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Letter: Yes, Norwalk Public Deserves Civility

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be e-mailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

Thank you Zoning Commissioner Michael Mushak for coming to my defense following the July 12 Zoning Committee meeting, and again in your letter to the editor recounting Commission Chairman Joseph Santo's uncalled for and humiliating treatment of me during that meeting.

Perhaps more disturbing than Commissioner Santo's bizarre behavior (actually ordering me to "sit down" as I rose to view blueprints – indeed a common practice, even when meetings were held in the tiny P&Z conference room) is the fact that this behavior is becoming more common at Norwalk City Hall, even so far as to have some residents recently hold forums about civility. I've witnessed residents being mocked by appointed and elected officials, others challenged as to their credentials, and still others too intimidated to even speak. And by now, people are aware of the Police Commission meeting where Commissioner Peter Torrano, upon my question as to the wording of an executive session vote, actually shouted at me and started ruling against my point before I could even complete the sentence!

It's sad to learn now that many of these "offenders" who continuously get reappointed actually have long histories of disrespect, and worse, disregard, for their colleagues and the public. If even a fraction of the stories related to me this past week are true, it's incredulous to think these folks get reappointed. And while I'm certain there's some extent of political bickering on all commissions, for years now zoning seems to have more than their share of mean-spirited bullies who publicly ridicule their colleagues, use inappropriate and immature body language, and, yes, even shout down any one who dares to disagree with them or seeks to engage in productive discussion. I often remark on how shocked residents would be if they could see tapes of some of these meetings (note to self: buy a video camera).

The "episode" at zoning this month was bizarre to say the least, and by the looks on their faces, I think shocking to everyone in that room. And though certainly humiliating to be addressed in this manner by a committee chairman, today I'm mostly embarrassed for Commissioner Santo, who only really made a spectacle of himself by bullying me to take my seat. If he felt strongly that the public no longer have access to materials during meetings, he certainly could have made that clear to me before the meeting started, or discussed it with me afterwards, in private. In fact, Mr. Santo knows I was among a group of residents who begged for years to have the zoning meetings moved to that larger room, not merely for commissioner and staff comfort, but expressly for the viewing purpose of audience members – after all, these applicant presentations are the only time residents can see and hear the full details with the benefit of the applicant there prior to any public hearing. It is extremely helpful (and important) for stakeholders to be able to see the material as it's presented and discussed, especially when items are being pointed out specifically on the prints, rather than at the counter in the zoning office before or after the fact.

Though mortified that evening, I'll certainly get over the rude behavior of Commissioner Santo – no worries there. But there was a very nice resident there appearing before the zoning committee (apparently for the first time) whom I shared the elevator ride with, and laughed together because she thought I was a commissioner as I knew exactly what the meeting was called and where the meeting room was. I wonder now what she must think after seeing how appointed officials are allowed to treat taxpayers here.

I agree with The Hour's recent editorial calling for civility and respect at public meetings, and I also agree with Commissioner Mushak's request to Commissioner Santo to apologize – even if only to his fellow commissioners and to members of the public who were present.

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