Once around the city: A BOE flap, a fire commissioner, no start for Head Start

Mayor Harry Rilling speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education Tuesday, thanking them for their willingness to serve.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mike Lyons wants to set the record straight.

The once and future chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education found himself involved in a brouhaha Tuesday night, or what he called a “tempest in a teapot.”

Lyons, who thought until about 5 p.m. that he was the outgoing BOE chairman, showed up at the board’s reorganization meeting well prepared, or so he thought, he said. While the BOE and Common Council don’t normally meet on the same night, this night was different. The BOE would be swearing in its new members and electing new officers while next door in the City Hall Council Chambers, new Mayor Harry Rilling would be presiding over the new council and swearing everyone in. The council meeting was scheduled to begin 15 minutes after the BOE meeting, but there was no guarantee the election of officers would be over by then.

Because of this apparent scheduling conflict, Lyons said, “I had prepared for the meeting by looking at the bylaws, the charter and the statutes. I determined that either the mayor or myself could administer the oaths of office and run the meeting. I got the language for swearing people in from the charter, and went to the meeting.”

Rilling stopped in at the BOE meeting, Lyons said, and asked he needed to swear people in and run the meeting, or if he could “go next door.”

“I said, ‘it’s up to you, Harry, you can do it or I can under the bylaws, whatever you prefer,’” Lyons said Wednesday. “He said, ‘well, if you can handle it, great, I’d just like to say a few words and then I’ll head back over to the council meeting,’ and I said ‘sounds good.’”

Lyons started the meeting and asked Rilling to speak, which he did before leaving to run the council meeting.

That’s when things got started.

“Now, there’s no question that mayors have done this in the past (I don’t know if always), and,” Lyons said, “when challenged on that by some board members, I accurately pointed out (i) it was the mayor’s decision whether or not to run the meeting, and his choice was to have me run this one while he ran the council meeting, (ii) that the bylaws permitted me to run the meeting in his absence, and (iii) I have the authority as an attorney licensed in Connecticut (and therefore a commissioner of the Superior Court) to administer oaths.”

The challenge came first from Migdalia Rivas who said, “The mayor should swear us in.” And when Lyons said he was allowed to do it and tried to move on, Shirley Mosby piped up, agreeing with Rivas and stating she wanted to get Rilling back into the room to swear them in. Lyons told her to go ahead.

“Our bylaws (Section 9320(b)) say that the mayor runs the annual organization meeting,” Lyons said, “but that, ‘In the absence of the mayor, the meeting shall be called to order by the chairperson pro tempore of the preceding year or by the vice chairperson for the preceding year in that order of priority, provided one of these officers is still a member of the board.’ I was the chairman pro tempore of the previous year, so I was entitled to run the meeting in the absence of the mayor.

“All perfectly legal and perfectly appropriate (and not, I think, even close to being ‘nasty’),” he continued. “Once the hubbub started, however, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to educate the objecting board members about their own bylaws and state laws, so I was actually relieved when Harry came back in and said, ‘you want me to do it, I’ll do it.’”

Mosby said Wednesday she was concerned about the legality of Lyons performing the swearing in, and didn’t want any questions coming up in the future.

Mosby went next door and brought the mayor back to the BOE meeting. Rilling took over, administered the oaths and ran the meeting, during which Lyons, on the strength of crossover Democratic votes from Mike Barbis and Heidi Keyes, was re-elected, giving the BOE chairmanship to a Republican despite the Dems holding a 6-3 majority. This led to some angry words after the meeting from Mosby, who, in addition to the previously reported comments about white hair removal from Lyons’ head, accused some Democrats of being “undercover Republicans.”

Mosby said the problems actually began in the days leading up to the swearing in and the vote for new officers. Rivas, Rosa Murray, Sherelle Harris and herself – the board’s minority contingent – were left out of the discussions for the vote, she said

“Throughout this process they were all quiet and not being inclusive,” she said.”… I wasn’t even sworn in yet and I started seeing what was going on. That’s fine, I have been dealing with it all my life. I’m used to it, I can deal with it.

Lyons said everything done was on the up and up.

“No one — including Harry — did anything wrong. It was perfectly appropriate for either Harry or I to run the meeting. The objections to my doing so as if it was some nefarious plot were ridiculous, as I left the decision up to Harry and was perfectly happy to do it either way he wanted. Harry reasonably concluded he couldn’t run two meetings at once and decided to split duties. It was a reasonable decision given that two meetings were going on at once.”

At least in one area, Lyons and Mosby seemed to come together – the kids.

Said Mosby, referring to the election of officers, “The sad thing was people were not thinking about the kids,” she said, “they were trying to make a deal for themselves, for the position.”

Lyons concluded with, “One hopes that those making a mountain out of this molehill can please redirect their energies to things that actually matter to the education of our children.”

Irene Dixon named to Fire Commission

Rilling said Wednesday that Irene Dixon, the director of sales and marketing at the Hilton Garden Inn, was his choice to round out the three-person Fire Commission.

Dixon, of Asian decent, joins the Rev. Oscar DeStruge, a Latino, and Rilling on the commission, which requires no Common Council approval. Rilling also named Fran Collier-Clemmons, an African-American, and Charlie Yost to the Police Commission. The appointments were an early indication of Rilling keeping his campaign promise to add diversity to the city’s boards and commissions. The four outgoing commissioners included three men and a woman, all white.

In addition to her work at the Hilton, Dixon is involved on the boards of the Maritime Aquarium and the Seaport Association, and has served with the Norwalk Symphony and the Education Foundation. She is on the board of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Coppola: No conflicts

New Norwalk Corporation Council Mario Coppola responded to an inquiry from NancyOnNorwalk based on questions from several commenters: “No, as I am Corporation Counsel, my firm will not handle any land use or zoning applications before any of the Norwalk boards or commissions,” he said in an email. “It is my understanding that my firm currently does not handle any work for the Norwalk BOE.”

Head Start still stopped

The Norwalk Head Start program, formerly run by Norwalk Opportunity Now (NEON), whose contract was suspended by the Administration for Children and Families on Oct. 24, is still on hold, but there has been some progress toward getting it reopened.

Community Development Institute (CDI) has updated its phone message (855-294-5718) to say it is still working on arrangements but there is no starting date available. Rilling and state Sen. Bob Duff both said this week they were hopeful the program would reopen under CDI’s guidance late this week or the first of next week.

NEON has reopened its School Readiness program at least through Friday.

There is still no news on the toddler program or other NEON programs that have been suspended.


24 responses to “Once around the city: A BOE flap, a fire commissioner, no start for Head Start”

  1. M Allen

    “Throughout this process they were all quiet and not being inclusive,” she said.”… I wasn’t even sworn in yet and I started seeing what was going on. That’s fine, I have been dealing with it all my life. I’m used to it, I can deal with it.
    Follow up question, Ms. Mosby: could you be more specific about what it is you have been dealing with all your life?

  2. nwkprobate

    Ms. Mosby: Let’s review some facts. Democrat Rosa Murray nominated Republican Artie Kassimis for Vice Chair and you voted for Artie and not fellow Democrat Heidi Keyes. Does that not mean you are a closet Republican? Sounds like a double standard to me…

  3. LisaLen

    Here we go again, poor Shirley, always the victim.

  4. “Mosby said Wednesday she was concerned about the legality of Lyons performing the swearing in, and didn’t want any questions coming up in the future.”
    Hey Mosby, this isn’t the first time you’ve been there and you STILL DON’T KNOW THE BY-LAWS.
    And what a damn shame for the people who voted you in…

  5. Piberman

    It’s no secret that Ms Mosby lobbied hard for the Chair’s seat. That she received just two votes from the same members that voted against hiring DR Rivera says it all. These 3 BOE members belong to the past era of dysfunctional BOE’s. The other Dems on the BOE bring genuine good will and concern to the Board by voting for the most capable chair in decades. Hurrah.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Fact check: Shirley Mosby’s name was never placed into nomination, let alone voted on. The only people who were nominated and voted on were Mike Lyons and Rosa Murray. The three Republicans plus Heidi Keyes and Mike Barbis voted for Mike Lyons. Not sure what “vote” you are referring to. What went on behind the scenes in the days leading up to the meeting we don’t know, and not for lack of asking. Anything else would be speculation or second- or third-hand information.

  6. bsmith

    Mosby “accused some Democrats of being “undercover Republicans.” Guess that makes Artie Kassimis an ‘undercover Democrat’.

  7. TG

    Sounds like a childish tantrum. “I’m going to get dad!” Running next door and presumably interrupting the council meeting? Because you don’t want the legally permitted designer to swear you in? And then sour grapes because there was some good faith confidence across the aisle in electing? Get over it, knock the chip off your shoulder, and move on.

  8. TG

    *designee, not designer

  9. M Allen

    And by the way, according to the Mayor, the plan was from the start that Mike Lyons would do the swearing in. Instead, the Mayor was dragged out of the CC meeting to deal with people who simply didn’t want Mike to do what he was legally allowed to do in the Mayor’s planned absence.
    If the vote says anything, it says this: there is a group on the board willing to work together and there are some outsiders who will be marginalized if they can’t find a way of getting along. As with life, your attitude will put you on the sideline. Once sidelined you can either choose to get with the program and stomp your feet and draw attention to yourself. But in the end, you’re only drawing attention to yourself and not to your ideas. So how are you going to help the kids when nobody is listening?

  10. EveT

    If it’s true that the white BOE members conspired ahead of the meeting and excluded Mosby, Rivas, Rosa Murray, and Sherelle Harris from their discussions, that is really despicable.

  11. JustAParent

    I’m not surprised with Shirley’s behavior..I expected this all along. I was surprised however, that she was even voted in. I only ask that she looks in the mirror and change her ways a bit…stop reacting without thinking things through and remember that you represent not just the kids but the people that voted you in. If you wanted Rosa M to be the Chairperson, why did you not vote her for Vice Chair? Sherelle don’t get caught up in this mess – stay neutral with your questions and position in the board. Don’t get sucked up by all of this negativity.

  12. Piberman

    Looks like an aggrieved official can get a good “hearing” on Nancy’s but judging from reader comments it may well be that “silence is the better part of valor”. Re-reading the Chair’s comments underscore why he was re-elected. Complaining about other officials conduct in public is not good policy.

  13. marjoriem

    It is true that an Alliance was formed before the meeting. There is no doubt about that. Mosby wanted Rilling there for more than one reason. Rilling needed to know what was going on. The Apples were protecting their token minority by not having her vote with them at one point. The minority community would not like to see her turn her back on them. The Apples will protect her so that she can remain faithful to Apples. They need her. She should know she is being used. I am sure we will be hearing from the Apples regarding my comment, but the truth is the truth.

  14. M Allen

    wow marj. you really are that anti-cop guy that shall not be named. Change your name to AppleHata lol

  15. Carolyn Chiodo

    Majorie- Can’t get anything by you …YES the Red Apples supported Harris. She is lovely, smart, articulate, calm. She wants to bring people together. I have only met Ms. Harris a few times but I am 100% behind her. SHES FABULOUS:) I LOVE HER! and yes she is African American. So What? and maybe just maybe she voted for Ms. Murray to try and be supportive. Her vote that night didn’t matter. They had the five votes they needed. Kassimis switched camps:) Thank you Artie! I wonder who Rilling thinks the crazies are after the meeting.

  16. LWitherspoon

    “Rivas, Rosa Murray, Sherelle Harris and herself – the board’s minority contingent – were left out of the discussions for the vote, she said”
    They were left out of the discussions for the vote by whom? I presume they are referring to some sort of caucus – if so, which one?

  17. LWitherspoon

    Thank you for the follow up regarding Mario Coppola.
    Did Mayor Rilling have any comment on Shirley Mosby’s statement that “I’m going to pull every white hair out of [Mike Lyons’s] head”? Candidate Rilling promised us greater civility. Will Mayor Rilling do something to keep that promise in the wake of this incident?

  18. nwkprobate

    White people conspired? Give me a break EveT! The Democratic BOE members got together with Rilling Monday night. There was plenty of opportunity for them to develop a plan …. but I guess they couldn’t pull it together ….

  19. marjoriem

    Yes, Artie switched camps. That’s why Harris was told they already had the votes and didn’t need hers. She was protected by the Apples. The minority community was satisfied.

  20. M Allen

    Intrigue. Race. RINOs and DINOs. The drama llama is in full gallup on this one.

  21. @LWitherspoon,
    Rilling will never speak against a fellow democrat – remember, he supported Brown when she pummeled the elderly couple.

  22. bsmith

    Marjoriem says Artie K ‘switched camps’, by voting for a Republican? But, he is a Republican. Intriguing.

  23. Lisa Thomson

    bsmith: I said in an oped last week this BOE election was really about which candidates were for reform/change and not whether they were a Republican or Democrat. The “fight” is about changing 30 years of culture in NPS and the…”we’ve always done it this way” attitude. Districts like Norwalk need to avail to its teachers a basket of tools, technologies and professional development, etc. in order for them to address the individual learning needs of each student in our diverse district. That means change and change is scary. Everyone should read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” – a quick read about human nature, attitude and adapting to new circumstances.

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