As Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch heads into her second term, she’s both concerned about the economy and optimistic about the city’s future.
“I had a lot to learn,” Lesch said about her first four years. “But I had really good people teaching me.”
Lesch was sworn into her second four-year term on New Year’s Day.
The mayor cited the city’s comprehensive plan that came after months of working to get the input of hundreds of people as the biggest accomplishment of her first term.
“It gave the community the chance to take part in city government,” she said. “It really began to guide the city even before the plan was finalized. It is something that charts the course for us for the years ahead.”
Lesch hopes one of the hallmarks of her administration is collaboration.
“We’ve worked hard to create an open administration and work collaboratively with others,” she said, including collaboration between city hall and city council and with county departments.
Even with the successes, Lesch’s first four years haven’t been without disappointment.
“My biggest challenge was the situation with Aldi’s,” she said.
The city wanted to use part of the parking lot owned by the food chain for an extension to Cline Street and the possibility of the city’s forcing the issue by taking the property by eminent domain was raised.
“In the end, it all worked out,” Lesch said. “Progress happened, but it wasn’t the easiest thing.”
Work on cleaning up the old Norwalk Foundry has also gone slower than the mayor hoped.
“We’ve made some significant progress,” she said.
Hopefully, Lesch added, foreclosure proceedings now in process and the work of both a state and a federal grant to clean up the property, will make it attractive to a buyer in the next year.
“The new buyers won’t have unknown liability,” Lesch said.
Other government mandates have challenged Lesch in her first term. She said $15 million dollar requirements for water treatment and combined sewer overflow systems have not been easy to handle. The city is now completing $8 million of mandated improvements to the water treatment plan and will now work on other Environmental Protection Agency mandates.
In the plus column, Lesch said, is the work by Norwalk Finance Director Diane Eschen.
“Because of her good management, we’ve been able to get some really exceptional loans through the state,” Lesch said.
Another bonus for Lesch is the people working on economic development for the area.
“The biggest challenge for my next term is concerns about economic development — what’s our economy going to look like in 10 years?” she asked. “We’ve been hit so much with the loss of automotive jobs. We have to be creative to attract new businesses. We have to do our part to ‘incentivize’ a new economy.
“There are exciting possibilities out there , but its going to take work,” she added.
“What we have is a good collaborative of folks working together,” Lesch said, calling Norwalk Economic Development Director Bethany Dentler “one of the best folks in the state understanding economic development.”
“We do have a diverse group working on it and they all represent their own interests, but its also important that we work collaboratively and we work together,” Lesch said.
The mayor’s New Year wish for all of her constituents: “jobs like we used to have that a family could live on and that afforded benefits.”
Her pledge to residents: “The cost of living hasn’t gone down, but many families don’t have benefits and have lower wages. We have to fight to make sure they (employers) are looking at Norwalk when they’re looking for a place to come.”
City council will hold an organizational meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Norwalk Municipal Court.