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Rilling marks 100 days as Norwalk’s mayor, citing ‘successes’

Updated and expanded at 2 a.m. March 4:

NORWALK, Conn. – Progress in two long-stalled developments, another task force and deeper involvement in Norwalk’s fight for a bigger piece of the state pie for its schools — these were among the highlights Monday when Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling marked 100 days in office.

“In three months of my administration, I believe there has been significant movement in accomplishing many of the issues I brought forth during the campaign,” Rilling said. “While we have made much progress, there is much more to do to keep our momentum. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Common Council as well as department heads to keep Norwalk moving in the right direction.

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling finishes his speech Monday in City Hall.
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling finishes his speech Monday in City Hall.

“I also want to thank the citizens of Norwalk for the positive response they have shown to my administration. It’s gratifying, overwhelming and I thank them very much.”

Rilling’s 100th day in office was Thursday, Feb. 27. He gave a speech to mark the event Monday in the City Hall community room, in front of about 20 people, including department heads, community activists, four Common Council members and a handful of reporters.

The former police chief ticked off campaign promises one by one, checking off what he called successes:

• The promise to create a “proactive environmental task force”? Check – the task force, led by Councilman John Kydes, was announced Feb. 20

• The promise to seek SoNo input for parking and other issues? Check – a task force was formed in mid-December. Rilling said it has been meeting regularly, is working on wayfinding signs and studying a business improvement district that would help fund things like cleaner streets

• The promise to move along Norwalk development with smoother process? Check – A business advisory council was formed. The council is reviewing “quite a few resumes” for a new economic director, Rilling said. The new director will, among other things, review Norwalk’s permit process, he said.

• The public safety platform? Check – The platform included a promise to hold monthly meetings for the public with department heads and other city officials. There have been four Mayor’s Nights Out, Rilling said, including one for Latinos at the Side by Side School. “I believe these events have been a resounding success and have given our citizens a voice that they perhaps did not have before,” Rilling said. The mayor also has moved Police Commission meetings from 4:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., and included public comment on the agenda, to give the public more access to the police department.

• The education platform? Check – The platform included a promise to be in Hartford more often, fighting to make the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula more equitable. Rilling said he has gone to Hartford three times and has been working closely with Superintendent Manny Rivera.

• Diversity on city boards and commissions? Check – Rilling said his appointments so far include four women, three African Americans, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans, and there are many more vacancies coming up. He put out a call for names and is “pleased” that “many people are coming forward,” he said.

• The promise to try to fix Norwalk’s sidewalks and pothole problems? Check – Rilling said he has been meeting with Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord to “review the proposed paving plan, making changes based on the conditions of our roads and sidewalks rather than just sticking to an arbitrary schedule that needs to move forward.” Also, “We will discuss how we can put together an effective inspection process for our sidewalks.”

News on ECS funding was not good, however. The three trips to the state capital were for meetings with Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Benjamin Barnes.

“I stressed how unfair the ECS formula is for Norwalk,” he said. “While nothing will change this legislative session, we will continue our fight. But I have to warn you that even fully funding our Board of Education’s request will not produce the resources our children need because state funding of local education remains fundamentally inadequate, especially for Norwalk, Stamford and other major urban areas in our region. It’s clear to me that we will need more than just a persistent effort in the General Assembly to reform the formula. We will also need a state constitutional mandate to make sure the educational needs of our children will be met.”

Rilling said he would continue Norwalk’s involvement with the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, which was started by former Mayor Alex Knopp and continued by former Mayor Richard Moccia, in support of an education funding lawsuit against state government.

“I plan to seek a more active role in the governance of this coalition of municipalities, boards of education and parents, volunteering to be on the steering committee prior to the start of this landmark trial now scheduled to begin in September of 2014,” he said.

The SoNo business district Rilling mentioned actually pre-dates Rilling’s administration. It is the SoNo Special Services District that Kim Morque and Tom Rich have been working on for more than a year. It was presented to the Common Council in its preliminary form last month. Although the men said they’d be back in March with an official proposal the item is not listed on next week’s Ordinance Committee agenda.

“I am working closely with them to see that that can happen,” Rilling said of the district’s creation. “We’re looking at the boundaries right now. I’ve had some discussions to determine the boundaries I would support, so we’re moving forward with that.”

Rilling said a Wall Street task force will be formed, similar to the SoNo Task Force, to guide Wall Street development with the recommendations of the city’s master plan of development as a guide, and to research a transit-oriented plan.

Two long-stalled dormant Wall Street developments are coming along, he said, lumping them together with a company that has bought the 95/7 site on West Avenue.

“I’ve had several meetings with Head of the Harbor South, POKO and General Growth Properties (GGP). I am pleased to report both Head of the Harbor South and POKO are making significant progress and are planning to have shovels in the ground within six months to a year,” he said. “I will continue to meet the developers and work with them and help them keep to that schedule.”

He said he had written letters “in support of flex funds and tax credits” for POKO. “It seems like at least part of their request has been granted. I expect more of their requests will be granted. Based on that, in six months to a year, they will be in the ground.”

Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Executive Director Tim Sheehan painted a murkier picture.

“We’re all hopeful that the applications are successful and that the financing will finally be in place to commence construction. If that’s the case, I think that the appetite to look at a possible extension relative to the performance measures under the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) will have a greater opportunity to be considered,” Sheehan said.

POKO would have to get an extension from the RDA on the LDA, he said.

POKO has applications for funding in to the Department of Housing and the Connecticut Housing Financing Authority, he said. One is for a 9 percent credit and the other for Competitive Housing Assistance for Multifamily Properties (CHAMP) funding, he said.

CHAMP offers Flexible Housing Program (FLEX) dollars.

Rilling said he has discussed the 95/7 site with GGP, but “so far they have presented no plans.” A SoNo development, The Pearl at 99 Washington St., has “recently received funding to move the project forward,” he said. The Pearl is a 52-unit apartment building with a parking garage being developed by F.D. Rich Co. under the banner of TR Sono Partners.

Rilling’s administration has been looking at the sidewalk issue. Councilman David Watts (D-District A) and Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) – who is regarded as the council swing vote – have been pushing the issue at Public Works Committee meetings.

Rilling also touted the aura of civility in City Hall, a major part of his campaign.

“There can be no doubt that we have brought forth a new level of civility in Norwalk’s governing process,” he said. “Thankfully, with the cooperation of all of the members of the Common Council, both Democrat and Republican, we have developed a strong and cohesive relationship within the Common Council. Council members are working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and members of the public who share their concerns are treated with respect and allowed to put forth their thoughts and ideas and opinions without fear of criticism.”

Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) agreed with that. “Everything we’re planning, a lot of the things that he talked about, we have the same concerns,” Petrini said. “Civility – obviously you can see how much better it’s been, working hard with him to make sure that this is all done. So I would like to see some of these programs come to fruition. It seems like he’s got the best interests in mind, just like all of us; wants to start us moving forward, although I was kind of surprised with POKO. First time I’ve heard of it. (POKO developer Ken Olsen has) cried wolf so many times. We’ll see.”

 

Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. – Progress in two long-stalled developments, another task force and deeper involvement in Norwalk’s fight for a bigger piece of the state pie for its schools — these were among the highlights Monday when Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling marked 100 days in office.

“In three months of my administration, I believe there has been significant movement in accomplishing many of the issues I brought forth during the campaign,” Rilling said. “While we have made much progress, there is much more to do to keep our momentum. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Common Council as well as department heads to keep Norwalk moving in the right direction.

“I also want to thank the citizens of Norwalk for the positive response they have shown to my administration. It’s gratifying, overwhelming and I thank them very much.”

Rilling’s 100th day in office was, Thursday, Feb. 27. He gave a speech to mark the event Monday in the City Hall community room, in front of about 20 people, including department heads, community activists, four Common Council members and a handful of reporters.

“I’ve had several meetings with Head of the Harbor South, POKO and General Growth Properties. I am pleased to report both Head of the Harbor South and POKO are making significant progress and are planning to have shovels in the ground within six months to a year,” Rilling said.

So far, Rilling has formed task forces to address environmental and energy issues, business development and the problems faced by SoNo. Next on his list is a Wall Street Task Force.

Rilling promised in his campaign to try to get Norwalk more money for its schools by convincing the legislature to reform the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. He said he had been to Hartford three times to meet with Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Benjamin Barnes.

“I stressed how unfair the ECS formula is for Norwalk,” he said. “While nothing will change this legislative session, we will continue our fight. But I have to warn you that even fully funding our Board of Education’s request will not produce the resources our children need because state funding of local education remains fundamentally inadequate, especially for Norwalk, Stamford and other major urban areas in our region. It’s clear to me that we will need more than just a persistent effort in the general assembly to reform the formula. We will also need a state constitutional mandate to make sure the educational needs of our children will be met.”

Rilling said he would continue Norwalk’s involvement with the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, which was started by former Mayor Alex Knopp and continued by former Mayor Richard Moccia, in support of an education funding lawsuit against state government.

“I plan to seek a more active role in the governance of this coalition of municipalities, boards of Education and parents, volunteering to be on the steering committee prior to the start of this landmark trial now scheduled to begin in September of 2014,” he said.

This story will be updated tonight.

Comments

21 responses to “Rilling marks 100 days as Norwalk’s mayor, citing ‘successes’”

  1. Kevin Di Mauro

    Matt Miklave for mayor.

  2. anon

    Translation, task forces are good diversions; don’t hold your breath on Poko and Head of Harbor; Hartford said forget about more ECS funding.

  3. John Hamlin

    What about holding department heads accountable? That’s something he actually might accomplish.

  4. “Rilling said his appointments so far include four women, three African Americans, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans…”
    *
    That’s the problem with these diversity laws, it doesn’t mean Rilling hired the best and most effective person – only that there is a rainbow world for photo ops.

  5. Piberman

    Why hasn’t Mayor Rilling not taken forceful action on Norwalk’s number one problem – excess City spending and taxes relative to our incomes ? Why focus on “low hanging fruit”? Keeping the same administrative team guarantees the same unsatisfactory results. Bringing City finances under control isn’t rocket science. But it does require a more competent team. And it does require a BET with financially competent and experienced appointees, not political ones.

  6. Norwalk Voter

    @irishgirl The Mayor is talking about volunteer positions on boards and commissions. These have nothing to do with any diversity ‘law’. They reflect a awareness of many years where diversity was not considered. The Mayor promised to make the effort to have our boards and commissions reflect the diverse population of our city. This is a good thing. Also, many appointees are non-minority appointees. It is a mix. He tries to give everyone a chance to serve while looking at their skills and experience and tries to fit the best person into each position. I hope you think this is fair.

  7. If there is a consideration for color and gender above who is the most capable – then it is not fair.
    It is discriminatory.

  8. Norwalk Voter

    No discrimination here but diversity is and should be considered in a town like ours since fair representation is what government is about. The most capable come in all stripes.

    If you don’t agree, we will have to agree to disagree.

  9. Hiring the best is one thing, hiring because he/she is the best in their race is another.
    Diversity is just liberal speak for being racist.

  10. Ace22

    @ Norwalk Voter,

    Thank you for clarifying. Irishgirl NEVER has anything positive to say. Her comments are always negative, unfairly sway, and sometimes, both! You said it best when you stated, “The most capable come in all stripes.” If they’re capable and QUALIFIED, then give minorities an opportunity to offer their skills and abilities to enhance the quality of our town. Wouldn’t this be a change of the norm in our town and America?!

  11. Mike Mushak

    Irishgirl, your regressive attitude is why women still get paid less than men, and why they are still under-represented in boardrooms and in government. White men have always had an advantage in our society, and as one myself, I am conscious of that every day. There are still many instances of white men getting jobs, promotions, and raises because they are considered “better qualified ” not because of their actual abilities but just because they are “perceived” to be better qualified, intentionally or subconsciously. We all have to work hard to fight these perceptions, and one way to do that is to strive for the public and private sectors to better represent the diverse society they exist in. If some white males get overlooked as a result, so be it! That’s not discrimination, but fairness.
    .
    Changing society is never easy, but it always seems to be conservative whiners who have always stood in the way of human progress, whether it’s slavery, women’s rights including voting and not considered property of their husbands, the labor movement including child labor laws, and most recently the marriage equality and gay rights movement. Progressives always fight for human dignity first, and in this case, diversity in our government to reflect Norwalk’s actual population is a noble cause for Mayor Rilling to aspire to.

  12. LWitherspoon

    Diversity is important, but competence is even more important. I believe it’s possible to have both. Trumpeting the ethnicity or gender of appointees without mentioning in the same breath that they are highly qualified confers the unfortunate stigma of being a “diversity hire”, which is how Irishgirl has interpreted the remarks by Mayor Rilling.
    .
    It would have been better for Mayor Rilling to say that he appointed highly qualified people who happen to be African-American, female, or Latino. Diverse commissions better serve Norwalk insofar as they give everybody representation, but it’s important to take the utmost care to avoid suggesting that anybody was appointed solely due to his or her gender or skin color.

  13. WOW!

    @irishgirl:
    In the not too distant future, if demographic trends continue, non-Latino whites will be a minority race in Norwalk. Norwalk Public Schools will be the first to experience this shift, since more than 40% of the students are Latino. The median age of a Latino in CT in 27, and they are currently reproducing at double the rate of whites. I take it you’ll be moving soon, irishgirl. ¡Adiós!

  14. @WOW!
    And your one of them aren’t you? Yes, the borders should close and we should boot every illegal out because what you write is happening now. Take it that I’ll be moving soon, you bet, already two steps ahead of this.
    *
    @Mike Mushak, you are a prime example of the bleeding heart white boy who is the laughing stock of all minorities. Hopefully it will be you who will have to “suffer” when by-passed for a hard earned position and then get back to me.
    *
    Diversity is liberal speak for racisim (but to the minorities – it’s “justified”)
    *
    And you wonder why Norwalk will never amount to much.

  15. Suzanne

    irishgirl, I am sorry you feel so negatively about Norwalk and the progress it is making. It will take time and, one hopes, concrete steps will be taken in each on of these task forces to proactively improve our community. I would try that for a change. Positive, proactive comments that would help elevate the efforts being made. Otherwise, all of your comments amount to negative attention upon which you seem to thrive and do nothing to support the many efforts being made by citizens of Norwalk to improve the place in which we live. Are you one of them? If not, you have no right to complain. If so, I suppose the pendulum must swing from the positive to the negative to get anything done and to be fair to all citizens. You are decidedly in the latter group. I just don’t think it is very helpful.

  16. Charger

    Diversity is a fine goal but should not trump competency as most of Rillings’ choices have done. Norwalk is a city, it is a struggling business, Rilling has much work to get done. He should surround himself with competence first, and when possible diversity.

  17. WOW!

    @ Charger:
    NoN stated, “…his appointments so far include four women, three African Americans, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans…” Charger stated, “Diversity is a fine goal but should not trump competency as most of Rillings’ choices have done.”
    Charger, since you indicated “most”, would you care to state the names of those who you consider incompetent among the minority appointments made to date? Blowing hot air is easy, but the majority of Mayor Rillings’ minority appointments are outstanding individuals with years of community service and a high level of educational credentials.

  18. Suzanne

    WOW! I guess nothing can be assumed. It would seem that anyone, including Mayor Rilling or, perhaps, especially Mayor Rilling would select the best people for the job, white, black, purple, brown, green, whatever gender. I am assuming he did and would because it is in his interest to do so as it is for the City which he is representing. No one goes through the process he did to get elected to hire incompetents just because they meet a perceived community quota. It’s not logical. It does not make sense. Those who suspect he did for race/gender reasons need to think it through a bit better.

  19. @Suzanne,
    “Those who suspect he did for race/gender reasons need to think it through a bit better.”
    *
    Must be nice to live in that fantasy land, eh Suzanne?
    *
    You would believe anything anyone telling you anything about Rilling (as long as it was good)…
    wow, wow wow, you are Rilling’s cheerleader, I guess.

  20. Suzanne

    Zing, irishgirl. I did not vote for him but respect the work he is trying to do. Competence, race and gender are not mutually exclusive. It is a wrong thing to think so and borders on some more ugly aspects of our culture (I will not write the word.) You got your attention but with no less respect than I would give anyone else. You, however, have a long way to go in the respect department.

  21. @Suzanne,
    Too bad I’m not looking for your respect.
    Yawn.

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