Rilling announces Norwalk business council, search for new director

Rilling Norwalk
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling announces the new Business Advisory Council Tuesday in City Hall. From left, next to him, are council members Patricia Toni and LaTanya Langley.

NORWALK, Conn. – An all-star lineup of community-minded Norwalk business leaders has been assembled with the goal to lead the city back to what Mayor Harry Rilling described as the greatness it once had by pulling the “best from the best.”

The first task of the campaign promise-fulfilling Business Advisory Council, Rilling said, will be to find a replacement for former Business and Economic Community Development Director Tad Diesel, who retired shortly after the eight-year reign of former Mayor Richard Moccia came to an end in November. The council will then go on to study best business practices and look at making Norwalk’s permitting processes more friendly to new businesses and Norwalk homeowners.

“This is something that we have to put together,” Rilling said at a Tuesday press conference. “We are here right now with some initial thoughts and ideas, my thoughts and ideas as what I want to see from this business advisory council. As we meet, there will be more ideas put on the table.”

Rilling described the council’s members as “people from different walks of life with different visions, different thoughts to bring to the table.”

They will consult with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to learn best practices and “pull the best from the best,” Rilling said.

The members, recruited by Irene Dixon, are

Harey Carey, AT&T director of external affairs

Mike Sutton, partner, Benefits Planning Services LLC

Mike DiScala of M. F. DiScala

Tony Aitoro, Aitoro Appliances and Electronics

LaTanya Langley, Diageo North America senior general counsel

Yvonne Hickey, Xerox, general manager of public sector Northeast

Stacey Lopez-Hascoe, SoNo Corporate Suites director

Patricia Toni, Norwalk Hospital risk manager

Irene Dixon, Hilton Garden Inn Norwalk director of sales and marketing

Olivia Dardy, former Common Council candidate

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk)

“Our job right now is filling (Diesel’s) position, but I do believe that, over the long term, this council is going to be one that’s very important to the mayor and assuring that our economic engine in our city is moving forward and moving forward the best it can be,” Duff said.

The group is fine tuning a job description for Diesel’s replacement, a position that will now be called economic development director, Rilling said. That person will work closely with the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, but report to the mayor, he said.

A request for applications will probably go out by the end of the week, Rilling said.

“We’ll be looking for somebody who will aggressively market the city of Norwalk by reaching out to potential investors and potential businesses, trying to draw people into Norwalk, showing them our natural resources, showing them what we have to offer and why we are the best place to do business,” Rilling said.

The successful candidate will be “a person with a proven history, a person who knows how to get things done, a person who is a self-starter,” Rilling said.

“The biggest indicator of future performance is past performance,” he said. “We really want to take a look at what are the things that the person has accomplished in the past and what successes have they had.”

“I do see this as one of the most important positions they can be filled in the mayor’s office,” Duff said.

Rilling said Diesel retired for personal reasons. He said he did not ask Diesel to retire.

The effort to make the permitting process more friendly is the fulfillment of a campaign promise, a response to feedback Rilling said he got from the public.

“It seems at times that they said Norwalk is a very difficult place to do business and it tastes longer to do things that it might take someplace else. I’m not sure that’s the case all the time, but I have heard enough where it does take on, to me, some reality,” he said.

Streamlining might include being able to apply online for permits, he said.

“The issue of business development is so important to the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said. “I think we’re really poised for greatness once again, where we can get some of these people to invest in Norwalk. … I think we can take better advantage of our natural resources, our great community. I have heard so many people say that when they finally moved to Norwalk, they realized what an absolutely amazing community it is. We have to market it properly. We have to whet people’s appetites not only to move here, but to invest here, to work here send their children to our schools. Those are the things we we will be looking at. How do we accomplish that? How to make Norwalk desirable to people and businesses.”


15 responses to “Rilling announces Norwalk business council, search for new director”

  1. I was very impressed until I read Duff’s name at the bottom.

  2. spanner

    This is a great start,cleaning house and having people working with the mayor.Our city seems to be in a kick start mode now all we have to do is work on our needs at the State level with some fresh faces.Last night was a perfect example for those 200 plus people on Metro North stuck in the cold after they were rescued by the rescue train.Our transit seems to be an issue for those who need to work here or commute from Norwalk.Our State reps need to address the problem.Senator Blumenthal could use some help.Issues like this hamper growth all over our state including Norwalk.

  3. Mike Mushak

    Great story, and a great initiative by Mayor Rilling. When reading about other cities’ economic development efforts including traveling to national conventions to promote Norwalk to new businesses, I always wondered why Norwalk didn’t do that under Moccia.
    Currently, the hedge fund giant Bridgewater is having trouble locating to a difficult inaccessible site in Stamford from Westport, because of community opposition as well as zoning issues. I say, put out the welcome mat and have the CEO to lunch! A high rise at 95/7 would be much closer to highway and train transportation than the Stamford site, and the views of the Sound and Norwalk Islands spectacular. Thinking outside the “big box”, wink wink, is just smart development.
    Three years ago, Norwalk lost its IRS and Social Security offices from the blighted and poorly maintained Riverview Plaza next to Avalon. At the time, I asked why the city didn’t enforce any building or health codes for years at that building, as the front steps literally disintegrated and the railings became loose, windows were boarded up with graffiti-covered plywood, and trash piled up all around, creating a dangerous eyesore at a major gateway to the city. I got a very nasty response from Tad Diesel at the time, who didn’t seem to understand that we were losing those crucial federal offices that attracted hundreds every day (folks who ate and shopped in the area once they arrived), clearly because of the condition of the building and neighborhood, which was the city’s responsibility to control through enforcement of existing ordinances created to prevent that from happening.
    The same thing happened across town with the US Passport office at 50 Washington, which drew hundreds every day into SoNo from all over the region who often had to wait for paperwork to be processed for 2 hours after arriving, so they often ate lunch or shopped in SoNo. The park out front on Washington St was often filled with trash and had broken light poles and collapsed benches, a situation I helped rectify by pulling all the stakeholders together in meetings to start to renovate that park, but it was too late. The passport office moved back to Stamford in 2012, taking all of that daily business and foot traffic with them. The building it was in, 50 Washington, has gone bankrupt.
    We need to take a holistic approach to attracting and keeping businesses, which includes controlling blight (commercial as well as residential, just look at the disgusting illegal dumping that greets thousands of visitors every day at the water tank site near Exit I4 next to Swanky Franks), cleaning up trash that seems to be everywhere , and enforcing quality of life ordinances like snow removal from sidewalks and trash rules that are ignored with impunity by businesses and residences all over town.
    Imagine a business looking to move to Norwalk this week, and seeing sidewalks uncleared of ice and snow all over the city a couple of days after a snowstorm, and what message that sends. Other cities enforce ordinances, why not Norwalk? How many $250/day violations for sidewalk snow clearing (ordinance 95-10) has our code enforcement officer, who works under Hal Alvord, issued in the last 8 years?
    It is all connected to a much bigger picture about how our city is managed. I am encouraged by the approach Mayor Rilling is taking on many of these issues, including economic development. And Alvord clearly needs the funds to hire his code enforcement officer full time from part time, which would pay for itself automatically with increased fines. Let’s make that happen, Public Works Committee!

  4. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Mushak

    You seem to be stating that various federal offices left Norwalk due to what you claim was blight at or near their office buildings. While there is no question that some Norwalk properties need code enforcement, this is not the reason that federal offices left. Our representatives in Washington fought hard to stop the office closings but they failed due to the dire federal budget situation. Rep. Jim Himes’s lack of seniority relative to his predecessor may also have been a factor.
    The U.S. passport office in Norwalk did not move “back to Stamford” – Stamford always had a passport office of its own. The Norwalk office was closed because somebody in Washington decided that closing the office was among the least worst budget cuts that could be made.
    That said, I agree with your larger point about code enforcement and hope you will make sure that Mayor Rilling keeps his campaign promises on this subject.

  5. piberman

    A positive development by the Mayor but the inclusion of the senior City Democrat, Senator Duff, shows back door politics is not far behind. A sharp contast with appointing the former Chairman of the Board of the egregiously discredited NEON to the City’s most important appointed board – the BET. Hopefully Mayor Rilling will use the Council to sharply upgrade our long tenured Department Heads to bring better management to the City.
    The BOE shows how to get the job done – hire a first class professional recruiting firm.
    If the new Council resorts to “local advertising” many will suspect is Norwalk’s traditional “old boy politics” at work. If the Council is authorized to use a professional recruiting firm we’ll know its not back door politics in another guise.

  6. Mike Mushak

    LWitherspoon, there are some facts you are not aware of. The condition of the buildings WAS a factor in the decision to move the federal offices, as stated by the high-ranking GAO official who made those decisions, who visited from Washington to the Norwalk Senior Center for a packed public meeting I attended. I asked him the question after the meeting in a Q and A period. Our Senators and Reps had to make a show as if they could actually influence the decision, in the face of so much public outcry, but it had already been made, and the building condition was a factor. The building the IRS was moving to in Bridgeport was brand new at the time. Compare to Riverside Plaza with its boarded up windows and collapsing front entry that risked lives every day. The condition was a factor, just as the GAO official said it was.
    You are also wrong about the Passport Agency. Every state has just one, as opposed to Passport “Offices” which are in every city usually in post offices or libraries. Agencies are the large fully staffed main office where you can get emergency passports, and where they process actual applications. Offices are just places to submit your paperwork and wait a couple of weeks, where no processing occurs. Stamford lost their larger statewide Passport Agency, which was in the Landmark downtown, to Norwalk’s 50 Washington over 10 years ago. Stamford maintained their offices in the Ferguson Library and Post Office, so are right that they didn’t lose their “office”, but you are wrong when you say the Agency didn’t move “back” to Stamford. They actually did just that, closing the very busy 50 Washington, and instead of going back to the Landmark,they moved into the new Harbor Pointe complex to 850 Canal St. Norwalk lost 3 federal agencies with 2 years to other cities, to better buildings in better neighborhoods, just as the GAO explained were factors in their decisions. We have since cleaned up the heroin addicts and collapsing benches and busted out light poles from the 50 Washington park, but for most of the time the Passport Agency was there, that was what they had to deal with. It was so bad, they even flipped their entrance to the other side of the building, which only made that space less busy and even more prone to illicit activity. It is better now, with long-overdue improvements being made. The other building, River view Plaza, still sits empty and derelict, with the same collapsing stairways and boarded up windows that scared the federal offices away in the first place.
    I do hold the city and the Moccia administration responsible for losing those agencies,as they did nothing to improve the buildings with code enforcement, or fix the dilapidated public space in front of 50 Washington, until it was too late and the decisions had been made. Mayor Rilling’s push for a SoNo Task Force, and his holding department heads more accountable to their responsibilities including code enforcement, is definitely a step in the right direction.

  7. anonymous

    @Mushak do you ever hold anyone you like responsible for problems, or just those you don’t like? Your political bias and diatribes on this site have made reading Nancy on Norwalk a chore.

  8. Mike Mushak

    Anonymous, I lay blame wherever it is due, based on facts and evidence, and have been extremely critical of Democrats in the past (my former councilmembers Hilliard and Geeke, for example). Mayor Moccia took a lot of my criticism because he so badly managed City Hall, often with a bullying attitude, which many on his side of the aisle also did not like. That’s why so many Republicans supported Rilling.
    Decades of bad planning and governing decisions and lack of code enforcement have put us in the mess we’re in, and it will take hard work and many years to recover from. Mayor Rilling is jumping in and starting our return to professionalism and accountability. I am proudly part of that effort, using my real name when posting, and using facts to back up my arguments.
    A question for you is, why lob nasty criticisms from behind a safe curtain of anonymity? Seems cowardly to me, like a spoiled child who won’t take responsibility for their words or actions.

  9. piberman

    to Mr. Mushak

    Norwalk like other cities is hostage to past unfortunate planning and zoning decisions. If we’re to move forward what do we do ? Arguing in public that the current P&Z or past P&Z isn’t up to duty isn’t likely to move the ball forward. That requires getting the Mayor and Common Council involved. Why not invite the Mayor and Council members to P&Z meetings and ask for their inputs on particular solutions ? Who knows, they may have an interest in improving matters. Our goal ought to be that the P&Z enjoys wide respect throughout the community based on decisions taken within the P&Z. Don’t you agree ?

  10. Mike Mushak

    piberman, agreed! As I said in a recent Zoning meeting, taped and published on NON, there will be no more secrets, we will find out the actual professional credentials of staff that Moccia kept secret, there will be performance reviews of staff that Moccia ended in 2006 (only God knows why), and the by-laws will be followed. I believe in daylight in government, and I look forward to a new approach to our planning process. You are right, we should look forward, not backward, but an understanding of how we made decades of bad planning decisions that have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions to fix (CT Ave widening to handle uncontrolled big box growth as exhibit A), and which have gotten us into this current mess is important, so we can learn from the past.
    Let’s not forget, that the most controversial planning and zoning issues in the last few years all happened because of our obsolete zoning code, which just proves it needs a major overhaul. The current GOP leadership has not proposed one single approach to fix it. I think they are just overwhelmed at the task.
    My attempts to fix the code and bring more accountability and transparency onto the commission and the P and Z department have been obstructed by the GOP majority numerous times, as the record shows.
    Joe Santo and Emily Wilson routinely ignore our own Master Plan and professional studies that taxpayers have paid for, mostly for what I believe are petty political reasons and not based on any rational ideas, except the crazy “property rights” notion that anyone should be able to build anything they want anywhere at any size. I mean, why even have planning and zoning, if that’s the attitude? This is why I have taken to publicly explain what is going on, as the absurdity of this approach astounds me at almost every meeting.
    When the most recent long overdue zone change on Main Ave., recommended in our 2008 Master Plan, to limit explosive traffic growth in the area and to protect public safety on the most dangerous road in southwest CT (according to a 2011 SWRPA study), was rejected by the zoning committee (GOP members Emily Wilson and Linda Kruk) based on their belief in property rights, I realized this much-needed zoning overhaul will not be easy.
    A smart approach to overhauling our obsolete zoning code that reflects up-to-date planning concepts, including reducing our 70’s era parking requirements that makes development prohibitively expensive (including affordable housing), proper density for transit-oriented development, and other issues to promote smart growth in Norwalk, will need buy-in from the commission and staff, which based on recent evidence, is not going to happen until the commission leadership changes, as well as other issues being dealt with.
    It will take another year to get new commission leadership, so there is light at the end of the tunnel, albeit slower than we all hoped. The involvement of our Council and Mayor are limited for individual applications, but certainly not for larger concepts of overhauling our zoning code. I hope we can start hearing from others in City Hall to help us fix a system that leads to major public turmoil from applications that follow our obsolete code, and end up tearing our city apart and pitting neighbor against neighbor.
    This is madness, and eventually we will get a commission and staff that truly understands this, and who want to bring Norwalk into the 21st century with smart planning and smart growth.

    I know I write a lot, but the future of our city is serious business, affects every single one of us every time we get in a car or pay our tax bill or send our kids off to school, and this worthy of writing about to this extent. For anyone to question the evidence of what serious damage has happened to Norwalk over the last 30 years, making us an example among professional planners around the state on how NOT to plan a city, just look around. And then look at who was in charge in City Hall most of those years. I rest my case.

  11. Mike is Annoying

    Mike, can you please stop your bantering. You’re giving me a headache.

    You must like to hear yourself talk, huh?

  12. Mike Mushak

    Ah, but you must read my comments to find them annoying! LOL! If we are going to have a real debate about how to fix our broken city, please argue with your own facts and examples. Perhaps you can type on your phone while sitting on CT Ave in gridlocked out-of-town traffic watching the state begin a taxpayer funded $80 million widening plan to respond to the uncontrolled retail growth that “property rights” advocates like Joe Santo (still chair after all these decades)foisted on Norwalk back in teh 80’s and 90s. The developers made millions and left Norwalk taxpayers paying the bill and the cost in traffic not only on CT Ave but in all the surrounding neighborhoods of West Norwalk and Flax Hill. Now we’re making the exact same mistake on Main Avenue with a rejection of a Master Plan-recommended zone change to control retail growth on the most dangerous road in the region. And you find me annoying? Thanks for the morning chuckle!

  13. Piberman

    Mr Mushak

    Why wait for new leadership ? Why not engage our new Mayor, invite him to P&Z meetings and encourage a review of our Master Plan ? Reportedly Commissions serve the public interest at the behest of the Mayor and Common Council. Taking a more active role in P&Z would demonstrate the New Norwalk. The Mayor could even initiate an outside review of City P&Z practices. Mayor Rilling was elected as a “change agent”. Here’s a great opportunity. So send an invitation. How could it be turned down ?

  14. Mike is Annoying

    Mike you seem to have all the answers, don’t you.

    Why haven’t you run for Mayor? You seem to have all the fixes Norwalk needs.

    Gosh, we are just foolish for voting these people into office, when all along, there YOU are! Silly us!

    (rolling eyes)

    Get the picture? You seem to have all the right answers. You’re never wrong.

  15. Mike Mushak

    Thank you!

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