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Letter: Nastiness Drives Out Norwalk Leaders

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk.DailyVoice.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

I don't blame any department head or city employee from leaving Norwalk for calmer, more civil pastures. I have been involved in city politics since 1997, when I was first elected to the Common Council, and based on what I've heard and read, it's fair to say that nastiness has replaced civility in much of our public discourse.

Just the other night, a council member publicly accused his colleagues of being involved in a "pay to play" scheme, clearly implying we were corrupt, bribe-takers, etc. What follows are some typical examples of what's been going on in our city; examples of what should not happen during serious discussions of serious issues.

High ranking school officials have a variety of avenues to express their opinions. But in Norwalk it is apparently acceptable for school principals to attend public meetings in order to harshly criticize individuals or agencies on issues that pertain to their own school. It's a little disconcerting to watch a city employee, such as a principal, heaving verbal hand grenades at the superintendent or the mayor in front of a large audience of residents.

And because of the intemperate nature of these remarks, which are often closer to tirades, they invariably make their way into the media. While I respect First Amendment rights, members of the Common Council, the BOE, and the Board of Estimate have feelings and views that need to be respected, and our city has an image that needs to be preserved.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, those remarks can have a chilling effect on parents. School officials, especially principals, need to appreciate the diverse opinions among parents. Principals need to be mindful of the tremendous power they wield; a power that might make it difficult for some parents to speak their minds at public meetings.

This year's Common Council has also been the scene of questionable behavior. I have repeatedly listened to council members hurl insults at the mayor. These uncalled-for and often gratuitous remarks not only insult the position of mayor, they are an insult to the people who voted for Mayor Moccia last November. I've watched the expressions on residents who attend council meetings; it's obvious that they, too, are in disbelief at what's going on in front of them.

I have even seen council members take loud and aggressive exception when the mayor calls for a recess to calm things down. As every council member knows, the mayor presides at meetings and has every right to call for a recess. Why anyone would question his right to do so boggles the imagination.

In past years, council members respected each other's views, however much we may have disagreed. That's changed. I was called a liar at one meeting because another member disagreed with my vote on the operating budget. Even department heads have been attacked. A council member accused two department heads of being associated with organized crime simply because he disagreed with their recommendation on a new contract for sanitation workers.

Also, council members are continually impugning the motives of their colleagues. For instance, a common response to something being tabled and sent back to committee is that "the fix is in," instead of accepting the view that the item needs to be examined further. I've even heard members call public hearings and committee meetings "shams" because they did not believe the outcomes would be to their liking.

Another example of uncivil behavior, this time by the chair of the Zoning Commission, made its way into the media recently. According The Hour (July 14), the chair took very strong exception to a decision made by one of the commission's subcommittees – it had to do with the regulation that requires a second story on all new construction in certain parts of the city.

Instead of expressing his disagreement in a civil manner, the chair of the commission said those commissioners who disagreed with him had endorsed "all that feel-good stuff, tree-hugging stuff." Second story zoning restrictions are a serious and somewhat controversial issue, and all points of view should be respected. I bet more than a few Norwalk residents were shocked when they read those remarks in the press.

Norwalk is not immune to the rampant incivility that pervades public discourse at all levels of government. We need to calm down and clean up our language. Lots of people already have little regard for elected officials and don't bother to vote. If we don't change, that number is likely to increase.

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