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SoNo needs mayoral leadership

By Harry Rilling

Democratic mayoral candidate

NORWALK, Conn. – We Norwalkers often think of SoNo as cutting edge and unique, but neighboring towns have jumped on the revitalization bandwagon and, as one local restaurateur described to me, “They’re eating our lunch.”

The creation of SoNo was the product of a unique partnership between Norwalk’s municipal government and the SoNo community, and was actively supported by mayoral administrations for 30 years. But, according to many of SoNo’s merchants and residents, the partnership has deteriorated recently because of a lack of mayoral leadership. Crime in South Norwalk has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, but the current administration has failed to address many other obvious problems:

Cleanliness

Merchants and property owners do a good job on their own land, but the gutters and public spaces and nooks and crannies frequently become unsightly. There is no substitute for the daily deployment of city carts, push brooms, and shovels. This would show that Norwalk cares, and it’s a policy that a mayor could implement.

Parking

There is not enough of it on-street or on-site. The Maritime Garage offers abundant cheap parking at night, but its location is obscured. Kiosks at the other lots offer a confusing array of rates that differ between lots. At 6 p.m., when folks start arriving to enjoy a relaxing night out, we offer four different rate schemes for five parking options. Enforcement is stern, and frustration from businesses and visitors is high. A reexamination and simplification of our parking regime is urgently needed.

“Wayfinding”

Our businesses depend on customers who don’t live here, yet out-of-town visitors are often unsure where they are and where to go. In city planning, “wayfinding” refers to the consistent, organized use of signs and symbols that help folks navigate – and we could use some mayoral initiative in this area.

• Highly-visible logo-style signage should start at the highway exits and lead visitors straight to SoNo, with arrows to parking lots as one gets near.

• Once out of the car, footprints or other symbols painted on the sidewalk could lead visitors to notable destinations. A handout map and large neighborhood maps near parking kiosks would also help out-of-towners to better orient themselves.

• Perhaps SoNo’s biggest failing is the lack of a clear connection between the aquarium and Washington Street. It’s an unclear route that needs to be made more hospitable. A similarly unclear route exists between the train station and downtown. Better signage and markings for pedestrians, improved lighting, and other simple enhancements would help immensely.

We shouldn’t tolerate unkempt streets, out-of-town visitors wandering around SoNo unsure of where to park, and unsure of how to find our small businesses and other destinations. Let’s reinvigorate the SoNo partnership to put SoNo back on top.

Harry Rilling

Former Norwalk Police Chief

Zoning Commissioner

Democratic candidate for mayor

 

26 comments

Tim T May 16, 2013 at 1:45 am

“Crime in South Norwalk has dropped significantly over the past 20 years”. WHAT!!!!!Harry stop with the B/S no one believes it anymore.

LWitherspoon May 16, 2013 at 8:22 am

Some good ideas here. What would they cost and how would Mr. Rilling pay for them? Also what steps would he take to revitalize the Wall Street area?

Mr Norwalk Ct May 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

M Murray
FBIi statistics are only as good as what the local department reports. They are far from accurate and that is from the FBI themselves.

Mike Mushak May 16, 2013 at 11:44 am

Great ideas from Mr. Rilling. He gets it. Norwalk is like a rudderless ship after years of mismanagement. There is a complete lack of leadership and accountability, and a dysfunctional planning process as revealed by P and Z Director Mike Greene’s inability to work with other departments or respond to requests for information. The mayor seems unable to control him in any way, even defending the GOP controlled Zoning Commission’s stonewalling on conducting a long overdue performance review which I have been requesting for several years. Mr Greene even threatened the Commission with legal action if we pursued it, effectively intimidating the one entity with city charter responsibility to supervise him. Mr Greene makes nearly as much as the governor, 150k a year, with 6 weeks paid vacation, and is not a certified professional but a lifelong Norwalk bureaucrat who doesn’t even live in Norwalk, the city he has helped run into the ground with decades of bad planning decisions.Perhaps he knows better than to live in this trash strewn, blight ridden traffic clogged city, thanks to his own short sighted policies he has supported while ignoring the professional studies taxpayers have paid millions for over the years which sit on his shelves, unimplemented, as a testament to the squandered potential of Norwalk to be the truly amazing and vibrant city it deserves to be.

David McCarthy May 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Mike Mushak, you have got to stop repeating the same lies to continue your vendetta against Mike Greene and the other members of the Zoning Commission.

For instance, you well know by now that the NASA union rules prevent the “performance review” you mention and this has nothing to do with the mayor or any commissioner. The charter does not name the ZC as supervisor to Zoning Staff, you are incorrect. No board or agency supervises a city employee to my knowledge.

The “GOP Controlled” Zoning Commission is composed of 5 Democrats and only 2 Republicans. I think you have your math wrong.

I don’t have all the facts, but I will bet you 20 bucks that you are the only person who has been threatened with legal action. …

The bottom line is that this that Zoning is a complex and sometime emotional issue, and you have no ability to work with others to reach compromise. … It’s a shame, considering the occasional positive ideas you do have.

(This comment has been edited to conform with the comment policy)

LWitherspoon May 16, 2013 at 1:01 pm

@David McCarthy
Union rules are preventing a City union employee performance review?!?!! Can you please elaborate on that?

David McCarthy May 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Union rules prevent the Commission from performing such a review. They are not employees of the city or in a supervisory or HR position. Sorry if I was unclear.

NorwalkDinosaur May 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Nice enough ideas, but where has Chief Rilling been for the past 20-years if he thinks that crime is down in South Norwalk?

@Mr. Rilling – if you are going to have other people write all of your policy pieces for you, that’s fine, just make sure that you take the time to edit out anything about how safe our city has been under your watch.

Here’s a 30-sec Google search about how safe SoNo is these past couple years:

http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/two-guns-recovered-after-shots-ring-out-on-woodward-avenue/article_a44fc235-f356-5d8b-bb29-0d97ae05de8a.html

http://www.thehour.com/man-shot-at-roodner-court/article_c284b62a-f2ed-11e1-bb9c-0019bb30f31a.html

http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/norwalk-police-investigate-brazen-saturday-shooting-in-sono/article_56132d24-7047-56ce-a864-7f448b6be187.html

http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/news/police-two-took-part-south-norwalk-shootout

http://norwalk.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/stopping-the-violence-while-emotions-run-high

Mike Mushak May 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Perhaps my friend Dave McCarthy could refer to the recent Common Council meeting, which I believe he may have missed, when Personnel Director Haselkamp stated quite clearly on the record that there is no contractual reason any city employee cannot be evaluated, including specifically P and Z NASA employees. This was after several attempts by Matt Miklave to get a clear answer, yes or no, as to whether any labor contract with the City prevented such a crucial component of any organization. If Mr. McCarthy thinks any Norwalk employee is immune to accountability, we are in much worse shape than we ever imagined. Also, he is dead wrong as to the supervisory responsibility of the ZC over Greene and the rest of the Zoning staff. It is spelled out in the by-laws of the ZC clearly, as well on the city organizational chart available on the city website. Also, there is a requirement in the by-laws for monthly financial statements which we haven’t seen in the 5 years I have served on the ZC.
The fact that Mr. Greene interferes with the business of the Commission by not answering questions during high profile applications, and does not follow the by-laws, and has threatened the Commission with legal action if we try to hold him accountable( which was witnessed by the entire Commission at a public meeting, conveniently left out of the minutes which he says we do not need to approve in violation of state law) are all reasons for concern by every public official and taxpayer in Norwalk, and at the state level. There will be a day of reckoning when the GOP defense of incompetence and corruption of process will end, and folks like Mr. McCarthy and Bob Maslan will no longer be able to hide behind dubious statements and personal attacks in order to protect the very broken status quo. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

EastNorwalkChick May 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Good ideas, but what about the rest of Norwalk? Any plans for us, don’t we deserve cleaner streets and some “Wayfinding” too?

Al Raymond May 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Here we go again, what about Sprinhill Norwalk Hospital Neighborhood we don`t even have a park that our kids can play in & with all the condos in the area they don`t have any green grass for them to throw a ball around.We need a mayor that will listen to our needs , don`t forget that our area is the most dence area in Norwalk we pay a lot of taxs and we can really up the troops if we need to.

David McCarthy May 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Mike, sorry to interrupt your private recollection of things that never happened, but even if Mr. Haselkamp said there was no reason an employee could not be evaluated, he certainly didn’t say that said employee could be evaluated by you or any other board, and there is no circumstance where that would happen. If you feel different, get a reporter, or file a lawsuit… and BTW…The council meetings are on line…point out where he makes the statement…make me look foolish.

I reviewed the charter, and while the ZC approves the hiring of the Director, there is certainly nothing there about them having ongoing control of his employment. That a box in an org chart is flawed is an issue for Mr. Nitpick, and I suggest you point it out to him.

I notice by your new twisting of this into my somehow being opposed to accountability, when it is the reverse that is true, that you are unable (or simply unwilling) to actually understand the truth of the situation.

In my experience, the entire Zoning Staff adheres extremely close to the letter of the law to ensure that all parties are treated fairly. The only person who has launched into unrestrained tirades, caused issues with applications and threatened people is Mr. Mushak.

M. Murray May 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Mr. Haselcamp has a long illustrious career of misinterpreting and ignoring union contract language. I would not see where an appointed political position would have the authority to do performance appraisals on a city employee. I believe it would have to be a city employee superior.

Mike Mushak May 16, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Perhaps Mr. McCarthy can find out what the schedule is for performance reviews for P an Z staff as well other departments. He will find there is none. The last review of Mike Greene was in 2005, before Moccia was elected. It was conducted by the commission. Who does he think has responsibility for evaluating Greene if not the Commission? The mayor? The Council? Or perhaps he thinks Greene and other highly paid officials should continue to get raises every year even as they abuse the public trust and ignore their responsibilities with impunity? And to call me a liar takes the cake! Now we are seeing his true colors. He is also wrong about the Common Council meeting, what was said, and unless the record was altered there was an entire Council and room full of people to hear it. I know the tendency of members of the GOP to create their own reality, but this is about restoring accountability and professionalism to City Hall. Mr. McCarthy is quickly proving he does not grasp the importance of these concepts. He seems to be wasting all of our time at this point attacking me instead of addressing the issues I have brought up.

Adam Blank May 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm

NorwalkDinosaur – Take a look at the FBI crime data – Part 1 crime (the serious stuff) is down approximately 50% in Norwalk over the past 20 years.

Mike Mushak May 16, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Mr. McCarthy asked me to make a fool out of him by showing him exactly where my question about the Zoning Commission evaluating P and Z staff was answered by Haselkamp at the Common Council meeting on March 12, 2013, a meeting he did not attend. So I hate to admit that I will enjoy making a fool out of him. Here is the video of the meeting. http://vimeo.com/61798007 My appearance begins at 10:00 on the tape, and my actual question asking about the right of the Commission to do a performance review of the P and Z NASA staff. The answer appears at 37:45 with Watts asking first, then Miklave asking a second time after Haselkamp offered a wishy washy answer to Watts. Haselkamp states clearly taht there is no contractual limit for performance reviews of NASA staff. He does not address specifically whether the Commission has the right, which clearly was my question which he heard earlier and must have understood the meaning of Miklave’s question, which he stated was based on my question about the Commission. Unless everyone in the room was brain dead, we all understood that Haselkamp’s answer related directly to my question earlier, and the answer was clear.

Since Mr. McCarthy called me a liar earlier and stated that I was making things up, the by-laws of the Commission adopted May 11, 1988,and amended Oct 20, 2004, reflecting the powers and responsibilities of the Commission granted by Chapter 124 of the CT General Statutes, and Chapter 79, Article 2 of the Code of the City of Norwalk, states the following: “the staff is appointed by, and is subject to the supervision of the Commission”.

Mr. McCarthy may also be interested in watching Hal Alvord answer a question with a less than transparent approach, beginning at 25:00 on the tape, in which he denies ever having questioned the quality of Deering Construction’s work in the past, after I asked earlier about it after they had just been given a $5 million contract with the city after years of botched paving jobs all over town defying any logic. After Hal denies knowing about any past issues with Deering, no less than 3 Councilmembers (Kimmel, Bondi, and Hempstead) and even the mayor go on to acknowledge serious issues with Deering in the past, to the point they voted against them in the past, and the mayor had them in his office to discuss their work a few years ago! So, Hal was our DPW head all those years and had no idea how bad they were! However, even after he denied ever complaining about their machinery breaking down, and the bad timing of their work (with weeks and months between milling and paving when drivers have to negotiate around tire-puncturing obstacles causing accidents with injuries), the actual article by Nancy on Norwalk with an interview with Hal from 2011 appeared to substantiate my claims in the meeting. I don’t know about Mr. McCarthy, but I am not so easily fooled by this nonsense, and neither are many Norwalkers. We now have a paving company with a history of shoddy work costing taxpayers more to fix in the long run, paving dozens of streets this year all over town. Just like city officials who get raises no matter how bad they act, we also reward contractors who do mediocre work. What is is with Norwalk? Oh, and all that crap about it being a local company, the owners live in Easton, most of the staff probably live out of town, and they just happen to keep their trucks here! Good job, Dave.

Tim T May 17, 2013 at 12:16 am

Mike Mushak
Excellent and very informative post. After reading this and seeing the incompetence of other city departments. My question is simple does any city department run correctly under this administration?

BARIN May 17, 2013 at 12:23 am

Lots of verifiable facts there DMcarthy, any comment?
Is it that Deering is the low bidder on these projects?
You get what you pay for and Alvord should have known about past complaints against Deering.

oldtimer May 17, 2013 at 1:22 am

If Deering was,in fact,the lowest QUALIFIED bidder, they are entitled to the contract. The problem seems to be Alvord, based on their performance, didn’t think too highly of their qualifications a while ago and something has changed his opinion. Some of us wonder what could possibly change his opinion so drastically. Some of us have a pretty good idea, suspicions even, but no real proof. Time will tell if Deering is QUALIFIED or not and the city gets good value for taxpayer dollars.

Mike Mushak May 17, 2013 at 8:51 am

I would also like to add that Mr. McCarthy served on the Zoning Commission 2 years ago, before running for the Common Council. Based on his comments above, he clearly never even read the by-laws of the Commission and understood his responsibilities as a Commissioner. The by-laws are handed to every new Commissioner to study, and also are available in the back of the binder at every meeting. As far as his comment about the Commission being 5-2 in favor of Dems, that is a joke! We all know Mayor Moccia pulled a dirty trick and named a phony Dem as a GOP placeholder. No need to name names here as everyone knows who it is. Also, the chair is GOP, and refuses to follow the by-laws and hold the staff accountable, and the two alternates are GOP as well. One acts like a full commissioner with bullying antics at every meeting, witnessed by many, and in fact did not have enough votes to get back on the ZC after serving 2 terms, which required 2/3, so the mayor and Maslan made up a new rule that alternates do not need 2/3 even though the same commissioner just served 2 terms in a row! This 2/3 rule is to avoid cronyism, yet Moccia and Maslan ignored it, yet another case of corruption in City Hall. Anyone attending a Zoning meeting can see this commissioner bully and try to run the meeting, pushing the mayor’s agenda, which is why the mayor wanted him on so bad so he could control the ZC. The whole thing stinks, and this is the kind of dysfunctional crap McCarthy proudly supports.

We might also ask if McCarthy’s unwavering support for Mike Greene has anything to do with Greene’s zoning violation inspection of Mccarthy’s opponent in the last election, where a rare in-house inspection by Greene was conducted. No violation was found but the intent at intimidation was very clear. Who else has McCarthy or Moccia gone after using city staff to do their dirty work? Reminds me of the time years ago, just months into Moccia’s first term, when new Council member Laurel Lindstrom was written up for healthcode violations at her own home (for having ferns between her sidewalk and the street!), after she complained about the lack of code enforcement at the abandoned and blighted Fitch School (now Maplewood Home.) Norwalk deserves better than this corrupt and petty nonsense, especially after 8 years. We need new blood and new leadership in City Hall if this city is ever going to fulfill its true potential to be a great place to live and work, instead of the badly planned, highly taxed, blighted, trash strewn, traffic clogged big box nirvana that Greene and the GOP have turned this city into. Fixing this mess is way above their pay scale, including McCarthy who never even read the by-laws of a commission he served on.

David McCarthy May 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to this, I was at the Police Dept Memorial Ceremony. I would like to thank Mr. Mushak for proving my point.

First, the powers of the ZC are at http://www.ecode360.com/27051745 and do not say what Mr. Mushak says they do. The copy of the By Laws he cites would seem to be out of date, or simply in conflict with the charter, the charter wins.

Second, in the video, the questions asked of and answered by Mr. Haselkamp are, as I said earlier, related to the city doing a performance review, (not Mr. Mushak) which is certainly reasonable. In his words “there’s nothing that prohibits it, it has to be negotiated in the contracts” after he clearly states they were done away with many years ago.

If something needs to be done to alter the contract to allow for this review, it should be done, but it hasn’t yet. Most likely, it was personal attacks like this that caused the removal of review by appointed boards years ago. I would go further and say that if in the past the ZC has done these reviews, it is now more appropriately a power that should be vested in the mayor as chief executive.

I notice Mike adds more wild accusations to his notes, and I must admit, I don’t even know what person’s zoning violation he is talking about, so it’s hard to respond to that one, and I must be a pretty poor conspirator if whatever person this was got let off the hook.

My support is neither for Mr. Greene nor any member of the commission, D or R, it is for the system which works fairly for our city and citizens. I am firmly against people who carry on inappropriately for their own agenda and distort things whether due to mental illness or reasons of personal gain.

David McCarthy May 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm

…and I found my copy of those By-Laws, which I fully admit to not having memorized. A full rereading of it (as well as checking the enabling code), shows that even those By-Laws don’t mention performance review and my take on the thrust of it is that the commission may direct staff in production of reports, implementation of policy, etc. They see the staff a few hours out of a month, it would not make sense to have it any other way.

Simply put, even if my interpretation is 100% wrong (and it’s not) a board’s by-laws don’t trump the charter, labor law, contracts, etc. Even if all that is wrong (and it’s not) Mr. Mushak is one vote on a commission of 7, and he is clearly on an inappropriate personal vendetta against someone he sees as his personal bogey man preventing him from having his way. I seem to have approached this status myself, and have been deemed responsible for people keeling over in SoNo from truck exhaust. I guess it might be considered an honor…or reason for a restraining order.

Norwalk Dinosaur May 20, 2013 at 5:01 pm

@Adam Blank – What part of town do YOU live in?

FBI statistics are a voluntary compilation created by municipal and State police departments. Chiefs of Police designate what offenses are listed in what category.

I hate to repeat myself, but if Mr. Rilling agrees with you about the real reduction of violent crime in our city, than he is simply unfit to be Mayor. As the former Police Chief, he knows exactly how dangerous Norwalk has become. He should be questioned on this and should explain why we should overlook the facts when considering him for Mayor.

http://norwalk.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/norwalk-man-survives-gunshot-wound-to-head

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