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Norwalk Council Debates, Then Delays Action on Schools, Road

NORWALK, Conn. – Rain was a repeated theme at a prolonged Norwalk Common Council meeting Tuesday night during a feisty and sometimes heated debate on the dire straits faced by Norwalk's Board of Education.

Comments about the Rainy Day Fund came from residents and council members who urged the city to find more money for the schools in the contentious meeting held in Concert Hall to accommodate the larger than usual crowd of at least 200 people.

Two resolutions sponsored by three Democrats were discussed. One proposed giving the Board of Education four years to repay the $4 million needed to cover a budget shortfall. The other was to do a "test and learn" on the proposal to turn Calf Pasture Beach Road into one lane in each direction.

After four hours of public hearing and discussions, there were no answers. Both proposals were sent to other committees.

Those who stayed past midnight watching a debate that Democratic Councilman Bruce Kimmel said he was ashamed of said it had been worth it.

"For me, it's almost about the theater of having them know they're watched," said Debra Goldstein, who was aware that both resolutions were nonbinding as she sat in Concert Hall.

Council President Carvin Hilliard, a Democrat who did not sponsor either resolution, urged members to table the school board proposal so the council's finance committee, which he chairs, could study it Thursday night. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton is out of town and is expected back Wednesday, he said, and needs to weigh in on whether the city could come up with the money.

The resolution on Calf Pasture Beach Road was tabled in a 9-6 vote.

Republican Doug Hempstead said he resented the resolutions because they were inspired by partisan politics. He said only Norwalk's Traffic Authority has the power to alter city streets, not the council. That prompted Warren Peña, one of the sponsors of the resolution, to say it was frustrating that an appointed board had more power than representatives elected by the public.

Mayor Richard Moccia said he is on the authority and is an elected official. According to the city's website, the other members are Democrat Daniel O'Connor and Republican Peter Torrano, both appointed by Moccia.

Moccia assured council members that the traffic authority would take up the Beach Road proposal.

The mayor was targeted for criticism by some of his Democratic rivals. Peña questioned Moccia's leadership of the city and made comparisons to the recent scandal revolving around Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON). Democrat David Watts got into the political tussle, at one point saying Moccia needed "lessons on how to run the city."

"I'm used to it. You have to have a thick skin," Moccia said. "I was basically criticized. That’s fine. But let’s move beyond that. Let’s put away all the old names. I’ll take responsibility."

Correction made, 10:36 a.m.

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