NORWALK, Conn. – Kate Tepper is no stranger to the Norwalk political scene. She has run for the Common Council before. This year, when she was approached by the Democratic Town Committee about making another run in District E, she agreed.
Tepper will run alongside incumbent John Igneri on the Democratic ticket for District E council seats against Republican incumbent David McCarthy and current Planning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson.
NancyOnNorwalk sent a set of questions to all Common Council candidates to help readers get to know their thoughts and plans. Here are Tepper’s responses:
NoN: What are your priorities, and what do you bring to the board that should make voters give you the job?
KT: I believe I can bring a more direct, positive and constructive voice to the Common Council.
Obviously, education, job growth, infrastructure and how the city budgets for these vital services would be my priorities.
I would work to improve the air of neglect that pervades some parts of the city where broken sidewalks, litter, overgrown vegetation and roads badly in need of repair do not encourage new businesses to locate here.
The proliferation of large warehouse type stores in Norwalk has done little to increase our tax base or provide the well-paying jobs that are essential to our city’s growth. Violence and crime are still problematic and our ability to communicate with City Hall could certainly use some improvement. Resolving these issues would make our city more livable and encourage people to work and live here. And that is what I would strive to do.
It is imperative that we work to reinstate the basic goodwill behind government service and demonstrate, with intelligent and well researched policy decisions, the benefits that a well-run and cohesive local government can bring to its citizens. I am committed to accomplishing this goal with negotiation, concern and accommodation for the needs of the Norwalk community.
NoN: Several council candidates listed the schools among their top priorities at the East Norwalk forum, but the council has little control over what goes on in the schools. Other than votes on the final budget figures, how do you propose to have an impact on Norwalk’s schools?
KT: Budget discussions that pit the BOE against the rest of the city budget present us with a false choice. Education does indeed consume a large proportion of the city’s finances, but the belief that using taxpayer money to fund education takes away tax money from other investments that the city must make ignores the fact that better educational outcomes benefit the city by creating the foundation for an advanced workforce and attracting new residents to Norwalk who value its school system.
Working age parents are huge contributors to our community, not just through taxes but because they have a vested interest in the vitality, standards and livability of their children’s schools and community. I would seek to examine more carefully how the whole of the budget is allocated and where – without cutting needed programs – savings and improvements can be found in every city department.
The Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) Formula is still an issue that is forcing us to dedicate more residential taxes to the schools as we are required to begin implementation of Common Core standards. Working more closely with our state legislators to advocate for adjustments to the ECS formula that would more fairly represent the city’s diverse population and demographics would be one of my priorities.
NoN: One of the biggest complaints we hear from our readers is about property taxes and how they just seem to go up. This year it’s around 4 percent. So what can be done differently, if anything, to hold the line on spending – or even roll it back?
KT: Statistically, it is small businesses that provide the most jobs and it would be helpful for our tax base if Norwalk became a small business magnet. Setting up a “one-stop shop” that would provide start-up advice, help in locating the property or land best suited for that business and legal assistance for permitting etc., would provide an added incentive to encourage small businesses to locate here.
“Green” jobs grew by 3 percent last year. An aggressive program to save household energy through insulation and weather stripping would be a job multiplier right in Norwalk and would encourage residents to go onto the next step of developing their own solar energy that can be banked like money.
Providing the conditions that can help small business grow will help expand economic opportunities and encourage workers to settle here – thereby expanding the tax base.
NoN: Do you believe it is essential to read and understand the Common Council info packets before voting, or will you depend on discussions, staff recommendations and constituent input to inform your vote?
KT: These items are not mutually exclusive. Time permitting, council members should make every effort to read and understand information and then discuss that information with colleagues, staff and constituents. In order to effectively understand the information given for any project it is essential that council members receive their information packets in a timely manner – getting them just one or two days before the council meets on an issue leaves very little time to research or process the material and this can lead to poor decision making
NoN: Would you support the formation of a charter commission?
KT: This is not a question I have considered and I would need to study the establishment of a charter commission more fully.
I have read parts of the city charter but would not say I can recite it chapter and verse. I know, for example that this document has served as the basis for running the city and it deals with things like the various taxing districts, municipal services, taxation, parks, libraries and schools. It establishes the relationship between – and the duties of – the Common Council, the mayor and the various boards and commissions.
Proposed charter changes have often been focused on changing the length of terms served by council members and the mayor. One of these proposals has been to extend council terms to four years with a limit of two terms in office. In addition, since elections are expensive to run, more widely spaced elections could provide some budget savings.
Helping the Common Council serve the people should not require an expensive and controversial revision of the charter. What is required are a will and a determination to understand the responsibilities and powers that go with the role of councilperson and to use them wisely and effectively.
NoN: Civility has been a big topic. What can you say to the voters to assure them that, if you are elected, they will find a kinder and gentler council?
KT: I’ve had a rich and varied life, living and working on two continents, and that has given me a unique perspective on different peoples, situations and cultures. I know that even if you don’t speak the same language, a smile and a co-operative and understanding attitude is by far the best way to tackle any interaction. In every situation I try to look for points where I can agree on an issue rather that where I do not.
I grew up in London during World War II and, as a teenager in the difficult years that followed, I learned two very important lessons: how to manage with the resources you have and the value of community and cooperation. Civility and consideration of other people’s situations and feelings was essential if you wanted to survive because nobody in that dreadful time could have got along very well without the help of others.
As a young widow with a child to support, I was fortunate enough to receive a great deal of help along my life’s path and I try to help others in return. Respecting other people’s views and opinions in a civil and pleasant manner – even when you absolutely cannot find a point of agreement – is an aspect of negotiation that should never underestimated. It has always worked for me!