Petrini defends Norwalk parks and rec director, chides Democrats

Norwalk men play volleyball Sunday in Flax Hill Park.

NORWALK, Conn. – The debate about South Norwalk parks, which started with a silent protest vote at last week’s Common Council meeting, continues this week as Democrats voice their concerns and a key Republican defends the amount of work that has been done to help inner-city youth.

Five Democrats voted against the reappointment of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae at last Tuesday’s Common Council meeting after sitting mute as Republican caucus members lauded him and the job he has been doing since 1998. After the meeting, Councilwoman Faye Bowman (D-District B) said that was because Mocciae “doesn’t do anything for the parks in South Norwalk.”

That surprised Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D).

Petrini, who is chairman of the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, said Saturday that he heard before the meeting that Democrats were going to criticize Mocciae’s attention to South Norwalk, and he had prepared a list of things to show that much had been done.

“I never expected them to vote ‘no’ for his appointment. I just figured they were going to bring up some things and we’d debate. I was taken aback,” he said.

His list includes:

The new playground in Woodward Avenue Park.

Woodward Avenue Park: About 30 new trees and a resurfaced tennis court, as well as a new playground put in a few years ago.

Ryan Park: A resurfaced basketball court and all new playground equipment.

Nathaniel Ely school: “We didn’t do anything to the basketball courts because they’re maintained by the Housing Authority, not Parks and Rec. But he did refurbish the tennis courts.”

Jefferson Elementary School: A new playground was put in last year at a cost of more than $125,000.

Meadow Gardens: “He redid the sidewalks because they were all being pushed up by the roots that were overgrown. He repainted the basketball backboards because they were completely full of graffiti. He replaced the tabletops on the older tables.”

Bowman said last week that Bouton Park had a new playground gym, but that was paid for with a grant from GE.

Petrini said that was because a corporation approached Mocciae and offered to do something for the city. Mocciae chose Bouton Park. The new gym was worth $140,000, he said.

The tennis court at Woodward Avenue Park.

Some fact checking: There is, indeed, a newly resurfaced tennis court at Woodward Avenue Park, but there is no net. The basketball court has no lines on it, as Bowman described.

A woman who was talking to Bowman at last week’s council meeting complained that the San Vicenzo community garden is neglected. Bowman agreed with her as part of the complaint against Mocciae.

“I’d be surprised if we did (any work there) because we don’t even maintain that community garden,” Petrini said. “It’s supposed be maintained by NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now).”

Mocciae tries to fund Fodor Farm, but money is cut out of the capital budget request every year, Petrini said.

Fodor Farm is actually in District E1. Asked about that, Petrini said he thought many South Norwalk people probably have plots there.

It isn’t far from District B’s Flax Hill Park, where a recent Mocciae effort has gone awry, he said.

Five concrete tables, very much like the ones at Calf Pasture Beach, were installed in the park last week at a cost of $5,000, he said. They were completely destroyed within days, he said.

It’s difficult to open the gate to the tennis court at Flax Hill Park, as chain link fence hangs down into the opening.

Flax Hill Park has a new pavilion that was paid for by a Lowe’s Corporation grant to Keep Norwalk Beautiful. Petrini said there will be new walking trails there in the spring.

Mocciae met August or September 2013 with 18 leaders of Norwalk’s organized sports programs, Petrini said. “Every time they go out of town, some of these other suburban schools say they have this and that,” he said.

But money is hard to come by – taxpayers cannot take anymore, he said. The sports league presidents have a plan.

“They understand that money was tight they really commend Mike on the job with what he has to work with,” he said. “All 18 of them are thinking of starting a 501(c)3 to try to get grants and funding and fundraise to try to help offset some of the lack of funding and upgrades some of the fields and things.”

It would have been nice if the Democrats came to him, he said.

“I’m probably one of the most moderate and accessible councilmen. I’m going to put Norwalk first regardless of my party affiliation,” he said. “In my two years as a council member I can’t remember one councilman coming to me to complain about what has been done in any of our parks. … Mike does a heck of a job for what he’s got, and if there are any concerns, come down and come and talk to me or talk to Mike, but I feel bad. I was kind of embarrassed when they voted no and I’m sure he was. He was surprised, too.”

A Monday email from Bowman suggests that maybe no one should have been surprised.

“Mayor (Harry) Rilling and Mr. Moccaie were aware of the disapproval prior to Council meeting,” she wrote. “I believe a meeting is being planned with several key individuals. However a couple of the Democratic Council members wanted to talk to Mr. Moccaie prior to the vote for reappointment to reach some understanding but that didn’t happen. I am not sure why.”

Rilling confirmed a meeting between Mocciae and Democratic caucus members is in the works.

Bowman agreed that Bouton Street has been improved and said the Flax Hill vandalism will be covered by the city’s insurance.

Her other points:

• “Jefferson Elementary is not in South Norwalk, which automatically means we’re talking about what, maybe $20,000 to $30,000 only spent on South Norwalk in the past 10 years according to Councilman Petrini. That needs to be stepped up. South Norwalk residents do pay taxes.”

• “I met with the Meadows Gardens tenant representative during the mayoral primary and she showed me how the cracks in the cement around the tables are so dangerous, you have to be careful not to trip and fall if you do sit at the tables, but is very dangerous for kids.”

There are no lines painted in the Woodward Avenue Park basketball court.

• “What’s the point of resurfacing a court without putting lines down if you truly intend for it to be utilized? There are also plans to resurface Meadows Gardens basketball courts with no plan to replace lines. Which leaves rectangles of cement that will be used by people to hang out instead of playing basketball, and also in the end is a waste of the money used to resurface because now the court is essentially useless for basketball.”

• “Ryan Park and Woodward Avenue Park currently don’t have lines and if Meadows Gardens Park gets resurfaced without lines that will make three parks without lines.”

• “There are extra monies spent at some of the other parks for things that are unnecessary that could be redirected to South Norwalk parks.”

Bowman said she has discussed the issue with Petrini and Mocciae.

“We spoke about what has been done, what needs to be done, and the financial situation,” she wrote. “In the spirit of moving forward, I will offer that my take away from how improvement projects have been handled in South Norwalk is that we need to be more strategic about the Parks and Rec projects in South Norwalk. It’s better to have one or two functional parks than several semi-functional parks that are more appealing for hanging out then recreation. Also, if some sort of increased security at the parks needs to be a solution then we need to look into that. Then there is the issue of opening up a couple of the gyms for Open Recreation; that should definitely be a part of a strategic plan for Parks and Recreation. I suggested to Mayor Rilling a Parks and Rec staff person dedicated at least 1/2 time to planning, overseeing, and identifying funding for these improvements.”

Rilling said the no-voting Dems were “making a kind of statement that attention be paid to the parks.” You “need to bring this type of thing to the surface,” he said.

Rilling said he’s going to tour the parks with Mocciae and see what might be improved upon.

“(Mocciae) is willing to work with us to make sure that those kind kinds of things get the attention — I’m in contact with lot of the department heads; we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure we make a city that’s good for all of our citizens.”


The new pavilion at Flax Hill Park remains in good condition nearly a year after being built.


8 responses to “Petrini defends Norwalk parks and rec director, chides Democrats”

  1. jlightfield

    There is a difference between political districts and South Norwalk. Go google a zip code map and look at the actual boundaries of zip code 06854. Surprised? South Norwalk is much larger than district B and includes parts of district E.
    That being said, it is time for the City to address the parks and properties that it owns in the urban core. The Norwalk Housing Authority has failed to maintain those properties. It is long over due for the City to keep accepting failed management as an excuse to allow neglect.

  2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

    (With a nod to Aretha) While good and important information is flowing, new council members should get up to speed about who has jurisdiction over some of the properties mentioned (Housing Authority, NEON) before trash talking Mr. Mocciae. Respect and due diligence are important elements of good governance. Will give Ms. Bowman a pass for now with hope & expectation she’ll do her homework and be more states(wo)man-like next time.

  3. spanner

    Jerry Petrini, who is chairman of the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee recently spoke about a bid J Cashman from Quincy Mass was offered, said the company wasn’t interested in the job in Norwalk.maybe a quick call Mr Petrini would of put that rumor to rest.He (Jerry) said they told us it was too small of a job. Did he make the call or did he take the word of someone else? Wondering if he gets all his information this way.What surprised J Cashman the company who did the first Army corp job of dredging in Norwalk was the comment by our Parks and rec chair by council.I sent the clip from channel 12 to Quincy so they didn’t have to take my word for it.They had equipment in place to do the job there wasn’t any travel time for barges,tugs and platforms to dig it was an obvious fact.Didn’t Norwalk have a dumping ground for the hazardous material with fill from the first job?J Cashman finished days before the other company came in to start?The material that comes from the Norwalk river is said to be contaminated so once dropped into a cell at sea needs to be covered with fresh clean dirt correct or not?

    Maybe in defense of Mr Petrini he got his info on the parks from the same source.J Cashman has done a lot for Norwalk over the years it would be surprising they would of shun Norwalk in this particular job when they were in Norwalk working a job with equipment far more efficient than what Norwalk ended up with on the second job with the second company around the city docks at Vets park.

  4. Diane C2

    Recs and Parks has not been especially responsive to the needs of Ryan Park, which does have a stewardship organization, “Friends of Ryan Park”. In much the same way that Recs and Parks engages Friends of Cranbury Park in master planning and ongoing improvement discussions, so should they for Friends of Ryan Park.
    The quantity and quality of “new playground equipment” in Ryan Park is almost laughable. The bid was bundled with that of equipment for Tracey and Silvermine Schools – I would love to see pics from NancyonNorwalk of each of these three playground areas and equipment to see how they stack up to each other, and to the other city playgrounds….
    For the record, The Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations has repeatedly suggested that every city park have a master plan, and as importantly, that every city property and building that is considered for physical or use changes have a prominent placard notifying the public of the change and any meeting and public hearing dates. Mr. Mocciae recently expressed an interest in at least having a dialogue on this topic, and I hope he follows up with CNNA and other interested parties to accomplish this.

  5. Oldtimer

    Isn’t Mocciae the one who allowed Ken Hart to run his charter boat business at Vet’s park, keep the Island Belle on the City’s visitors dock, and use park property for customer parking, until the docks failed during a storm ? He was so dazzled by the income, he chose to ignore any restrictions against commercial use of the park property and the obvious limits on the capacity of the docks. He, or his people, were even charging Norwalk residents for parking in a City park. The number I heard was $10 a car for a cruise that lasted only a few hours. I assume that cash was all properly recorded and turned in to the City for every cruise the boat took. No wonder McCarthy likes him so much, he took in a lot of cash.

  6. Bill

    Does the Democratic Party on Norwalk only represent South Norwalk and minorities’ interests? What about the rest of the city? If you want to govern a city, you need to look out for all of the city, not just the poorest.

  7. Notaffiliated

    Oops, someone should be doing their homework.

    Furthermore, the only Democrat listed in this article is Ms Bowman. Mocciae is mentioned loads of times. Not all of us citizens are tuned into every aspect of politics. If 5 Democrats voted against the P&R Commisioner – LIST THEM!

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