NORWALK, Conn. – What’s up with Harry Rilling?
The man has been mayor for nearly three months and he hasn’t cleaned out City Hall, put NEON into bankruptcy, fixed the roads, installed bike lanes, brought the minority board-and-committee ratio in line with city population OR cut the budget.
See? Can’t trust anyone.
The naiveté, disingenuousness, hypocrisy or just plain toxic partisanship of those sentiments would be astounding if we hadn’t seen it all before on the national level. (Remember? Obama’s been president for a month and he needs to take ownership of the economy).
Some things to remember while sharpening the dagger:
Rilling has inherited a large number of settled union contracts. Holdover Finance Director Tom Hamilton pointed this out as one of the main drivers of the budget increase. He also inherited a revaluation, and a school system committed to Common Core Standards.
While some wonder why he has not cleaned house of Moccia’s City Hall leadership team, he inherited a set of department heads with various deals and restrictions that must be observed. Some changes have been made. Others may be on the way — time will tell.
We said it before, we will say it again: One of the most important things the mayor does is make appointments and hire staff. After eight years, the previous mayor owned all the boards and the department heads. They all come – well, most come – with expiration dates. Until those dates arrive and Rilling is able to swing the boards and commissions to his philosophy, Norwalk will have a distinctly Moccia flavor. While there is a Democrat in the mayor’s office, there is a Republican majority on the Common Council, the Planning Commission, the Zoning Commission, the Parking Authority, the Oak Hills Authority…
One thing the mayor seems to have accomplished so far – besides upping the count of minority appointments – is to begin a culture change in City Hall. He’s had help from several Republicans and a few Democrats who have worked with him to keep the sausage-making out of the spotlight and create a more civil and respectful atmosphere. Ironically, it is members of his own caucus who have created stumbling blocks and public disruptions that could threaten the Kum-bah-ya atmosphere.
So far, the former Norwalk cop has seemed more like a firefighter, trying to control brush fires that have been smoldering and still could erupt into a full-fledged forest fire in the coming months as ambitious local pols take off the gloves and battle for seats in Hartford.
While some claim Rilling was quite the politician while he worked his way up the ranks in the NPD, some observers now are commenting on his lack of political DNA as he throws himself into long days and nights on the job. Some have expressed concern about burnout and wish the mayor would pace himself.
Change does not often happen overnight. Next year’s budget – 2015-16 – will be Rilling’s budget, and, re-elected or not, 2016-17 will bear a significant amount of his imprint. Contracts will be negotiated on his watch. Budgets will be parsed. Internal decisions will be made. And it will then be up to the voters to judge on his body of work, not what was or wasn’t accomplished in three months.