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Norwich public forum on COVID relief money altered after mayor's criticism

Norwich — An online public forum Wednesday organized by City Council Democrats to hear ideas to spend the nearly $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars was strongly criticized by Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, who said it would constitute an illegal meeting by a council quorum.

The mayor voiced his complaint hours prior to the evening online forum, prompting Democratic Alderman Derell Wilson to alter the format. Wilson hosted the forum on his own, and the council's other three Democrats did not join the meeting.

But Nystrom and Republican Alderwoman Stacy Gould did join the forum and participated in the discussion, bringing council participation to three members, not a quorum.

Nystrom earlier Wednesday complained that the council Democrats never invited the three council Republicans, and failed to invite City Manager John Salomone, who has authority in how the city spends the ARP money.

Nystrom cited the city charter’s requirement for a 48-hour notice for a “special meeting” of the City Council and said he confirmed with the state FOI Commission on Wednesday that an online meeting hosted by a majority of the council is a special meeting and needed to be properly noticed.

Thomas Hennick, public information officer for the state FOI Commission, said in his opinion, if a majority of the council participated in a meeting that included discussion of council business, it should be posted as a special meeting.

At the close of the online forum, Nystrom offered to help schedule future public forums after the council's vote Tuesday on spending the first $9.7 million of the ARP funds.

Prior to the forum, Wilson said the council Democrats will post a notice of a planned second online forum at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, also on Zoom. He defended the effort, saying aldermen have an obligation to seek as much public input as possible for ideas on how to use the one-time federal windfall to the city.

During the forum itself, several residents urged the council to invest some of these one-time dollars into city youth, including creating a community center, opening schools for community use and supporting the many local nonprofit programs that have filled in the gaps for years.

“All these millions of dollars, we’re never going to see again,” said resident Cara-Lynn Turner, member of the popular Night Flight Basketball program.

Turner said the city needs to support programs such as Night Flight, youth football and other youth sports programs, as well as the Bully Busters anti-bullying coalition.

Deborah Kievits, founder and coordinator of Bully Busters, said the program has survived for the past 20 years with the help of local churches, the former YMCA and other local groups. Donations cover the costs of materials and expenses for a myriad of youth programs held over the years.

But Kievits said the city does need a youth center. She said Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops are meeting at a local VFW, which also have bars for their members. She said city officials have talked for years about opening the schools for youth, and said the city should just do it — without charging groups prohibitive amounts for janitorial services or security.

She said, “If you’re not going to invest in our youth this time, you never will.”

c.bessette@theday.com

If you go

Norwich residents can offer input in how the city should spend the nearly $30 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this weekend:

Saturday, Sept. 4, Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of Rose City United community chat with local police.

Sunday, Sept. 5, via Zoom, 2:30 to 4 p.m. Meeting ID: 886 2314 9514. Mobile number: 13017158592 (followed by the meeting ID).

Written comments can be submitted to Alderman Derell Wilson, dwilson@cityofnorwich.org">dwilson@cityofnorwich.org.

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