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Rilling Shares Experience at Mayors' Conference at Harvard

A crash course for Mayor Rilling in Cambridge has him in company of 25 newly-elected mayors from 25 cities Norwalk's size or larger.

Patch file photo
Patch file photo
It's been just six days since Mayor Rilling was sworn into office, and he has jumped into his role by participating in a conference for new mayors at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Though Rilling is one of the only participating mayors who is already sworn in, all 25 participants were elected in cities of 70,000 or more.

"It's been very helpful, mainly with networking and contacts, Rilling said on a conference call with local media Thursday afternoon. "They've given us books and held panel discussions," he added, mentioning that he had shared the story of the discontinuation of Head Start in Norwalk and the steps involved in restoring that program.

According to Rilling, Nashville's former Mayor Nutter, the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Police Chief of Washington DC had attended Thursday's conference, as well as the former Mayor of the City of Miami. Rilling mentioned that he had met Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty.

Rilling listed topics covered at the conference including: transitioning from campaign to city hall, lessons learned from other mayors, the budgeting process, and the issue of declining property values and potential impacts to the grand list and tax base.

Rilling relayed  that Tuscaloosa, Alabama Mayor Walter Maddox had shared his role during a devastating tornado. 

"We also had a session on navigating traditional and social media – The Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and those kind of things," Rilling said.

The conference also covered trends including resurgence of the cities and how more than 50% of the US population now live in urban areas.  

"This afternoon we talked about views on politics of younger people, how they voted int he presidential election and the prior election," Rilling said, "...and how young people in the 18-29 year age group are becoming more likely to vote."

Also covered were challenges in public safety, dealing with police departments, expectations from police chiefs and what to do during an emergency. The last session of the day on Thursday, according to Rilling, was about dealing with public schools, tackling achievement rates, working with a schools superintendent and finding funding from alternate sources.

"I have taken copious notes," Rilling said, adding that Thursday night the group would visit the JFK library for a tour and a lecture from Daniel Senn, who was the director of the library and former staff assistant to President Kennedy.

Since there is no deputy mayor position in Norwalk, Rilling said he was intrigued by an idea presented at the conference of finding local ambassadors who can sub for him at events and the idea of reaching out to community colleges to create internships, though he said he had already been in touch with the president of NCC, Dr. David L. Levinson. 

Rilling said Somerville, MA, adjacent to Cambridge, had been used as an example of a city that had of attracted businesses and launched a discussion on the pros and cons of using tax incentives. 

Another topic of discussion had been obstacles to development.

"Streamlining the permitting process and obstacles such as zoning regulations," Rilling said. "Stamford is building up, and some of the other places around us are building up, but things seem to be stalled here in Norwalk."

Rilling said there had been discussion of the pros and cons of charter schools, elected boards of eduction and regional economic development plans, which, he said would entail collaborating with Bridgeport and Stamford.

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