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.