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Norwalk Zoning Commissioner calls Commission chairman ‘a child’

Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson, left, and Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo, right. (File photo.)
Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson, left, and Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo, right. (File photo.)
Zoning Commissioner Nora King.
Zoning Commissioner Nora King.

NORWALK, Conn. – It all boils down to a childish “tit for tat,” Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Nora King said, after being accused last week by Chairman Joe Santo of saying something that wasn’t true.

The issue on the table at Thursday’s Zoning Committee meeting was coastal area management – at last month’s meeting King quoted a state official as saying that Norwalk has the most lax enforcement of waterfront regulations in the state. Before this month’s discussion began Santo asked to get it into the minutes that the state official denied saying that.

King stood by her story and said Santo should spend his time on important issues, like instituting a way to inform the Board of Education about a potential influx of children from a new development.

NancyOnNorwalk was not at the Thursday meeting of the Commission’s committees, but heard about it from those who were pleased at the way King went “toe to toe” with Santo. NoN got a recording of the meeting, and listened to the five minute dustup.

At last month’s meeting, King said she had talked to Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Senior Environmental Analyst Marcy Balint and Sue Jacobsen of DEEP.

“You know what they said? We have the most shoreline out of any, any city in the state of Connecticut,” King said. “We have the most relaxed laws and we do not fight or defend our coastline.”

This month, Santo said that he had called Balint to check on that because he was very concerned about the comments “that were just disparaging to, I thought, the Commission.”

He referred to an email he had gotten from Balint, which was previously reported upon by NoN in a story here. Balint said in her email that the comments do not reflect the opinion of the Office of Long Island Sound Programs (OSLIP).  “I would like to clarify certain supposed quotes and comments from me, regarding coastal zoning issues in Norwalk,” Balint wrote. “While I did have a conversation with Nora King by phone several weeks ago, I did not make the statements attributed to me in the October 12, 2014 article by Nancy Chapman, nor would I have had cause to do so … I would like to clarify that the CSPR provisions within the City’s zoning regulations are not ‘out of compliance’ with CCMA statutory provisions.”

Santo said he wanted it on the record that Balint denied making the comments. He said he had also gotten a letter from Jacobsen, although he hadn’t contacted her, denying the comments. Both of them had to get permission to talk to him, he said.

“I just want you to know that I don’t think that Marci said the things, that our regulations are poor in Norwalk,” Santo said. “If you read the letter she says that. Commissioner King has told me that in a conversation with her that she said these things but there is no way to prove that. I just think that this Marcy Balint and Sue Jacobsen being state employees, they got put on the spot. … If they did make these statements, which I don’t think they did, that were repeated at one of our meetings. I think it was the wrong thing to do and I don’t think that should happen again, that I had to go to this extent…. I have never in the past called a state employee, had to, with comments made at a meeting.”

King said she also wanted it on the record. “Marcy did have this conversation with me,” she said.

“I don’t believe it,” Santo said.

“Well, you’re calling me a liar. I feel like you’ve been spending 18 years covering up a lack of planning in town hall and the fact that we’re not reviewing Mike Greene, and that’s what this stems from,” King said, referring to the Planning and Zoning director.

“You’re out of line,” Santo said.

“Let’s leave Mike Greene out of this,” Greene said.

“I am not out of line with this,” King said.

“We’re not talking about staff, we’re talking about this,” Santo said.

“I read her letter very carefully. She supports the basis of my conversation,” King said.

“You should not be repeating stuff like that, that you can’t prove or that are not facts,” Santo said.

“What are you talking about?” King said.

“Marcy did not say the things you said she said,” Santo said.

“That’s not true. Did you really read this letter that she wrote?” King asked.

“I read it. You’re not explaining what she said well,” Santo said.

“No, you are going tit for tat, like a child, going up to the state, doing something like that,” King said. “I had a conversation with Marcy and to be honest with you I have talked to Sue Jacobsen about 20 times. So that’s not true but where this conversation is stemming from, Joe, is you’re mad because I want Mike Greene to start being reviewed. I want performance evaluations, goals set. You’re not stepping up to the plate as the chairman to take care of this. I want more planning –”

“You’re absolutely wrong and you’re out of bounds,” Santo said.

“No, no, no,” King said. “You’re sitting here, bringing this up at a discussion. But meanwhile I have conversations to you about very valid things that we are missing out in the city. We have no plan in place for how we communicate with the Board of Ed. How developers get there, counting the children that are entering the school system, and this is the type of stuff that you are concerned with?”

Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson, chairman of the committee, stepped in. “This is completely off topic from what we have on the agenda so let’s go back to the agenda,” she said.

“He didn’t have it on the agenda but he managed to put it in there, didn’t he Emily?” King said.

“He was talking about the coastal management and the DEEP,” Wilson said.

“I want to make sure this is in the minutes,” King said. “… Joe, any time you want to get into the boxing ring let’s put some gloves on and we can deal with it like grown-ups instead of sitting at a table going tit for tat, wasting taxpayer dollars because this is the type of games you like to play.”

Santo asked if that was some kind of threat.

“A child. A child,” King said.

The Board of Education issue that King referred to was mentioned at the Oct. 29 BoE budget forum in Rowayton. Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera said that the newly opened Waypointe apartment and retail complex on West Avenue is feeding children into Jefferson Elementary School.

“Jefferson is overcrowded,” he said. “We may well even this year have to take some steps with potentially changing attendance boundaries or making some administrative kinds of decision on that.”

While tenants have moved into Waypointe, the massive development is still under construction. Another apartment building has been approved to be built across West Avenue from Waypointe.

The BoE added a school bus route last year because of the new East Norwalk Avalon. As of February there were 17 children living in Avalon, that were attending Norwalk Public Schools. NPS Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said a new bus costs $80,000.

Comments

19 responses to “Norwalk Zoning Commissioner calls Commission chairman ‘a child’”

  1. John Hamlin

    I love the fact that the Chairman can go “off agenda” to comment on press reports and to attack a Commissioner but when she defends herself she’s accused of being “off agenda.” The “off agenda” argument should have been brought up, if at all, after the Chairman’snfirst sentence. Too bad the agenda never seems to be about planning the city or protecting property owners from the whims of their neighbors. And let’s face it, we don’t need a state official to tell us what everyone already knows: Norwalk has the least effective and most permissive zoning of any town or city in the area, whether you are talking about protecting the shoreline or protecting neighbors or neighborhoods. All the ass-covering letters from state officials in the world won’t change that.

  2. Mike Mushak

    I heard similar comments from DEEP officials about Norwalk’s lax enforcement of state environmental laws when I served on Zoning. Mike Greene despises state laws as he revealed last month on the record, when he asked “by what authority?” did the state have when a discussion of CAM applications occurred.

    It is no secret around the city that Greene violates both city and state environmental protection laws, as he revealed when he approved the AMEC parking lot on Crescent Street that drains potentially dangerous unknown toxins from a construction debris transfer station into the Norwalk Harbor every time it rains (the facility is up for expansion approval Weds night.) this approval violates both city and state laws, but when asked about it in a meeting with the entire commission, Greene said he and he alone has the power to interpret the laws any way he wants.

    He ignores of course the federal law that makes it a felony for any official to ignore a potential threat to public health and safety from a polluting event , which we have on Crescent Street that anyone can see (water from rain and human actions has been observed and photographed and entered into the public record, carrying paint chips and other potentially toxic material directly out of the parking lot into the street and into public storm drains next to a public park and playground). We have city and state laws being broken by Mike Greene and no one cares. Unbelievable.

    We recently had P and Z staff blatantly lie to the public and the Zoning Commission on the record, with no reaction at all from the Commission leadership at the time, in a waterfront application in Rowayton. The staff completely ignored a strongly worded letter from DEEP that required the zoning commission to discuss and establish mitigation measures including maintain public access to the waterfront on a huge private family home in a traditional neighborhood of commercial water-dependent uses (highly protected by state and federal laws as the boatyard fiasco in Stamford illustrated so well), and instead staff told the commission with a straight face that ” the application follows all CAM laws and they recommend the commission approve the application”. The DEEP letter was buried in the huge packet we received 3 days earlier to review, which I brought to the meeting and read into the record as staff stood there speechless, as their complete disregard for the state CAM law was revealed including their deliberate attempt to mislead the commission and the public, a violation of ethical standards and the public trust their paid positions require by law. It was a shocking revelation to see the corruption in action, with full cooperation of Zoning Commission leadership that facitates this breakdown of laws and trust with impunity.

    The only way to restore the public’s faith in our corrupt and broken planning process is to hold staff accountable for their behavior, stop the automatic raises with no performance reviews as Nora King mentioned in the meeting reported on above, replace commissioners and common council members who protect this corrupt status quo (we all know who they are), and demand professionalism and excellence in our staff and commissioners as good citizens like Nora King are doing. And don’t rule out getting the state Attorney General involved. When state and city laws are being broken by Norwalk officials with potential impacts on public health and safety, it is time to get serious and stop it with investigations and legal remedies.

  3. TLaw

    How can they both go away? Does it make the cesspool any cleaner? No, but maybe bit more civil.

  4. Ken Werner

    Information, please. It is not clear to me exactly what the division of labor is between the Planning Commission, Planning Committee, and Zoning Commission. Can somebody help me with this?

  5. Michael McGuire

    Great question Ken Werner – I’m still trying to figure this out as well.

    Also, why don’t we have performance reviews for staff – all staff? That is just sound business practice. Can anyone shed any light on this? Does some staff have reviews and other not?

    Bruce Kimmel any thoughts?

  6. Carol

    way past time to get rid of santo–if someone decides to sue the city over these practices-it will cost the taxpayers a fortune.
    so people lets wise up out with santo and greene.

  7. Oldtimer

    Mike Mushak is correct in what he says, but I question his use of the word corruption. Corruption is a federal crime where a municipal official takes a bribe or some other benefit to influence his performance as a city official. That may be happening and, if it is and Mike has even a little bit of evidence, it should be reported to the FBI and somebody should go to Federal Prison. FBI pursue municipal or state corruption cases very enthusiastically. They have resources most of us can’t imagine.

    I wonder how much of what Mike is complaining about is incompetence rather than corruption. Incompetence needs to be addressed, certainly, but there is considerable difference between corruption and incompetence.

    I would not be astonished if corruption was found, but I think the accusation of Federal crimes should be handled carefully.

  8. cc-rider

    If I read it correctly, Mike Greene referred to himself in the third person when he said, “Let’s leave Mike Greene out of this” Who does that?????

  9. Rowayton

    Let’s go for two , 3 round bouts at City Hall Auditorium for P&Z Titles and Jobs !
    1. Santo vs King
    2. Greene vs Mushak
    Winners take all !

  10. LWitherspoon

    The Board of Education issue that King referred to was mentioned at the Oct. 29 BoE budget forum in Rowayton. Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera said that the newly opened Waypointe apartment and retail complex on West Avenue is feeding children into Jefferson Elementary School.

    “Jefferson is overcrowded,” he said. “We may well even this year have to take some steps with potentially changing attendance boundaries or making some administrative kinds of decision on that.”

    Weren’t we told that apartment-dwellers don’t have children, so school overcrowding wasn’t something to worry about related to Waypointe and other projects?

  11. Mike Mushak

    LWitherspoon, I can’t recall anyone ever saying apartment dwellers don’t have children. The demographics all over the country however, especially in downtown studios and one bedroom apartments, skews away from children. Apparently new numbers are being prepared by the Redevelopment Agency to better predict numbers of children expected from new develepment.

    Avalon East Norwalk has a mix of 240 studios, 1,2,and 3 bedroom apartments. This is also a more suburban location with a playground and pool, offering a more family-friendly location than a downtown location with no amenities for kids like this. Therefore, we should expect Avalon East Norwalk to be on the high end of ratios of children to apartments. If the 240 apartments generated 17 kids, that makes a ratio of .07 child per apartment, or 7 kids per 100 apartments basically. It is also important to note how many of these kids moved with their parents or guardians from elsewhere in Norwalk, instead from another town. If let’s say half of them moved from another location in Norwalk, should they be counted as new, or considered as an additional burden on the school system if they just moved from another school district? Again, downtown projects like the new Ironworks should be expected to have more childless younger singles and couples, and thus less children than Avalon East Norwalk. It will be interesting to get the new statistics from Redevelopment when they are ready.

    Oldtimer, corruption of process is just what it sounds like. And if it is deliberate to ignore laws or say you can interpret them any way you want, how can it be incompetence?

  12. Oldtimer

    Mike
    Deliberate ignoring State and/or Federal Law can easily be based on ignorance (you can’t fix STUPID) and, without evidence of some kind of bribery, it does not meet the definition of corruption that put Governor Rowland and a recent Bridgeport mayor in Federal Prison. I am not suggesting incompetence should be excused, I am only pointing out the word “corruption” as it applies to local government, is a carefully defined federal crime. It may even apply in how Mike Greene and/or Joe Santo operate, but, if it doesn’t, corruption is not the word to use.

    When the former chairman of the Oak Hills Board, Bob Virgulak, has been convicted of stealing from the 2nd taxing district when he was on that board, and Oak Hills has all kinds of money problems, after years of running without money problems, that is an excellent place to look for corruption, or, at least, commission a forensic audit covering the years when Virgulak was there.

    When the local zoning process is badly run for years and Mr Greene and Mr Santo have been involved for the same years, the first place to look is for incompetence. If some pattern of either of them accepting significant gifts from developers, then the problem clearly becomes corruption. You are entitled to whatever conclusion your experience brings you to. If you know anything to support a conclusion that “somebody is getting paid off” then that is clearly corruption and all information in support of that conclusion should be directed to the FBI. Local police have investigated corruption cases, but prosecution almost always ends up in Federal court, as an FBI case, supported by local police.

  13. Reality Check

    Baseless accusations could be stopped with a nice defamation lawsuit. I’ve counted several times Mushak has overstepped this line. He makes valid points occasionally, but destroys any chance of being taken credibly when he insinuates that volunteers are acting illegally.

  14. John Hamlin

    The use of the word corruption does not automatically mean violation of federal or state law. For example, the public employee unions in CT have a corrupt bargain with CT politicians — the politicians get political contributions and votes while the public employees get automatic salary increases and job protection through votes by politicians in support of legislation. It’s corrupt but not a violation of the law. Corruption at the city zoning level could mean cronyism and protecting the land interests of those in power — protecting the status quo. It’s not necessarily a violation of the law.

  15. Concerned

    Santo is a mean-spirited and petty, and not particularly intelligent or progressive – way past his time to go.

  16. Mike Mushak

    Reality Check, take the advice of your own name. No one ever contradicts my facts, instead they go after me, and always from the cowardly position of an anonymous post. My question to you is, why do you or anyone else never use their real name when questioning the veracity of my claims, which I have plenty of evidence to prove if it ever came to it. Laws have been broken, commissions and the public have been lied to and manipulated, studies have been ignored, and millions of dollars of taxpayer investment have been squandered. Prove to me that hasn’t happened, and all the facts I have presented are not true. I challenge you to do that. And man up (or woman up) and use your real name! lol.

  17. Amy M

    Is is any wonder why year after year the pool of qualified candidates for appointed and elected positions seems shallower and shallower? What mature, rational, intelligent individual wants to be associated with all this immaturity and backbiting? Student councils are run more professionally than some of our “grown up” government boards.

    It is more than obvious, there needs to be some personnel changes made and the only one that can do it continues to exercise his imagined right to remain silent.

    Trying not to make enemy’s, instead of doing what is right, needed and called for, in the end, can create even more foes and increase the chaos. Thoughts to ponder…

  18. Reality Check

    Mike, really. [Edited to conform to our policy)] Let the political process work itself out. The city has made it 350 years without you and your opinions and will be just fine.

  19. Paul Lanning

    From this article, it seems that absolutely nothing got done at this meeting, except for a lot of bickering and a boxing challenge.

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