrosso,

Ligit question. Can you outline the benefits of mail in voting? It seems to me that this issue has much to do with the lose of integrity with our voting system by possibly a majority of Americans.

I hear the mainstream media and progressives often touting how beneficial mail in voting is, but they never explain why its beneficial. Who benefits? Why its superior to single day voting? What the safeguards are for chain of custody? etc. etc.

David Muccigrosso September 21, 2022 at 10:35 pm

@Michael: Simple. The entire state of Oregon has been managing with quite liberal (small-l) mail-in voting for decades now, with zero major problems, and higher turnout than the national average.

You’re asking a lot of questions about details, but I challenge you: Why do those details matter for the overall issue? Why can’t we trust our elected officials to get them right? And if we can’t trust those officials, then how in the world do you propose to hold them accountable *without* making it easier for voters to turn them out?

David Muccigrosso September 22, 2022 at 8:38 am

@Nora, term limits are a terrible idea. They put a turbo motor on the revolving door, and create a class of lobbyists and thugs who hold the REAL power.

If you’re upset about either party holding power for decades on end… term limits aren’t going to fix that, they’re just going to give you a fresh rotation of new faces to hate. Those new faces won’t even NOT be part of the same old political machine you hate, either!

You need to undermine the actual power of the parties, with things like RCV and open primaries. Giving these two evil parties REAL competition is the ONLY thing that will fix their evil behaviors. Again, if you’re upset that parties hold power for decades on end, then I totally agree with that sentiment, and it’s why we need more than just these two evil parties.

Term limits is a bad idea that politicians keep repeating because it’s easy to trick voters into thinking it’s a good idea, and it sounds like it’s going to solve all their problems when it absolutely WON’T.

Tom Belmont September 22, 2022 at 8:44 am

Everyone’s input is well and good but my understanding is that the charter is being revised by a committee not beholden to voters. Their interests, their experience, their politics, and their preferences supercede the Opinions of the Norwalk taxpayer. Do we accept that? Maybe I’m naive when I think of gov of,for,and by the people. Or is this method expedient and only withstands community apathy?

Michael McGuire September 22, 2022 at 11:35 am

@ David Muccigrosso,

Why do the details matter? Interesting question.

The key issue dividing American today stems from lack of voter integrity in the 2020 election with its genesis in the 2016 election. Voter integrity, or lack thereof, is the headwaters of the divide with pretty much everything else, strife wise, being downstream of that.

Half of the U.S. thinks something went wrong with this election, red and blue included. The other half, red and blue included, are unwilling to explore the topic, instead preferring to demonize/censored/jail the first half.

Here is a concrete solution which has a well proven track record. Go back to one day voting complete with voter ID of citizenship, all on paper ballots. Simple, clean, maximum chain of custody of the ballots, limit ability to claim fraud. That would start the healing.

France, a country of over 70 million does this in one day, all paper ballots, voter ID required, and they know who won by 8-10 PM local time on election day. They just did it a month ago.

We don’t need to make it easier for a very few to vote at the expense of the integrity for an entire system. I think you would agree – what is there to fear from fair elections?

David Muccigrosso September 22, 2022 at 3:25 pm

@Michael – France also does that with a lavishly funded election system that has a much higher ratio of precincts to population. Long lines and systemic precinct shutdowns are virtually unheard of there.

If you’re writing a federal bill which will deliver those things, then I’ll happily cosign it. But the party which is most concerned about “voter integrity” doesn’t seem to see such a bill to be in its advantage. I wonder why?

Jo Bennett September 23, 2022 at 8:41 am

Why was Lisa Brinton not selected for this committee? She is the member of the public who has long pointed out how badly outdated our charter is. So much for any claims of “impartiality.” I guess none of us are surprised.

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