SoNoCC ‘camp’ sparks discord at Norwalk council meeting

Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), left; David Watts (D-District A), right.

NORWALK, Conn. – A dispute over recess led to accusations of juvenile behavior as the Norwalk Common Council considered a summer camp for children Tuesday.

There was an odd pause when the proposal to allow the South Norwalk Community Center to use Ryan Park for a summer camp was brought up for discussion – odd because it had been taken off of the list of items that were going to pass without comment, but, given the chance for debate, no one said anything.

Travis Simms (D-District B), new to his role as minority leader, made a motion to table the item until the next meeting. That was a non-debatable motion.

Mayor Harry Rilling asked for a simple aye-nay vote, but a consensus was not clear. Rilling was about to do a roll call vote, but David Watts (D-District A) asked for a recess.

A month ago, Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) made an issue out of a request for a recess. Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) now says Kimmel was right – Mason’s Rules say that the legislative body should vote on whether a recess will be allowed.

So Rilling tried to do a simple aye-nay vote on the recess motion, but at least four council members were against it, making the verbal vote counting impossible. He called for a roll call vote, but Watts withdrew the motion.

Rilling then returned to the roll call vote on the motion to table the item. With Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B), Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), John Kydes (D-District C) and Simms voting in favor, the motion died, 11-4.

Game on.

Bowman said a lot of people in South Norwalk were concerned they wouldn’t be allowed to use Ryan Park when the SoNoCC was hosting its summer camp. Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) said the language of the proposal called for the center to have the park from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are people who eat lunch there, she said.

While 100 children are expected at the camp, most of them will be indoors, SoNoCC spokesman Pat Ferrandino told her. The kids will rotate in and out, with 60 inside and 40 outside, he said. Norwalk Public Schools and Literacy How are working with the center to run what is really an educational enrichment program, he said.

“We’re not going to have 100 children in the park at one time. The park consists of over 100,000 square feet of space. There is certainly plenty of space to accommodate everyone in the area,” he said.

“How can we ensure that what happened the last time will not happen again, where people were asked to use the park and could not utilize it until other people were finished?” Stewart asked. “What can you do to make us feel secure with that, because once they say ‘OK, it’s passed,’ you guys can do whatever you want to do.”

“I have no knowledge whatsoever of any incident in the past,” Ferrandino said.

“It happened,” Stewart said.

“My guess, there are hundreds of agreements similar to this,” Kimmel said. “We’ve never had a problem with excluding folks. Events occur, whether it’s at the beach or at Cranbury Park, on a regular basis. I have never heard of a situation where people were excluded. It’s standard procedure.”

Hempstead suggested adding three words to the resolution: Instead of use the park it would be use “a portion of” the park.

“I totally support the amendment that is being proposed,” Watts said. “Just a brief comment, I think that we really wanted to get to a solution to something we could vote on. To shut down the opportunity to call a recess so that we could probably get there is nothing more than partisan politics. I am very disappointed in that because we’ve been getting along. This is a great council. We’re trying to move forward. But to not give the minority caucus — and keep in mind it’s one councilman, it’s an 8-7 council — to deny us an opportunity to work this issue out for five minutes is nothing more than partisan politics and I am calling you out on that because it’s wrong and I hope that in the future that we don’t use rules and procedures to take advantage of the minority caucus.”

Ridiculous, David McCarthy (R-District E) said, as the vote on tabling was 11-4, not 8-7.

“The standard rule of thumb in any legislative body is you try not to do committee work on the council floor,” Kimmel said.

Kimmel, who caucuses with the Republicans despite being a Democrat, said it’s not fair to council members who have spent much time working out the issue or to the public sitting in the meeting.

“You cannot use a recess to go into caucus when you’ve had your caucus meetings to do the work that should have been done first in the committee and then in the caucus,” he said. “Bottom line is we have been violating Mason’s Rules for many, many years, regarding going into recesses. It’s very, very clear. You don’t just go into recess, you need a majority vote to do so and that’s fair to the public. It makes sure that recesses are not abused.”

“I think that there are rules and if we were violating the rules then, by all means, we should correct it, we should follow the rules,” Watts replied. “However, if council members want to rush out of here, maybe we should have a little clock in here. Not give us an opportunity to do due diligence, I think it’s wrong, it’s disrespectful. … To use a rule to shut that down is wrong. I don’t care what you say, I think it was partisan politics.”

Richard Bonenfant (R-At Large) reminded him that he withdrew the recess request. “I personally have no problem voting for anybody who want to go to caucus,” he said. “Just go easy on painting the full brush.”

Kimmel said the Republican caucus had been in City Hall until about 10 p.m. Monday going over the agenda very carefully. He called the issue a “problem that wasn’t a problem,” which the caucus was assured would be worked out.

“This is a summer camp in a park, this is not the biggest, most convoluted, complicated issue that we are going to deal with,” Kimmel said. “After having this agenda for three or four days we need a recess for this particular thing, this particular type of argument, I am a little befuddled to be honest with you. The idea that we are here to get out early … I find that absurd. We are not here to get out of here early, we are here to do what’s right.”

“If we are going to get along, try to do what’s right for the city, I don’t think picking a petty fight over a recess – I just think that it’s over the top,” Watts said. “It’s not going to hold you back, to get from where you need to go, five minutes. I’m just going to go with what people say on the street: You’ve got to keep it real. I’m keeping it real right now. Everyone knows there is an issue between the South Norwalk Community Center and some individuals.”

And, “The public expects us to work together and we have,” he said. “It’s been great so far. There hasn’t been any dust ups and I don’t perceive myself as picking a fight with the majority caucus over a recess. I just think it’s juvenile and it’s offensive. I just think that we have a right to caucus when we want to. To say that it’s not partisan politics, I think that it is, and that’s what I’m going to say because these members here had a real issue with something happening in their district. We want to make sure that every council member is comfortable with moving forward and not to do so I think disrespects them and the citizens that elected them.”

“Everybody take a deep breath,” Hempstead said.

Yes, he’s been wrong for 20 years, he said, a recess should be voted upon.

“I agree with Mr. Bonenfant, you did withdraw the motion, so I wish we wouldn’t do name calling on something that we thought would have happened. Because I think your motion to recess would have probably passed”on the roll call vote, he said.

The motion passed unanimously a short while later.

Outside the council chambers as an executive session went on, Ferrandino repeated his assertion that he knew of no incident in which the South Norwalk Community Center tried to keep other people out of Ryan Park. He had the impression that Stewart was talking about something that happened three years ago and said that no one involved with leading the center now was involved with it then.

The center is expected to be renovated. It received a $100,000 Community Block Development Grant toward that project in the last budget cycle.

“The plans (for the camp) are tentative, they are not firm,” Ferrandino said. “We are hopeful that within the next two weeks we will have a definitive timeline to complete the project. We anticipate that it will take six to eight weeks to complete the project and that should give us the time needed to operate the program.”


18 responses to “SoNoCC ‘camp’ sparks discord at Norwalk council meeting”

  1. Lisa Thomson

    So are you telling me that these Dems, needed a recess to caucus over whether or not children, NOT GROWN UPS ACTING LIKE CHILDREN, but REAL CHILDREN could use a park? Unbelievable!

  2. It always seems that Watts plays by the rules when it behooves him and then wants to “keep it real” when it doesn’t. Sorry ole buddy Watts – play by the rules (and stop polarizing the council).
    PS – note to the democrats, get it together and be prepared next time.

  3. DistrictBDem

    These Dems are starting to look ridiculous. It is so blatantly obvious what they are doing. The use of Ryan Park should be encouraged for the neighborhood kids in the South Norwalk area. It is disturbing to see the representatives of the South Norwalk district behave in this manner. We are talking about children.

    We surely can find better representation out of District B. Mr. Simms, Ms. Bowman, Ms. Stewart step up to the plate and represent all of your constituency. You should be supporting summer camps for children in your district at a Park that needs to be utilized.

    Keep your personal vendetta’s out of city government! Isn’t this a positive initiative that is what the Better South Norwalk team “was” all about? Unbelievable!

    What have you done for District B so far? Besides embarass us?

  4. Sara Sikes

    This story brings up an issue of overuse of parks which merits a discussion. Last summer there were several times when use of Cranbury Park and Calf Pasture beach were not accessible to Norwalk residents due to lack of parking. I hope that the mayor and Common Council members will consider this issue. It’s fine getting some extra income from out-of-towners visiting the parks for private parties and car shows, but overuse means Norwalk residents will be excluded and the park grounds may suffer as well.

  5. Bruce Kimmel

    Nice article. But one thing needs to be crystal:
    The Council has been violating its own rules for years by not voting to go into recess. When Mr. Watts asked for the recess, I urged the body to abide by Mason’s Rules and vote. Simple as that. Mr. Watts assumed we were going to prevent the recess and withdrew his request. He was wrong. All we wanted to do was vote on the request; his motion probably would have received the simple majority required. But he decided to withdraw the motion and slam my caucus as partisan, not allowing recesses, etc.
    To put the issue in perspective: Several Council meetings ago, three times the Mayor agreed with requests for “two minute recesses.” Each of those “two minute” recesses were about twenty minutes long, much to the chagrin of the folks in the audience who had no idea why we were even bothering to recess on mundane agenda items. After that meeting, I decided to review the rules and easily determined that we were violating standard parliamentary rules.
    One final point: The SNCC summer camp agenda item was thoroughly vetted in committee; all questions were asked and answered, and Democrats were present. The item was also thorough discussed in the Republican caucus, even though it was a just a summer camp for a hundred school kids. I really have no clear idea why the Democrats wanted to table a summer camp proposal, unless of course it is part of the turf war between NEON and the SNCC.

  6. ScopeonNorwalk

    What is the name of the camp SONO CC plans to run? Did anyone check to see if it was a real camp?…It’s not Parks and Rec’s job to do this research but you do need state licenses to run a camp. I hope the Mayor does his research before he officially signs off on this…

  7. ScopeonNorwalk

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with these Dems being proactive on acting on an item that has potential conflict. Too often in the past Common Council members and Mayors have voted for things without looking at the longer term picture. Of course there would have been conflict if this wasn’t addressed last night. Who are we kidding here.

    Hopefully the “a portion of” will solve things and there will not be any conflict.

    Only place the Dems failed was in not being quick enough to put forth the amendment.

  8. Community

    Did it pass or not? Also can they run a camp with South Norwalk Community Center got hit with DPH for running an after-school with no lincense or is that being swept under the rug? What about the community that uses the park? What about the church that have vacation bible study in the park during the summer time for the community of South Norwalk?

  9. Ms. Ruby Mcpherson



    If Mr. Simms wants to play hardball with SoNoCC, then why don’t all of us latinos in South Norwalk boycott his Ringside Grill that is always parked outside SoNoCC? I am tired of this racism against latinos. SoNoCC is for all people and just because latinos use its services more than african-americans does not mean it should be treated differently than NEON. Latinos are taking over South Norwalk, so get used to it. Soon enough we will have latino district B council members and no longer have to deal with this second class treatment.

  11. Christopher Bazan

    I would strongly urge the District B based dems to take notice of the demographic changes happening in South Norwalk and District B as a whole. Census tract 441 (Ryan Park area) African American population is down 26% in 10 years, and their % of total population is only 25%, while the latino population grew 7% and now makes up 40% of that tract. Also, Tract 444 (Woodward Ave area) AA population down 32% and now only 31% of total population, while latino population is up 70% and makes up 39% of the total population.

    You might want to double check who you represent and what the future of South Norwalk/District B looks like. You should approve this summer camp and not let politics and personal vendettas stop the education of children.


  12. SoNoCC

    Rather than responding to those who have anger in their hearts, we at SoNoCC offer these four YouTube videos that tell a much more positive story. Please enjoy:





  13. Community

    But how can you approve the summer camp if in the summer South Norwalk Community Center always have combine with NEON? How are you going to seperate it now. Or have it seperated and NEON didn’t get the camp money that Riling was talking about a few months ago? All races need to come together to help each other out or this my turn if it hasn’t already into a race war.

  14. tired of negativity

    It figures some folk would turn this into a black and Latino thing, this was a situation where the actual concern was for the children who won’t be attending camp this summer, who will not have anywhere to play. These children will be lost to the street’s. This is what was actually said during the meeting but I guess all of you have selective hearing.
    For the record Ms. Stewart suggested the park be shared, but no one heard that either.
    I wonder how many of you attended the meeting, or watched the tape to see what really happened instead of responding to bits and pieces you read in the paper.

    1. Mark Chapman


      No one has to wait for the video or read bits and piece in “the paper.” They just have to read the story above that quotes Ms. Stewart about what the concern is, and Mr. Ferrandino on his response. Ms. Stewart is concerned about people who want to use the park, and Mr. Ferrandino says it is not a problem, and all the kids won’t even be out there at once. The council inserted language authorizing use of PART of the park, which allows for anyone else to be there. This is a problem we see a lot — people read selectively and latch onto one thing and start firing away. The answers to a lot of questions asked are right in the stories.

  15. Well it nice that we don’t get your business but you should do your homework because Travis do not own the Ringside Grill in Fact it is owned and operated by His Sister in law Mrs Maria Simms so do me a favor and stop trying to take from our business.

  16. What year is it again?

    18 month delay in response? Readership must be seeing a spike or the editor is way way behind.

    1. Mark Chapman

      It’s the former. That comment came in fresh tonight and yes, raised my eyebrows. But I sometimes go through our entire analytics program for the day, including the stories just getting a few hits, and routinely find lots of people reading items from a year or two (and sometimes three) ago.

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