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Discord Marks Opening Meeting of Norwalk Council

NORWALK, Conn. – The first meeting of the new Common Council was anything but conciliatory Tuesday night. After less than 10 minutes, it turned into a debate about education in Norwalk, and, 20 minutes later, a new member called Mayor Richard Moccia arrogant.

The agenda included confirming three appointments to the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Democrats, who now hold an 8-7 majority, said they had asked Moccia to postpone the vote on the appointments for two weeks. Moccia had nominated Democrats James Clark and Leo Mellow and Republican James Feigenbaum, incumbent board members whose terms had expired. But Democrat Mathew Miklave objected, saying the BET has crippled the Board of Education by not funding the schools properly. He spoke for three minutes, explaining that there was no need to rush and that perhaps there are more qualified candidates.

Miklave, who served on the council from 2001 to 2007 and was council president from 2002 to 2003, said the BET had cut the school board's budget every year. But Republican Nick Kydes, former chairman of the finance committee refuted that. "We have never cut the Board of Education budget," he said. "We have just cut the amount of increase that we gave the Board of Education. ... Money does not equate to increasing scores for the children. Money does not equate to buying higher grades." He said the BET has a responsibility to all taxpayers and must fund the entire city budget.

Democrat Bruce Kimmel said, "I understand the difference between cutting the request and cutting the actual budget. But if you cut requests year after year after year, you find yourself in a corner. I think we cut the requests year after year after year in the last decade. And by the turn of the century we found ourselves in a very, very difficult and costly situation." He also questioned Clark's nomination, saying he has an extensive background in the arts but not in finance.

Moccia said the council is entitled to review the resumes of nominees but said he makes the nominations. "It is ultimately the mayor's decision," he said.

Democrat Warren Pena made the motion to table the vote until the next meeting. The motion required a two-thirds majority to pass. Republicans voted against the motion, and Democrat Carvin Hilliard voted with them. It failed.

Mellow and Feigenbaum were voted back onto the BET as Hilliard voted with the Republicans. The other Democrats voted against Feigenbaum.

Clark needed 10 votes to be confirmed because he has served for three terms. "He may not be there, but I am going to keep his name up for nomination," Moccia said.

"It's obvious that Mr. Clark needs 10 votes," said Democrat David Watts. "He's not going to get that tonight and that's not fair to Mr. Clark. I thought we would have an opportunity to look into the appointments. We haven't had the opportunity to do that. The mayor understands that. Tonight we went to him and asked him to consider postponing these appointments for two weeks to give us an opportunity to review this. The mayor is arrogant. ... We could have worked this out if he gave us two weeks to review this."

"It is not with arrogance," replied Moccia. "It is with confidence in the city charter, which says the mayor makes the appointments and you have a choice."

Democrat Anna Duleep also expressed disappointment that Moccia did not postpone the vote. She felt compelled to vote against Clark, a longtime friend.

Hilliard and Democrat Michael Geake voted with the Republicans, but Clark fell one vote short. He will serve at the pleasure of the mayor until a new member is appointed.

"We seem to have gotten off to a rocky start, but hopefully we've gotten through the rocky start," Moccia said, adding that he would take suggestions for appointments and consider them. "They are mayor's appointments ... and also I have to tell you quite honestly that I thought the comments about Jim Clark's background were totally inappropriate and not necessary. No one is better than anybody else, and anybody can serve on any board."

Under Council rules, because Mellow has served part of a term, he also needed 10 votes for reappointment. Moccia said the nomination will be resubmitted at the next meeting, Dec. 16.

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