NORWALK, Conn. – A resolution aimed at supporting a free press – that also called into question what some believe is a conflict of interest between Mayor Richard Moccia and Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan – failed Tuesday night to pass the Norwalk Common Council following an emotional discussion on the role of the press and the differences between public and private speech.
Democratic council members David Watts and Anna Duleep co-sponsored the lengthy resolution, which ultimately was defeated when fellow Democrats Bruce Kimmel and Carvin Hilliard joined the majority Republicans against it.
Both Moccia and Maslan, the subjects of the resolution, removed themselves from the council chambers before the vote.
“Since this motion is basically about me, I will not sit here and try to moderate this,” Moccia said, adding “I don’t believe I did anything wrong.”
At issue is the ongoing case involving a former reporter for The Norwalk Daily Voice , Nancy Guenther Chapman, who said she accidentally recorded a conversation at a council meeting in June of last year among Moccia, Norwalk teachers union president Bruce Mellion and Norwalk school administrators union president Tony Ditrio.
Moccia believes the conversation, which took place during a recess, was private and he filed a criminal complaint regarding the matter that the state police are investigating. Chapman is facing the possibility of arrest for violating state laws that prohibit eavesdropping.
The Watts/Duleep resolution called for Moccia and Maslan to be investigated for possible conflict of interest because Maslan is Moccia’s personal attorney in addition to being the city's attorney.
Watts said the resolution has nothing to do with politics, as Republicans contend.
“I’ve heard that I’m some sort of Democratic boogeyman, out to destroy the Republic Party,” Watts said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Watts said the issue was with what he believes was an attempt by Moccia to silence the press, a move that makes Norwalk look bad.
“We shouldn’t arrest a journalist for trying to do a story,” Watts said.
M. Jeffry Spahr, deputy corporation counsel who made a point to say he was speaking as a Norwalk resident and not associated with his job title, said he has never seen “a higher level of rancor” than what currently exists on the council. He urged the members to try to get along better in the future, stressing he does not want to see “Pennsylvania Avenue come to East Avenue.”
“I’m asking that you all play well in the sandbox,” Spahr said. “The sandbox is ours and we pay for that sand.”