ON THE RECORD: Communication Director Michelle Woods Matthews sits down with NoN’s Malik Brizan-Reed for a conversation about her job

(left) Malik Brizan-Reed Photo Credits: Nancy Shulins and (right) Michelle Woods Matthews (Courtesy photo)

From managing crises to promoting diverse voices, Michelle shares her insights on handling public perception and upcoming initiatives to enhance community engagement. Read on.

Can you tell me about yourself and what your role entails?

“I’m the communication director of the city. I started here a little over two years ago. My role entails making sure everything is transparent to the community. My main job is to communicate clearly and effectively, whether that’s through our social media platforms, press releases, press conferences and events, or our website. I live in Norwalk, and I’ve gotten to learn the city, listen to the residents, and learn what they care about.”

How would you and the team handle and manage public perception in a crisis?

“A lot of the crises we have been dealing with are based on public health and safety. I think the most important thing is making sure they get information as fast, clear, and concise as possible. We have social media, like Facebook and Instagram. Not everyone is on those platforms, so we have press conferences and posts on our website. We also have a code red call system so everyone in our subscription network will get a call [automated] from the mayor. We are currently transferring this system to something called Everbridge for emergencies. It’s a system the state and a bunch of municipalities use. It’s not just phone calls. It’s texts, emails, and more modern communications.”

Are there any newsletters?

“We don’t have any newsletters. The Common Council started a newsletter program. The amount of social media posts we put out a day is about five, and it’s a lot of information, sometimes as much as in a press release, because we want everyone to know all the details. We just rolled out our free summer concerts series, so every Wednesday night at Calf Pasture Beach, there are free concerts. We have a new skateboard park where we have skateboard parties with DJs every Friday night. I don’t think it’s typical for a municipality to push out as much information as we do. It shows that we’re trying to be super transparent because we care about people’s quality of life.”

How does the department support outreach efforts to ensure diverse voices are heard?

“We work closely with the Norwalk Housing Authority…we’re constantly rolling out different outreach events…working with partners and elevating so many types of voices … We have a close to 20 percent Hispanic population, 17 percent Black population, and a huge Haitian population. We have different events to represent and celebrate all these cultures. We value diversity and want to celebrate who they are.”

What communication initiatives or projects is Norwalk planning to launch, and how will it enhance public engagement and awareness?

“We have a new business coming into Norwalk almost every week, and we hold ribbon-cutting events so we lift up all those different businesses. We have the Oyster Festival coming up, and we just had the Pride in the Park parade. It’s one of the biggest Pride Month celebrations in Fairfield County. There’s always so much going on in Norwalk.”


6 responses to “ON THE RECORD: Communication Director Michelle Woods Matthews sits down with NoN’s Malik Brizan-Reed for a conversation about her job”

  1. Bryan Meek

    How does a new business coming to the city every week reconcile with the recently reported decline in jobs from 44000 to 38000 in the last 10 years? Can we please stop counting Uber drivers as new businesses? These are side hustles for those that can barely afford rents here thanks to massive government subsidies that make housing more unaffordable.

  2. Diane Lauricella

    Appreciate NON interviews where we, the people, get to read about what City thinks about itself, on the record. However, to avoid the appearance of just regurgitating what you are told or view virtually without fact-checking, how does NON plan to hold their words to account?

    For instance, Ms. Woods-Matthews assertion: “My role entails making sure everything is transparent to the community” opens the door to rebuttal with many examples that leave many of us who follow government process scratching our heads.

    While indeed it is not easy to inform the community about the many initiatives this administration is attempting, if you scratch the surface there is more to see…if you look…and there are some in the government, unnamed so far, that truly believe the voters have no right to ask questions and get return phone calls or emails. More CIVICS 101 needed, perhaps?

    Latest case in point: Entire Common Council is poised to vote tomorrownight, 7/9, without enough time to do their due diligence, on a 7-year Trash, Recycling, Yard, Bulk Collection/Hauling and Transfer Station Contract based upon a non-transparent RFP Special Task Force process consisting of mostly non-experts and no competition. Why wasn’t the RFP put on hold until after a Comprehensive Waste Management Plan was created or re-isdued so that there were competitive bids? We had until early next year to decide. Seems kind of backward and non-transparent. Wonder what Ms. Woods-Matthews and DPW will spin about that.

  3. John O’Neill

    A couple of things to ponder today: Both Positive
    1) Calf Pasture Beach has never looked and felt better — To the staff and management, GREAT Job. You’re appreciated
    2) Current Trash/Recycling Group has done a stellar job over past years — Why on God’s Earth would we want to change that?
    For those keeping score, please note this as a positive comment in your scorecard.

  4. Diane Lauricella

    Mr. O’Neill. You usually appear to do at least some due diligence before you post. This time you missed the mark.

    On the surface, the waste and recycling program may appear fine but look behind the curtain and all is not so well because it is costing us much more than it should, when compared to Best Practices and other towns’ and state programs that I have shared with City going back to Hal Alvord.

    The Waste Management program in Norwalk has been somewhat “broken” for quite a while.

    There is a glimmer of hope with the addition of Tom Szabo , the new Waste and Recycling Director after the position was not filled for over a year. He actually appears to like to talk to residents, unlike some of his predecessors.

    The Waste Management Plan, which was supposed to come first before this RFP, was suspended. We’ve had years to create one. You cannot manage what you don’t measure.

    It’s also been broken in terms of creatively educating residents, businesses, festivals and public facilities about how and why robust resource separation will save money and the planet at the same time.

    While the City recently added several waste separation programs for books, textiles, food scraps and additional mattress collection days, they are in pilot-program scale and rarely discussed past the launch date so are not optimized to scale for a City of our size and therefore costing us way more in lost savings and revenue.

    There still is a need for creative ways to educate the public beyond the obligatory web site blip that needs 3 clicks to find! Mr. Szabo has begun looking at this and those of us who are part of the ad hoc Norwalk Zero Waste Coalition continue to offer support and ideas.

    In addition, many in the waste business, legislators, and governments are reevaluating whether single-stream recycling, fraught with garbage bags tossed in and lots of stuff the public wishes could be recycled but can’t, is the best and only system to reduce waste and cost.

    Creative and robust education helps well-meaning folks to “Recycle Right”.

    The way forward is to reduce our need for too much stuff as well as our waste production and we will not meet the state goal of 60% this year by a longshot.

    Commenter is a 30+ year waste management professional, long-time food scrap and recycling advocate, organizer of the Norwalk Zero Waste Coalition, former Recycling Chair of the SoNo Arts Festival, and a Board Member of the RecycleCT Foundation.

  5. John O’Neill

    Diane: Thank you for the update. I’m a basics guy. My Trash and Recycling gets picked up on time each and every Monday. Including Holidays. My visits to the
    Transfer Station are always smooth. The personnel at the Transfer Station are polite and super helpful. Quite honestly, the only real issue I have is the
    always horrible experience of returning deposit related cans/bottles. I was in Stop & Shop and Shop Rite on Connecticut Avenue last week. IT could not
    have been a more unhealthy environment for those of us who think 10 cents is not worth throwing away.
    We can certainly use a better system than what we currently have on that front. I’m sure most would agree.

    I hope Mr. Szabo does a terrific job. A good start would be not messing with the terrific service we receive on trash collection and the transfer station.
    If he can save us money without interrupting that service, I’m 100% behind him. However, if it becomes a situation much like our Electric Bills, we can’t
    afford it. (Our power system is the real disaster many aren’t paying attention to)
    While I’m not a certified expert, I trust my eyes and ears. I think most of us feel the same. Especially after what we’ve experienced in Washington over
    the past two weeks.
    In conclusion, if there’s a better/cheaper way to do things, let’s do it. BUT, don’t break something that’s not broken.

  6. Tysen Canevari

    I would consider banning of backpack blowers a crisis and most of the community is unaware of it and those that are have no idea of the rules. It has never been printed in Spanish! Might be a good idea since roughly 70 percent of the landscapers are hispanic. One of those ordinances put in writing to appease the Rowayton community because they want quiet. The originator and the head of the ordinance committee just happens to live there!

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