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Norwalk’s ‘damn Council’ tables ‘Go Ape,’ no testimony allowed

Former Norwalk Common Council member Anna Duleep, left,  asks Mayor Harry Rilling if she can speak, Tuesday in City Hall.
Former Norwalk Common Council member Anna Duleep, left, asks Mayor Harry Rilling if she can speak, Tuesday in City Hall, after the public was told it could not comment on the Go Ape proposal. At right is Matina Panagiotidis.

NORWALK, Conn. — A planned outpouring of anti-Go Ape! anger got short circuited Tuesday as the Norwalk Common Council voted to table the item at the beginning of its meeting, thereby taking it off the agenda and making public comment inappropriate, according to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola.

The Go Ape! treetop adventure course proposed for Cranbury Park will not be considered again until Sept. 13, at which time a Council public hearing will be devoted to the topic, Council members said. Republicans protested the move, as did many members of the public.

Video of the Go Ape! discussion at end of story

“Process-wise, how dare you?” former Common Council member Anna Duleep said, shortly thereafter, from the lectern. “… I cannot express to you how deeply, deeply disappointed I am that you showed such disrespect for my neighbors, whether they agree with me or disagree with me.”

The outrage might have been avoided. Councilman Mike DePalma (D-District D) said, after the meeting, that he had contacted a member of the Cranbury Preservation Association (CPA) on Monday night to inform the group that the Go Ape! proposal was likely to be tabled. He got an immediate reply and thought the community had been notified, he said.

“I thought I had gone out of my way to be very transparent during this,” DePalma said. “This was not any kind of bait and switch type thing. I let them know in advance: We were not going to be voting on it, and then we get that kind of outrage. It was pretty frustrating.”

DePalma is on the record as saying he does not plan to support the proposed attraction, often referred to “the zip-line.” A zip-line is part of the overall treetop ropes course.

The Council chambers were full for the Go Ape! agenda item, with signs pro and con – except that one man tore down Mike Mushak’s “yes” signs before the meeting, tore them up and sat on the pieces.

When Mushak went to take a photo of the man with his phone, the man grabbed the phone from him.

Council members after the meeting suggested that Mushak file a police report, but Mushak later said he had decided against it. He had gotten his phone back.

Police were not present for the incident but three officers arrived later and watched as the meeting began.

Councilman John Igneri (D-District E) made a motion just after the roll call to suspend the rules and table the item. Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) asked if that meant the public would not be able to comment, and the answer was yes.

The vote was 10-4, on partisan lines; Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) was absent.

Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee Chairman Travis Simms (D-District B) then made a motion to table it until Sept. 13, and an identical vote ensued.

“There you go folks, that means you wasted your night,” Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said.

“Disgusting. We vote for you. Discuss the issue,” a man in the audience said.

“One more outbreak and we’ll have you removed,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.

“Doesn’t matter. Then vote,” the man said. “… Democracy at its best right here, from the damn Council.”

Rilling went on to explain that the Council felt it didn’t have enough information to vote because there is no contract drawn with Go Ape!.

“Even though it may have been tabled, it is on the agenda, so I don’t know why these people in the audience can’t speak,” Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. “I don’t understand that.”

“It’s been tabled, it’s no longer on the agenda,” Coppola said. “I understand it’s on the printed version on the agenda, that was here when we started the meeting, but when it gets tabled it’s then off the agenda. The reason for that is, quite frankly, to have significant discussion about an item that is not on agenda is not appropriate for a variety of reasons. The Council can’t do anything; to have people spending their time giving testimony regarding an item that won’t be considered now for what, 6 to 8 months, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

At least 23 people had signed up to speak. Deb Goldstein asked to take her turn.

“It’s unfortunate that all these people came out tonight to discuss an item that was going to be tabled,” Goldstein said.

Rilling said that Igneri and Simms had just told him there would be a public hearing prior to the proposal coming back to the Council in September.

“There is no proposal by the vendor as to where it is definitely going to be right now, and we have no contract indicating what the particular details of the proposal will be,” Rilling said.

Duleep shortly thereafter asked for her turn to speak, as Goldstein had done. Rilling asked if it was on the “zip-line”; Duleep said it was about the process, and he allowed it.

“I think it’s basic courtesy to all the people who came out, if you were planning, and of course you know that I know that you knew ahead of time you were going to table this, you could have waited until after public participation for people to speak,” Duleep said.

Rilling and Council members said after the meeting that it had come out in the news media before the meeting that the item would be tabled.

Duleep said the Council members would have their own turn being tabled without a chance to speak, sooner or later.

“I think next time when you have the public hearing, do what you are going to do but give everybody that voted for you, who you are here on behalf of, the chance to tell you what they think before you go and screw them,” Duleep said.

Rilling, after the meeting, said, “The item has not even been vetted properly so we are going hold a public hearing at another time.”

“We have to make a decision for what is appropriate for the park or not appropriate for the park,” Rilling said. “… By pushing it back to September, we pretty much guarantee it’s not going to be there this year or maybe not next year. I would think that people would be relatively happy.”

DePalma said the CPA member who he had emailed was present in the audience, looking at him. He declined to say who that was.

“Normally we don’t talk about things we discuss in caucus, but I said (in the email to the CPA member), ‘Look, I have it on a very good suspicion that this is going to be tabled. I want to avoid’ – a couple of weeks ago everybody came out and thought it was going to vote and then it was just discussion only. I got an immediate response, ‘Thank you so much,’ that was it,” DePalma said.

“I am opposed to the zip-line at this point, but their whole message, that I was getting from fliers and such, was ‘We need more time, we need more time,’ to deliberate,” DePalma said.

Diane Lauricella, a District D Democrat who has been working for CPA, requested at the recent Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting that the item be tabled. Lauricella was not present for the Council meeting.

DePalma said that, on Monday night, after the caucus meeting, he and Councilman Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) had gone to a District D Democratic Town Committee (DTC) meeting to talk about Go Ape. They had been handed a flier asking for more time to consider the Go Ape proposal, he said.

“I thought this was going to be a happy thing for them,” DePalma said. “We had people yelling. I am very curious to see … when I speak with this person where this miscommunication was.”

DTC District D Co-chairwoman Donna King said after the meeting that DePalma and Sacchinelli had said that tabling the proposal would allow the Council to see how the summer goes with the new pavilion and the newly renovated bunkhouse at Cranbury Park before deciding whether to commit to a vendor.

Duleep, after the meeting, said she remembered meetings that went to midnight when she was on the Council.

“I have never seen them table something before public participation before,” Duleep said. “I think I was shaking because it was so angry and I am just glad I didn’t swear as much as was in my head. Because I just thought it was a big slap in the face to people who turned out.”

Comments

23 responses to “Norwalk’s ‘damn Council’ tables ‘Go Ape,’ no testimony allowed”

  1. EveT

    If you’re told an item is probably going to be tabled, and you feel strongly about it, are you going to stay home because of “probably”? I don’t think so.

  2. Anna Duleep

    E-mailing a constituent,”I have it on a very good suspicion that this is going to be tabled” is no guarantee that the proposal won’t be discussed or voted upon. Neither is telling the press the day of a meeting that an item “most likely would be tabled” (per The Hour). It was still on the printed agenda. What if the neighbors had trusted that information, then the Council changed their minds at 7:30 and voted? How easily this could have been avoided by simply waiting until after public participation to make the (non-debatable) motion to table!

  3. Lisa Thomson

    Glad the Cranbury folks were present to defend their neighborhood. I hope they prevail- sadly, we did not with Farm Creek. Be wary of delayed votes. A two year battle on our side of town was tabled by Zoning until after a municipal election, then voted on after a 3 minute discussion.

    Downstairs, in the Community Room, the Charter Revision Commission was putting forward term extensions for 2017 for a sitting mayor and more money for the council (amongst other minor housekeeping items) while claiming their hands were tied when it came to cleaning up the charter’s processes in the area of P&Z operations and the weekly ‘fall out’ issues associated with land use. The council doesn’t think it wise at this time. Hmmm….

    When will the council and mayor listen to the people, instead of kicking the can down the road?

  4. Tony P

    Bruce Kimmell hit the nail on the head with this particular neighborhood – and the shame of it is, the ropes course really would benefit everyone.

    In other news, there will be an ice skating rink set up across the street from my house in Vets Park starting in Oct – missed all the folks from Cranbury coming out to protest the noise, increased traffic, and parking issues that will bring. Oh wait, its not in Cranbury, sooo…..

  5. Tony P

    Oh, and, thanks to Ms. Duleep for re-surfacing. I don’t understand why people entertain anything that comes from this family – her mother’s burned out building on Wall Street is single handily killing that neighborhood. They shouldn’t be allowed to speak at public meetings until that situation is rectified.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @TonyP

      While acknowledging your frustration with certain situations in the city, Anna Duleep is not responsible for her mother’s actions. Anna Duleep has as much right — legally and morally — as anyone to comment.

  6. Victor Askew

    Too many NIMBYs (Not in my backyard) here.

  7. THE TRUTH

    “One more outbreak and we’ll have you removed,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.

    No Harry you got it wrong, come next November we will have you removed. How dare you talk to a taxpayer like that. I don’t care what the situation is you need to remember that you work for us. I think you owe the public an apology.

  8. Joanie

    How come the people who use the word NIMBY – live far away from that neighborhood!

  9. Glenn O’Neill

    It was very unfortunate that so many of us took time out of our busy lives to attend the meeting only to see it tabled. I appreciate the fact that there was some attempt to notify the public but there’s no way at that point we would not show for “probably”. There have been a few times in this process when we’ve been told that things would not be discussed only to read in the paper the next day that some type of action was taken at the very end of a meeting after most everyone had left. I’m appreciative of the time our elected officials give to the city but unfortunately this process has caused many of us to question whether things are being done in a completely transparent manner. It’s also baffling to me that we are now waiting until September for something that Mr. Mocciae and Mr. Simms should have completely thought through at this point.

  10. Educator

    Just remember all those that voted to stifle the voice of the people last night come next November. These elitist politicos need to respect the people who put them in office.

  11. Tony P

    @joanie – Victor is right – this screams NIMBY-ism. And, as usual, the screams come from Cranbury, Silvermine, West Norwalk and Rowayton. Guess what those neighborhoods have in common?

  12. John E. Tobin

    In the Council chambers a vote to stop the public from speaking by using questionable procedural motions is being proposed and passed.
    Meanwhile downstairs….The Charter Revision Commission is proceeding with a public hearing that could give those who don’t like to listen to public opinion four years in office instead of two!

    No matter what side of and issue you are on I would implore those on the Common Council that the next time the Corporation Counsel gives an opinion that stops the public from speaking, ask for a ruling from the Chair. If the Chair rules against the public’s right to speak, then make the motion to over-rule the Chair. See how that works out.

  13. Philip Chiaia

    I think what the City did was smart, let’s face it.

    The City needs to make an informed, legal and ethical choice on this land.

    Those in favor have not presented any real data or a vendor proposal.
    Ultimately it’s come down to, “watch the Go Ape video and look at all the fun the kids are having looking at butterfly posters.” This should not drive the reasoning to put it there. Simply promises of what Go Ape will do? I think not.

    The numbers cannot be just those with a $.

    They need to quantify it both for and in opposition beyond the $.

  14. Drundom

    I support Mayor Rilling and Norwalk should be thankful for his leadership. He is calm, courteous and level-headed. I have no doubt that the Mayor will be central to leading the thought deliberations on the zip-line when the time comes as he did when the mosque debate transpired. It is somewhat disappointing that the participants anxieties got the best of them last night.

  15. Alan Kibbe

    I agree with Philip that it was a good choice to table the vote on the Ropes Course. Any public comment made last night would have been long forgotten by the time the proposal resurfaces in September. Hopefully, in the meantime, the proposal can be refined and Recreation and Parks can do a better job of educating the public about what is proposed. I overhead a lot of misinformation last evening.

    One observation from the meeting is that the folks with whom I chatted were completely unaware of the Master Plan for Cranberry Park which was adopted by the City in 2010. The improvements going on at the park, including the ropes course, are guided by or in response to a general PLAN that was debated and adopted years ago. This isn’t something new that the City or Recreation and Parks just pulled out of a hat.
    Anyone with a comment really should review the Cranberry Park Master Plan on the city web site to understand where this is coming from. http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1749

  16. Hello I Must Be Going

    Philip Chiaia is right. A slick video does NOT equate to being “great for the City.”

  17. CC

    Tony P. – There is NOTHING wrong with NIMBY and spirited dialogue, when the ropes course proposal is, at the very least, geographically and logistically, such a BAD idea to begin with. Let’s not violate our beautiful park anymore than she has been with the “Bunk House” area (that was snuck in [in my opinion] under the appearance of residential development….). Let the ropes course benefit everyone in a more well thought out location. And coincidentally, Not In My Back Yard…

  18. Adam Beausoleil

    Mr. Kibbe,

    Thank you for the information on the master plan for the park created in 2010. It’s worth noting that all of the “plans” in the plan are merely RECOMMENDATIONS and not approved in any form. Unless they have been debated publicly and approved since 2010, I don’t think we’re set in stone on the any of it. Point in fact, there is no Splash Pad in the playground, but that is in the master plan. There’s no secondary bathrooms on the park grounds, nor gazebo in the Orchard (although there are the benches around the tree). There’s no safety call boxes or park rangers either.

    In my opinion the master plan is still up for debate just like if the “Adventure Play” area is beneficial – at all…in any shape…in this park…in someone’s front yard.

    As an aside to my thoughts here – What are the thoughts of The Friends of Cranbury Park regarding the zip line/adventure play area?

  19. Dawn

    Why are they do upset. They won the battle. The war is not over but they won for now.

    Aside from that ggese proud need to get over themselves.

    The park is big enough for s lot of things. The ropes courses I have been to are nothing like they are saying.

    I would have more respect for their complaints of hefty just said this is our neighborhood and we don’t want her rest of you here. The made up excuses are silly. Safety, parking. They just don’t want it. Be honest.

  20. Janis Jackson

    Tony P. – It’s not in my backyard and I still don’t want it. I go to the park every morning to enjoy the last bit of peace and quiet left in Norwalk. It disgusts me how the politicians are treating the people that they are supposed to be working for as well as destroying one of the last beautiful places in Norwalk. Cutting down trees on Washington Street, removing graves from a historic graveyard? Do any of these politicians understand what PRESERVATION MEANS? And the value of preserving historic things?

  21. M. Murray

    Somehow I think people mistake park for preserve

  22. Diane C2

    @John Tobin – well said! The planet must be upside down and inside out that the public was told they could not speak. For the record, this jewel is from the same corporation counsel: he once cleared the chamber for a recess. Clearly did not understand the difference between that and Executive Session. And 15 lemmings got up and stretched their legs…

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