A former top cop and a nationally recognized school superintendent have taken over the helms at Norwalk City Hall and the local public school district, leading the list of the Norwalk Citizen's top stories of 2013.
Following closely behind are the implosion of a South Norwalk social-services agency, a resurgence in local development, an altercation between Democratic Town Committee members -- "The Brawl at City Hall" -- and the arrest of a City Hall worker accused of taking funds from municipal coffers.
1. Rilling in, Moccia out
Eight years after beating Democratic Mayor Alex Knopp by 176 votes, Republican Mayor Richard Moccia was sent packing after four terms by Norwalk voters in favor of the Democratic candidate, former Police Chief Harry Rilling. Unlike that fist squeaker of an election for Moccia, there was no doubt of the outcome in the Nov. 5 election -- Rilling beat Moccia by 1,492 votes, a 54 to 45 percent margin.
Rilling, who ran on a platform of "civility" and making government more responsive to taxpayers, thanked voters for the "mandate," while Moccia said he lost because he hadn't gotten his message out effectively.
Two weeks later, Rilling was sworn in as Norwalk's top official by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
2. A heavy hitter for Norwalk schools
After a secretive nationwide search for a new school superintendent, the Board of Education on July 1 announced its selection of Manuel Rivera, Ph.D., as its replacement for former Superintendent Susan Marks, who resigned in 2012. The board thanked interim Superintendent Tony Daddona while lauding the virtues of Rivera, a Latino educator named National Superintendent of the Year in 2006 by the American Association of School Superintendents. Rivera had previously lived in Norwalk, and his children had attended Norwalk schools.
Since taking over, Rivera has reorganized top administrative posts, adding a communications director and converting the IT director position to chief for technology, innovation and partnerships.
3. NEON spirals downhill
The year started out with some optimism for Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, with an interim CEO and president appointed by the state Department of Social Services on board to right the ship after its former CEO and president was forced out in the wake of a federal audit that showed $400,000 in misspent money. The year is ending with NEON board members -- all of whom signed on since March with hopes of guiding the agency into the future -- considering bankruptcy for the nonprofit agency.
In between, there was much drama, including an exodus of six of the new board members in September and October following the appointment of Chiquita Stephenson as interim CEO and president in defiance of DSS wishes; a federal takeover of NEON's Head Start program in late October, and bounced employee paychecks in November. Stephenson was ousted in November, and the Rev. Tommie Jackson of Stamford, serving as a volunteer CEO and president, assisted in the reopening of Head Start by a Colorado company.
NEON employees, many of whom were laid off, have gotten some of the money owed to them, but some are complaining that paychecks are still falling short. Read Full Article
4. Missing money in the town clerk's office
Assistant Town Clerk Debbie Troy was first fired, and then arrested in an investigation spurred by Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, who said in March that "thousands of dollars" were missing from the office he took over from former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel in 2011.
Troy was charged with larceny first degree when she was arrested Oct. 30 by Norwalk Police, who accused her of stealing $3,000. The Stamford prosecutor's office has since added three additional charges: illegal alteration of records, forgery second degree and tampering with physical evidence. She is expected in court Jan. 2.
Troy has filed a grievance over the loss of her employment. An arbitration hearing scheduled in December was postponed, McQuaid said.
5. The Brawl at City Hall
No charges were filed but the news went nationwide: an 83-year-old man suffered a black eye in an altercation with Democratic Town Committee chairwoman in the City Hall parking lot over a political disagreement.
District E Chairman Bill Krummel accused DTC leader Amanda Brown of shoving his 82-year-old wife to the ground, as he explained what happened next: He slapped Brown, then Brown punched him in the eye, he said.
Brown's version differed. She said Krummel yelled derogatory slurs at her, while Regina Krummel fell to the ground after pushing her. The punch was in self-defense, she said.
The three had a Kumbaya moment the following Sunday, and while the blogs lit up and the story got some statewide and even national attention online, there was no further fallout.
6. Building boom
The highly visible construction of a massive development on West Avenue and one on a prominent corner of SoNo are just part of the story: Norwalk building permits are way up.
In March, Moccia announced that 134 permits had been issued, topping the 20-year average of 99 for the month. In December, the Board of Estimate and Taxation authorized a $20,000 special appropriation for the Code Enforcement Department, saying part-time help was needed to assist with an expected $750,000 in increased building permit activity. That was a conservative estimate, the board was told.
Officials are still holding out hope that two long-stalled developments in the Wall Street area -- POKO's Wall Street Place and M.F. DiScala Co.'s Head of the Harbor -- will get going sometime in the near future.
7. Four Dems duke it out
In an unprecedented development, four Democrats sought the party's nomination to run for mayor in the fall, forcing a primary. Republicans hoped the battle would weaken the Democratic effort to unseat incumbent Richard Moccia, but instead the Dems stayed on message, creating four times the volume in criticism of the incumbent.
Former Police Chief Harry Rilling won the primary with 51 percent of the vote, and went on to defeat Moccia in November. District D Party Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra finished second in the primary with 23.5 percent.
8. Common Core
Norwalk's public schools began the switch to Common Core State Standards in a year that saw positions added back to the school system after many employees were laid off in 2012. The add-backs were, in large part, made possible when the Finance Department found enough money left over from the 2012-13 budget to pay off the city for covering the Board of Education shortfall a year earlier.
9. Norwalk outsources
City Carting took over garbage pickup in Norwalk in a deal that also included a switch to single-stream recycling in July. There were a few hiccups -- Spring Hill residents cried foul in late May when their garbage was not picked up the day after Memorial Day, instead becoming quite fetid as the week wore on in 90-plus degree weather. The city adjusted its pickup schedule as a result.
10. BJ's Wholesale Club gives up
An application to build a 109,000-square-foot BJ's Wholesale Club on a Superfund cleanup site on Main Avenue drew opposition from Norwalk's Silvermine community, residents of the Rolling Ridge Condominiums and others. Though the application had then-Mayor Richard Moccia's backing, it was withdrawn the day before a scheduled public hearing in September.