NORWALK, Conn. – On the three-month anniversary of his inauguration, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling offered his job to someone else.
The worthy candidate was one of “Harry’s Angels,” 20-year-old campaign volunteer Diamond Carter, who said she was having trouble finding a job.
“Why don’t you just run for mayor?” He asked, as part of a joking conversation. “You won’t have anything to do and you’ll just sit down in the office and interview people, and say hi.”
That doesn’t appear to be an accurate job description, judging from Rilling’s many appearances at city committee meetings in the evenings and community events on weekends.
His time seemed to be stretched to the max as NancyOnNorwalk waited to try to pin him down on progress made in reference to campaign promises; a Channel 12 news crew showed up for an interview and Steve Serassis stopped by for a visit before he squeezed in 20 minutes for NoN questions ahead of a conference call.
What does he think of being mayor?
“It’s all that I thought it could be and more,” he said. “I’m enjoying it and right around Feb. 27, which will be 100 days in office, I will be doing a kind of the state of the city, as to my first 100 days in office and what we have accomplished. We have accomplished quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time in spite of the fact that we have had heavy snow storms that we’re dealing with, the fact that we are trying to hire a personnel director, an economic development director and we’re dealing with NEON (Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now), those kinds of things. So there’s been a lot of distractions in trying to get things done. But, overall, I think we’re doing quite well and we’ve got a lot accomplished, but there’s still a lot of things to do.”
The list of accomplishments will wait until the state of the city address, he said.
Where has his time gone?
“A lot of it deals right now with the budget. … The Maritime Aquarium issue has required a bit of our time. There’s been a lot of different things — we’re being pulled in different direction with different issues, but, in essence, we are still focusing on what we need to do,” he said.
Rilling, in his campaign, promised to try to get the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula changed. Norwalk officials say Norwalk is shortchanged by the state’s formula because it is heavily weighted to the grand list, not income.
Efforts to get the formula changed last year resulted in a slight increase in state funding for Norwalk Public Schools.
Rilling said he had gone to Hartford recently to attend a meeting with Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Benjamin Barnes, along with other mayors, to discuss the formula.
“It’s not likely to change in this legislative session, but we’re going to do the best we can to change it. I have asked for more Priority School funding, and we are going to be getting a little bit more in ECS,” he said. “I feel that we’re far below what we should be getting in ECS funding and we’re going to be continue that plea.”
Rilling also promised to bring civility to Norwalk; many people have commented that the mood in City Hall has improved.
What has Rilling done to make that happen?
“Treating people with dignity and respect. Being an open person and greeting people and saying hi to them. Walking through the hallways with an air of a positive attitude, enjoying the people that work here and recognizing them for the hard work that they do,” he said. “Yes, they have good jobs and they are very appreciative of having good jobs. But people respond to more than just salary and benefits. They respond to people who trust in them and who recognize them for the work that they do do.”
A phone call from City Clerk Donna King interrupted that conversation. He had an appointment in SoNo in 40 minutes, she said.
The diversity on city boards has improved since the election, with Irene Dixon, who is Filipino, and the Rev. Oscar Destruge, a Latino, named to the Fire Commission. Fran Collier-Clemmons, an African American, is on the Police Commission, and Attorney Ed Camacho, a Latino who had been on the Fair Rent Commission, was named to the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). Juanita Olquin, a Latino, was appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
There are some people in the Latino community who say there haven’t been enough Latino appointments.
There are more people coming, Rilling said.
“I’ve got a few names but right now. I have appointed three Latinos in the short time,” he said. “… Quite frankly it’s not just about Latino appointments, it’s about appointing people of color to represent the constituency of Norwalk. So I am looking at appointing a variety of peopl,e but I can’t appoint people whose names I do not have.”
There are some people who say that Rilling promised to fund the South Norwalk Community Center.
At a Oct. 16 debate, Rilling said, “We need to be a partner. You need to be certain that the city of Norwalk is going to be there for you. That the mayor is going to be sitting at the table with you. That when you need funding we’re going to explore all options, all funding opportunities that are out there, whether it be for private corporations, foundations, whether it be for CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money, whether it be money that the city has allocated to help you to achieve that mission.”
Rilling said he’s doing that.
“We’ve given them $10,000 from a city grant. They have $150,000 from a CDBG grant. They have another $100,000 put in,” he said. “I just wrote a letter of support for them to the state DSS, Department of Social Services, for a Hispanic Human Development grant. There is not a significant amount of funding that NEON got other than Head Start funds from the city of Norwalk. Nor was there traditionally a huge amount of funding from the city of Norwalk for the South Norwalk Community Center. So whatever funds that are available for us to dole out we are doling out in as fair a way as possible.”
The SoNoCC has applied for $50,000 in funding this year; the recommendation is to give the center $10,000. Rilling said.
He does not vote on the committee that made the recommendation, he said.
“I said I would look at it and see if I can give them a little bit more,” he said. “I don’t know when it comes before me for a final discussion but there was a lot of applicants for that and the rationale, when I spoke to some of the committee members, they said that they generally fund people who are long-term recipients and have a track record. They decided to give South Norwalk Community Center funding to try to help them get up and running and then revisit it next year when they come back up again.”