Who’s representing the taxpayers?

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To the Editor:

The stunning announcement that the superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools, Manny Rivera, was resigning reminded me of a comment made during the last election cycle about the rapid turnover in that position. The comment was “You don’t lose good people because of salaries or working conditions.  You lose good people because they don’t feel that they’re able to do the job they are hired to do.”  The man who made that comment won the election and is now our mayor.

Harry Rilling may well be regretting that comment now.  After a year of attending fewer than half of the Board of Education meetings, after failing to address baseless claims of racism against the chairman of the BOE, after a year of not living up to promises to bring all of these parties together to address the issue, he has seen not only the loss of a highly regarded superintendent, but also BOE meetings filled with acrimony including accusations and claims of racism and counterclaims of personal agendas.

So now Mayor Rilling finally convenes a meeting, but it was not to discuss the issues related to the BOE.  It was to discuss far-off and totally unrelated events in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island.  However tragic these events were, it was ridiculous to think that anyone in Norwalk, Conn. had information that could add any more clarity to them.

Should we improve the training of our police officers? Yes. There’s always room for improvement. But should we assume they will react as criminals and kill our citizens unless we have a meeting to discuss distant crises? I don’t think so.  Where is the meeting to get some control over certain incendiary members of the Board of Ed?

Leadership is key and leadership has been absent, except in these highly charged headline grabbing political meetings.  Mayor Rilling’s power base is for some reason in South Norwalk, but constantly delivering the power and the deals to the very few leaders who control those votes is shortsighted at best.

A good question is: Who represents the average Norwalker?  The average family with kids in Norwalk Schools want to see their kids flourish (and pay the taxes accordingly), they don’t care to see politically connected administrators remain in place while doing little, nor do they wish to see the needs of minority and special- ed students left unmet.  They want strong leadership and a solid school system. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Mike Lyons that is precisely what the good citizens of Norwalk are not getting.


Sarah Mann


12 responses to “Who’s representing the taxpayers?”

  1. EveT

    Ms. Mann seems to be assuming that just because Mayor Rilling has not made a public statement about the “incendiary members of the Board of Ed,” he hasn’t done anything. Does it occur to her that since these 3 members filed a legal complaint, there is a legal process to be followed and there could be legal ramifications of making a public statement? The mayor has stated that he invited the 3 BOE members to meet with him and they did not get back to him.
    There seems to be a Republican noise machine accusing Mayor Rilling over and over again of being lacking in leadership, ignoring the fact that this mayor’s leadership style is more low-key and more thoughtful than the arrogant, vocal, shoot-from-the-hip style we have seen in some previous mayors.

  2. Donald Trump

    3, 2, 1….here come the Rilling apologists.

    Is he going to say anything about the recent homicide or will he remain silent like he did about the mid day North Main street shoot out? Or will he just have another headline grabbing Norwalk is Ferguson event?

  3. piberman

    No legal complaint by the 3 BOE members has been filed with the CT judicial system as best I can learn. It it was we’d likely see the “evidence”. The Mayor’s silence here speaks loudly In support of the dissident BOE members. As does his preference for an open search which had it been in place would have prevented Dr Rivera and other well qualified candidates from applying. Mayor Rilling’s actions are consistent with securing Democratic control of the BOE. One of there Town Committee members is a school employee. Control yields perks such as union support. It wasn’t the tooth fairy that gave us 5th highest teacher salaries in CT. Just Democrat control. Supt Rivera hit the nail on the head saying Mayor Rilling is an “education Mayor”. And he’s leaving town because he understands how Norwalk operates – watch what we do not what we say.

  4. Bill

    I am a democrat who voted for Rilling in 2013, not happening in 2015, this guy has shown absolutely no leadership. No backbone and no leadership for 2015, that must be his slogan this time.

  5. Mike Mushak

    Eve T , well said. I respect and admire former Councilperson Sarah Mann, but this letter is just more partisan noise and RTC-inspired opposition to the mayor. We can see the game plan clearly now.

    There is no call for healing and understanding from anyone in a leadership role except Mayor Rilling, or any acknowledgment that there has been bad behavior on both sides of the aisle.
    Continuing the focused personal attacks like this letter does is shameful and will not heal our city, but perpetuate division and fear and keep the deep problems in our city that were manifested in this episode continuing.

    Cornering and isolating people on any board or commission is counterproductive, and leads to bad behavior. It is often the misguided intention of the majority to ignore the concerns of the minority knowing they have no power. I have seen it in action firsthand on the Zoning Commission and it is appalling to witness, like high school. Joe Santo’s childish and retaliatory behavior on the ZC where important city business has taken a back seat to his personal vendettas using city staff to retaliate, is exhibit one. He has stalked the homes, businesses, and even a church in my case, looking for petty zoning violations to retaliate, against the folks he doesn’t like on the ZC, ignoring the fact that his own GOP comrades have their own petty violations. The behavior is appalling, but not a word from GOP leadership on this unethical and corrupt behavior. The facts are indisputable as it is all on the record. Where is the GOP leadership on that issue, where the Planning and Zoning Commissions have both been manipulated to work against the best interests of the city neighborhoods and small business community, or most recently just 3 weeks ago against the large frustrated contractor community, this time on the Planning Commission which was blatantly lied to and misled by Greene on the record, due to partisan and petty nonsense? The silence of the RTC on the corruption and dumbing down of the P and Z Department under GOP leadership is deafening, and only highlights the hypocrisy that they have on the BOE issue.

    I am not excusing or defending the charges of racism by 3 black BOE members as that was an extreme move, but it happened, and the way it was handled by the BOE leadership which was to ignore it was just as open to criticism.

    Any minority, but especially out black community, has a deep collective memory of being mistreated and ignored throughout the history of our nation, and most white folks will never understand what that feels like. But we have an obligation to respect that deep painful history, not ignore it. As much as I respect Mike Lyons and his accomplishments, he could have handled the racism charges differently, from a place of healing instead of a place of indifference. We have to stop the cycle of distrust and fear somewhere, and I am sickened by some of the behavior I have seen coming from both sides. Please try to sit down and talk, and let’s move on. The RTC wants nothing more than to not have it stop, as is clear from Ms Mann’s letter, and the many more to follow I ‘m sure as Torrano gets on the phone and rallies the troops to keep this dreadful episode in the news cycle to score cheap points.

    This will not help our city at all, but hurts all of us regardless of race or whether it not we even have kids in the school system. The public perception of Norwalk’s school system is the most important thing to our property values and our attractiveness to new businesses and residents, and the short-sighted strategy of the RTC to keep the rancor going on and on is shameful, and must stop, if we are going to heal and move forward together which we must do as a city and a wonderful diverse community which is our greatest strength.

    Is it any wonder the RTC chair wasn’t invited to the summit meeting last week to discuss community/police relations? Mr Torrano had made it quite clear he will attack Mayor Rilling on every issue in Norwalk to the point of absurdity, as he did with the mosque issue.

    The nasty letter-writing campaign from the usual party hacks on the mosque issue revealed a myopic fear-driven strategy that doesn’t help our city but hurts it, no matter what the cost. The decades of GOP mismanagement and dumbing down of our planning and zoning process, even to this day, led to the mosque being proposed for that site, but that issue was completely ignored by Torrano. The GOP leadership of the Zoning Commission still hasn’t fixed the code that led to the monstrous BJ’s and overscale mosque that turned the city upside down, but that didn’t stop Torrano from waging an orchestrated campaign to put the blame for the whole mess on Mayor Rilling, who had little or nothing to do with it. It should be no wonder the radical scorched-earth RTC is left out of important meetings, despite the fact that the more moderate and reasonable voices of the GOP on the Common Council who I respect are more interested in reaching bipartisan solutions than the RTC leadership is at this point.

    At this point, we need more letters calling for healing, not more letters calling for division and fear.

    (editor’s note: The racism claim was made by Shirley Mosby against Mike Lyons, not by three black members against the board.)

  6. piberman

    Why isn’t Mr Mushak calling for an investigation of the discrimination charges made by 3 BOE members against the BOE ? Are they true ? Or just political opportunism ? Six months have gone by ? Does Mr Mushak take these charges seriously ? Doesn’t he want them resolved ? Or does he fear they may be unsupported ? All it takes is a panel assembled by the Mayor. We have lots of panels. Lots and lots of panels.

  7. Wineshine

    I respect Mr. Mushak and believe he truly does want what’s good for Norwalk, but his skin has clearly worn a bit thin, which may be from having to defend so many of his allies.

    I see nothing “incindiary” about the letter from Ms. Mann, and given the year of silence from the Mayor’s office, I support all who wonder, “Who’s representing the taxpayers”.

    Mike, the omission of Mr. Torrano from the recent meeting was inexcusable. The fundamental basis of democracy is that all voices be heard, whether or not you want to hear what they have to say. I further trust that Mr. Torrano, under any circumstances would be one of the cooler heads to prevail at such a meeting. Apparently certain BOE members can’t control themselves within their own group dedicated to a common cause, and that should disturb you more than anything.

    To you, and to EveT, the Mayor IS the elected public voice, and that voice needs to be heard from. To say that just because he hasn’t commented does not mean he’s not acted is of no comfort to this taxpayer. Words in this case speak louder when the actions follow. Everyone who comments here takes time from his or her daily activities because they care. The Mayor does this job full-time, and still can’t find time to comment, except for a few lines here and there.

    As for the frivilous, and intelligence-insulting so-called discrimination claims, maybe there was no suit brought because the accusers had not a shred of evidence?

  8. [This is a duplicate of a post to another article since similar statements were made here.]

    Mike, permit me some clarification (sorry for the length) in relation to your statements “I am not excusing or defending the charges of racism by 3 black BOE members as that was an extreme move, but it happened, and the way it was handled by the BOE leadership which was to ignore it was just as open to criticism … As much as I respect Mike Lyons and his accomplishments, he could have handled the racism charges differently, from a place of healing instead of a place of indifference.”

    I know you are focused on other issues in town than education, so you may not have all the background here.

    People often comment on the need to understand people’s reactions based on their cultural or personal experiences; this is a valid point. But it’s also a point that applies to me. My experience with Ms. Mosby (the filer of the false racism charge against me) started at the first BoE meeting of this term (in November, 2013), where she famously remarked after my re-election as Chair that she was going to “pull every white hair out of [Lyons’] head.” When asked if she thought that was an appropriate remark, she doubled down, stating “If Mike Lyons sitting there and crying about that then he needs to give up the chairmanship right away,” Mosby said. “I did not want him to swear us in and he got attitude.”

    Now, how did I respond to this (to put it mildly, “uncivil”) behavior by Ms. Mosby? As I noted in another post, “My initial response was an attempt to brush it off and be conciliatory; as NON reported, “Members were surprised by Mosby’s behavior, Lyons said. “They didn’t view that as characteristic of Shirley,” he said. “So I’m very sort of counting that off as when you are angry you say things that you regret later” (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/11/new-board-has-rough-start-as-dem-majority-boe-re-elects-gop-chairman). In short, I didn’t “ignore” this, but rather chose the “place of healing approach”. It was not reciprocated.

    In December of last year I asked all Board members for their preferred committee assignments. As Chair, I have complete discretion as to which appointments I will make. What I did, among other appointments made in January of 2014, was to appoint the three dissenting Board members (Ms. Mosby, Ms. Rivas and Ms. Murray) to every single committee position they requested. As an olive branch, I even offered the Chairmanship of one of our most important committees – Finance – to Rosa Murray (even though she had just contested me for the chairmanship). I went with the “place of healing” approach. It was not reciprocated.

    When we went through the superintendent search process in 2012-2013, I organized the most extensive community outreach process ever engaged in for a superintendent search in Norwalk. I appointed several representatives of Norwalk’s minority community – including Ms. Murray – to the search committee. I carefully included all the members of the Board (including the dissenters) in every step of the process, made sure all members had all documents, made sure all members were included in every interview, every meeting, and could ask every question they wanted of each candidate. This extensive effort to include everyone, including the dissenters, in the selection process, was not reciprocated – in fact, Ms. Murray falsely claimed (as she refused to vote in favor of hiring Dr. Rivera) that she had been “excluded” from the process.

    While Chair, I have organized three Board of Ed “retreats”, two during the last term (each attended by Ms. Murray and Ms. Rivas), one in this term (attended by all three dissenters). These were constructive meetings where we discussed proper Board governance policies (especially the need to avoid micromanagement), and agreed on our Strategic Plan. These efforts of mine to find common ground from the “place of healing”, alas, have also gone unreciprocated for, as the dissenters since then have regularly opposed the implementation of the very Strategic Plan they had endorsed, and have continuously engaged in public micromanagement of the superintendent at Board meetings (as referenced in multiple articles on NON).

    Into this milieu, last summer, came the racism charges. I hope you will understand my reaction thereto in the context of this history. Having tried the “healing place” over and over and over again without success, trying it again did not strike me as a strategy likely to succeed. When the complainant and the NAACP decided to go public with the charges (stating at a public meeting that I was guilty of the charges) before I had even been given a chance to respond, I simply said “show me the evidence”. I denied being a racist (because I am not), and I refused to be drawn into a show trial in front of a group that had already ‘convicted’ me without a trial when no one could point to a single piece of evidence that I had done anything wrong (other than disagreeing with the dissenters, which to some apparently itself constitutes “racism”). Mike, in modern America, perhaps the most serious charge you can make against a public official is “racism”; and I was wrongly subjected to it (not in an off-hand comment, but in a planned complaint and a well-orchestrated playing out of that complaint in public, albeit without any supporting evidence).
    EVEN WITH all that, however, I STILL agreed to make one more try at the “healing place”, accepting Mayor Rilling’s offer to mediate. The dissenters, five months later, have never gotten back to the Mayor on his similar offer to them.

    So trust me, I have not shown “indifference” to the racism charges nor “ignored” them. I also have a long history of trying “the healing place” and being rebuffed, and even tried it again AFTER the racism charges were made, only to have to other side rebuff it again. I just want you to understand how extensively I’ve tried to reach out, albeit without success, and why I am not sanguine about the likelihood of success of further such efforts.

  9. EveT

    @Wineshine, Ms. Mann used the word “incendiary” in her letter in reference to the BOE members who have complained of discrimination. In my comment, I am not calling Ms. Mann’s letter incendiary.
    Do I support the charges of discrimination leveled by the 3 BOE members? No, not unless they come up with some evidence. But I do support the efforts that have been made by Mike Lyons, Ed Camacho, and Mayor Rilling to resolve the matter. That it hasn’t been resolved (as far as the public knows) is not the fault of these conscientious public servants.
    Ms. Mann wants to know who is working on behalf of Norwalk’s taxpayers, and I think Mayor Rilling, among others, is doing just that.

  10. Donald Trump

    Three months later, Mayor Rilling is still silent on the broad daylight shooting on busy North Main St a short distance from the aquarium filled with children on a nice summer day. Why didn’t he come out and say anything? At all?


    I’ll give the benefit of the doubt on the recent homicide since it has only been a few days, but it would be nice to hear something from this Mayor other than the possibility that Norwalk could turn into Ferguson.

    Reasonable adults, D, I, R, U, Green, Tea, Green Tea, whatever….can all agree that the Mayor is the leader of this city and this voice is silent when it comes to many important issues. Some that don’t have to be worked behind the scenes either. As much of a jerk as Moccia was, you can bet he would lead in this situation instead of hiding.

    You’re fired.

  11. John Hamlin

    Great letter. And great post by Mike Lyons above. If there’s evidence to support the charges of racism it’s long past time to produce it.

  12. piberman

    The beginning of this comment was deleted because of glaring inaccuracies we have repeatedly pointed out in past posts.

    … The appropriate resolution is to either file a claim in the state’s judicial system or request an investigation by City officials, e.g. the Mayor. The aggrieved parties haven’t filed a judicial claim. Nor have they requested a City investigation. That’s strange. One would think they would want speedy resolution. Ditto for City officials. These claims were cited as a causal factor in Dr. Rivera’s resignation. They obviously affect the new Supt. search. Clearly the BOE cannot investigate itself. Nor are the claims likely to be fully vetted with a chat with the Mayor. Either the claims are valid and require remediation or not. Seems no one wants to resolve the issue. Not the aggrieved parties, not Attorney Crossland, not Mayor Rilling. As long as these claims remain unresolved its unlikely the rest of the BOE will accept the aggrieved parties as effective BOE members. That perpetuates the divided BOE. Maybe that’s the ultimate goal. To maintain a divided BOE. Either the aggrieved parties move to seek resolution or the Mayor convenes a panel. Or nothing gets done. The smart monies are betting nothing gets done. The embarrassment just continues.
    Maybe the aggrieved parties are satisfied having made discrimination claims to show their discontent with their fellow BOE members. Here’s an opportunity for Mayor Rilling to demonstrate old fashioned “leadership’ and put this embarrassment to rest. That would be a win win for the City

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