Norwalk BoE approves legal settlement

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Lyons, at Tuesday’s meeting in City Hall.

Correction, 11:15 a.m.: Mike Lyons was not involved in the discussion of the legal settlement, he said. 

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to settle a lawsuit.

Although the Board did not specify what lawsuit, there’s ample reason to believe that they plan to settle the lawsuit filed by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore against former BoE Chairman Mike Lyons.

Chairman Mike Barbis did not deny that the Board was settling the Fensore lawsuit. “We are settling a legal case and I think you know what it is,” he said.

He did not say what the settlement would be but said it would cost less money than going to court.

It’s been rumored that the Board was going to vote on a settlement with Fensore, who accused Lyons of defamation of character. The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting called for an executive session as the last order of business to address “personnel matters and litigation.”

A vote was not specified on the agenda. The Board voted to suspend the rules to allow for a vote, in conformance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The Board’s executive session lasted  more than 40 minutes, behind closed doors.

Lyons was not present for the vote.

The case is scheduled for a pretrial conference Tuesday. Settling will cost Norwalk “A little bit of money,” Barbis said.

Fensore’s lawyers suggested the settlement, Barbis said, indicating that it’s a done deal. There are no conditions, he said.

Again, the settlement is less than going to trial, according to Barbis. Asked how much a trial would cost, Barbis said, “We were given a range of numbers. We were told a minimum of $150,000, maybe as much as $250,000.”

“If we went to trial we would still be out that money,” Barbis said.

Fensore left Norwalk Public Schools on June 30, 2015. In August 2015, Lyons emailed Fensore’s new employers to allege that she left NPS with “undisclosed liabilities in our SPED department of between $1 million and $2 million upon her departure,” and say, “I suggest that you monitor SPED expenditures very carefully to make sure something like this doesn’t happen to you.”

Barbis urged Lyons to send the email, court documents show.

Lyons also left multiple comments online assigning Fensore the blame for Special Education cost overruns, referring in one case to the “stunning extent to which almost everything we had been told had been untrue.”

Lyons was sued as a private citizen and has been defended at the Board’s expense by Shipman & Goodwin, the firm hired by the Board.

Legal bills in the case had amounted to more than $160,000 in mid-October, NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said at the time.

Fensore vs Lyons 16-0519


Tony P December 6, 2017 at 7:00 am

Sweet – so, $150k (min) settlement, + $160k legal fees. Wonder how many aides/teachers/instructional staff that would buy.

I expect to see the same outrage at the foolish taxpayer expenditure that I saw directed at Mosby.

WatchingClosely December 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

Two FACTS stated in the article should stand out to all of us.
1. The Board discussed the settlement for more than 40 minutes, behind closed doors. Toward the end of the discussion, Lyon’s raised voice could be heard through the door.

2. Barbis urged Lyons to send the email, court documents show.
Secondly our new chairman is just as deeply involved in this as the old. Mr. Barbis urged the emails to be sent… Do these two have any common sense? As a taxpayer I hope Mr. Lyons reaches into his pocket and ponies up some money to defray the cost of this settlement and legal bills. This is the same man who blasted the Mosby family repeatedly. He even went as far as to attack the NAACP when the honor Mr. Mosby. He cited the expense of all his lawsuits, while his (Lyons) now costs the BOE and city potentially $300,000.

In closing the bloom is off the rose for Mr. Lyons and Mr. Barbis. This is clear proof that they allow egos and scoreboards to influence thier decision making.

Mike Lyons December 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

I was not present for the discussion of the settlement in the executive session. I left the session at 9:56 when the personnel matters discussion ended and before the lawsuit discussion commenced.

Rem December 6, 2017 at 8:30 am

Am I to understand correctly that Ms. Fensore sued for more than $15,000 and the City of Norwalk (us) now need to pay $160,000 for legal fees to defend Mike Lyons in a private lawsuit? Did this really need to come to this? Mike Lyons should resign — after all, no matter if he was in the right or wrong for the initial suit, he was entirely in the wrong to use taxpayer funds to defend himself privately!

I would urge that the NPS submit a letter to all taxpayers of Norwalk about how they learned from this mistake, what steps they will take to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and how they will pursue communication channels to really really push for arbitration instead of litigation.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 9:21 am

The suit against Lyons was brought by Fensore. Until the BOE confirms that this is the case they voted on to settle, it’s premature to make demands for resignations.

In light of the particulars of this case, however, I applaud Lyons for having the courage to speak.

Speaking out about a former employee’s costly incompetence, even at one’s peril, might save the next employer from making an expensive mistak—one with the potential to hurt children and schools.

MarjorieM December 6, 2017 at 9:41 am

Donna S, you are accusing Christie Fensore of costly incompetence. Do you understand that this was the basis for the Christie Fensore vs Mike Lyons case? Perhaps she should sue you next for libel.

Mike Lyons needs to go. His e-mails prove that.

Concerned December 6, 2017 at 10:27 am

I completely agree with Tony P., and what an absolute embarrassment for Norwalk. Why Lyons isn’t personally responsible for any portion of this is disgusting. He should be held accountable for his actions and he should have to pay back the town of Norwalk.

Don’t put anything in writing you don’t want to bite you in the a$$ later on, common sense. Yet Norwalk pays the price for the foolish words of one individual.


Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 10:32 am

Marjorie M, a meaningful comparison is not a defamation case. And the right to free speech should not be limited by those who don’t want the word to get out on their incompetence. Fensore would not have won this case. The settlement offer, if it is for the Fensore case, is pocket change compared to what Mayor Rilling will cost us over the Firetree mistakes that began in the Mayor’s office.

I did not put Christie Fensor and “costly incompetence” in the same sentence, Marjorie M. You did. Perhaps she should sue you next. Sue everybody.

@Nancy, that’s a nice visual of you trying to hear what Mike Lyons was saying through a closed door during executive session. Isn’t the door closed for a reason?

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 10:51 am

@Nancy, I withdraw the above comment. Reading through the other comments, I see that Mr. Lyons was not in the room when you thought you heard him raising his voice through the door. Can you update the article with a correction pointing this out? You may have heard someone’s raised voice. But it was not Lyons’s voice you thought you heard when you were trying to eavesdrop on an executive session.

Tony Ditrio December 6, 2017 at 10:57 am

Donna, I guess the truth hurts and in this case is also very costly. I will give you credit for being a loyal defender no matter what the reality is. You have no problem making mean and undocumented statements about those who dare to disagree with you. I am sure there is a place for a loyalist like you in Alabama right now. No matter what the facts say you still not only support Mr. Lyons, you take everything he says as the absolute truth. One would think his own testimony in the Fensore case would wake you from your Lyons adoring stupor. You rail about incompetent administrators costing the taxpayers and at the same time defend someone who will probably cost the taxpayers about $300,000. Mr. Lyons is a lawyer who should have known better and we are paying the price for his own mistakes. The corporation council should never have agreed to paying his expenses. Someone should look at that decision. I am sure that you will write another well crafted response that will not address the real facts but rather attacks individuals and endorses your alternative facts.

Nancy Chapman December 6, 2017 at 11:13 am

Donna, I have spent a lot of time in City Hall, I know who I heard. My mistake was to assume Mike Lyons’ raised voice concerned the legal settlement. The settlement was voted on just after 10 p.m.; he says he left at 9:56 p.m.

I would have posted a correction in response to his comment, as I always post a correction when it’s pointed out that I have made an error. Your “wise” comment is overkill.

Further, I was not trying to eavesdrop. I was sitting at a table near the door, working. I heard him quite clearly. I believe he said, “I did come to you.”

There are two doors to the Council chambers. Obviously, he left through the other one.

Erik Anderson December 6, 2017 at 11:33 am

I would like to confirm Mike Lyons post is correct. Mr. Lyons was present at the executive session while the board discussed personnel matters. He left the session at the time he referenced. I find it troubling that this reporter saw it fit to publish unsubstansiated assumptions about Mr. Lyons’ presence. The reporter was not in the room during the executive session and this reporting appears to be an attempt to eavesdrop on a non-public session of the board.

Brenda Wilcox Williams December 6, 2017 at 11:50 am

Under statute, executive sessions are intended for discussions that are necessarily confidential — personnel matters, litigation, student records, etc. Nancy, speculating on a closed session and reporting on something heard at the door is disappointing. “Shining a light” should be held to a higher standard than Page Six-style journalism.

Lisa Brinton Thomson December 6, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Tony D. “…loyalists like you in Alabama.” Really, you’re better than that! You know NPS was the poster child for a district on auto-pilot due to its revolving door of superintendents costing taxpayers MILLIONS because of mismanagement and the constant plotting and scheming by both administrative staff and union leadership. For over five years, while sitting on the District Management Team, I witnessed it first hand. ABC’s American Housewife has nothing on those dysfunctional and lost years.

I applaud Mike Lyons’ effort to bring accountability to staff, supported by a superintendent not intimidated by Norwalk’s punchy reputation. Things have drastically improved and law and order is being restored under Adamowski’s leadership, supported by a reform minded BOE that Lyon’s chaired. Personally, I wish the case had gone to court, however settling was likely much cheaper for the taxpayer, but we’ll never know what the final verdict would’ve been. At the end of the day, Ms. Fensore’s law firm will likely see as much or more money than she does, particularly if the lawsuit was contingency fee based. Unfortunately, in this town, it just opens the door up for more frivolous lawsuits.

Nancy Chapman December 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Brenda – Again, I heard raised voices when I was perhaps 15 feet away from the door. I did not speculate, I assumed. While that’s fair criticism – although I recall a local news report that included a mention of hearing things during an executive session, I do aspire to follow a higher ethic – I think mentioning raised voices is acceptable.

My mistake was to forget that there was more than one topic being discussed. Again, I apologize.

I have seen a local reporter stand at a door during an executive session, at length, attempting to hear the conversation. I did not do that.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 12:48 pm

@Tony D., The truth in the Fensore matter has been documented in court records. This was a frivolous lawsuit and an attempt to impinge upon individual rights to free speech, in this case Mike Lyons.

In The words of the court, the Fensore complaint was frivolous and was aimed at “stripping a public official of First Amendment protection.” The court went on to say that the case was an attempt to “hobble discourse on matter of public concern, threaten free and robust debate, interfere with dialogue on matters of public interest and pose a risk of self censorship [that] deprive the public of information it needs about public education.” This is all in the publicly available court record Mr. D. The settlement is not an admission of culpability. It is a recognition that the costs of winning were greater than the costs of settling.

Your assessment of corporation counsel’s duty here is similarly misguided. These obligations are a matter of the Connecticut general statues and the code of the city of Norwalk. After 47 years on the City’s dime, you might have taken a moment to look at the code.

As far as this case goes, most of those who are calling for Lyons to step down or for Barbis to step down are doing so anonymously. The few who aren’t anonymous seem to have been led astray on the facts by the union and other political operatives who would not only like to control the conversation but also control the BOE and its business. One additional goal would be to deter dedicated public servants from seeking office on the board.

I’m glad you have enjoyed my comments Mr. D. If they didn’t sting, I wouldn’t know they were working.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 1:33 pm

The items in quotes are from court record Nancy. Frivolous was my conclusion based on everything else that was said about the way in which this suit sought to silence, impede free speech and prevent the public from being aware of issues that impact education.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 1:43 pm

@Nancy if my “wise” comment was overkill above, why did you have to correct the record on your alleged overheating of Mike Lyons behind the closed door during executive session? Are some commenters now more equal than others?

John Levin December 6, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Nancy, thanks for reporting on this, and for providing a forum for our neighbors to share their thoughts. Obviously, we won’t always agree with each other, and many questions remain unanswered. Sigh.

Nancy Chapman December 6, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Donna, again, please provide documentation that these comments came from the court. I don’t believe I’d read such comments from the court. If the court felt that way, I wonder why the court case continued.

Reese December 6, 2017 at 2:07 pm

While I don’t necessarily agree with the tone of Mike Lyons email communications, I still would support him 100% as a Board member. Resign? Seriously?

The past 3-5 years have seen real progress in the Public Schools.
This is due to the work of board members like Mike Lyons and Mike Barbis.

This situation sends a message to other employees of NPS that may try to defer responsibilities while they hunt for work elsewhere. Norwalk will call you out!

Mike Lyons December 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Nancy, let me help. Here is the link to the court’s decision to strike two of the four counts of Ms. Fensore’s complaint (our motion to throw out the last two counts was pending at the time of settlement) – http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/DocumentInquiry/DocumentInquiry.aspx?DocumentNo=11662126. This is the same site from which you have been mining emails.

Here’s the full quote of the conclusion of the judge’s decision (partially quoted above by Donna):

“[Lyons] was the Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education speaking about matters of community interest, cost overruns in the special education budget and the conduct of public employees he asserted had misled the board. The speech at issue is not about “purely private matters”. Also the speaker is a public official charged with keeping the public informed about matters entrusted him by reason of his position. This is not a situation where “[t]here is no threat to the free and robust debate of public issues; there is no potential interference with a meaningful dialogue of ideas; and the threat of liability does not pose the risk of a reaction of self-censorship on matters of public import….” Snyder, 562 U.S. at 452-53. To the contrary, stripping a public official of First Amendment protection under the circumstances alleged would hobble discourse on matters of public concern, threaten free and robust debate, interfere with dialogue on matters of public interest and pose a risk of self-censorship and would deprive the public of information it needs about public education. As the United States Supreme Court declared in Snyder, 562 U.S. at 451-52: “[S]peech on ‘matters of public concern’ … is ‘at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection.’ … The First Amendment reflects ‘a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’ … That is because ‘speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.’ Accordingly, ‘speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.'”

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 6, 2017 at 2:28 pm

@Nancy, is there a reason my comments put you so clearly on the defensive?

Do you need me to post the links as well or are Mr. Lyons’ links sufficient? When I post links, my comments are moderated. Then again lately when I post anything my comments are moderated.

At some point the decision to moderate—if it is attached to a desire to suppress certain voices and opinions—jeopardizes NoN’s status as a 501c3. I’d like to know before the close of the year whether or not my donations are still tax deductible.

@John Levin, the public appreciates the forum for robust dialogue. We do not appreciate unequal application or the rules for public comment. And I don’t think there should be a need to continually massage a professional journalist in the exercise of her craft. We do that when we support the fundraising efforts.

Nancy Chapman December 6, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Donna, I have explained to you repeatedly that you are not moderated. The website has a glitch. Yesterday, your clever “12 days of Christmas” lyrics went into spam, and I rescued it this morning. Sometimes your comments go into moderation. I do not know why, the website is not set to do that.

Your comment today about my work was insulting and erroneous. You assumed and speculated, and you were wrong. I am not feeling defensive, I am offended and appalled.

Your comment about “the court” calling the lawsuit frivolous caught my ear as I wondered if I’d missed a news story. I remind you, the comments policy prohibits “Continual posting of erroneous information.”

Nora K King December 6, 2017 at 3:10 pm

This is crazy discussion. We should be thanking Mike Lyons and the Superintendent for cleaning the BOE up. Why are city employees and educators not treated like anyone else. CT is a work at will state. If you are doing your job – it should be this hard to fire someone.

Education101 December 6, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Placating BOE groupies on social media is sure paying dividends – just sad some can’t see through the facts and distasteful that some would resort to making insulting remarks to professionals to further their cause.

John S December 6, 2017 at 4:13 pm

@Education101 – We should go back to the days when no one paid attention and the Special Education department just signed off on everything and had pizza parties. There only job was simply passing the dollar figure on to the powers at be. In this case, they couldn’t even do that right.

And folks wonder why Special Ed was in such disrepair.

Jason Waldren December 6, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Well, Mike is an attorney did we pay friends of his, did the money circulate and end up in the pockets of friends. We have more important issues like all the cuts that hurt the kids of Norwalk day after day due to issues like Lyons defense. I don’t have a child who receives special education services but I ask you when was the last time the department was in a good place? I do have a nephew who is 20 and my sister in law had to sell her beautiful House and buy a shoe box in New Canaan so her child received proper services. There are many money issues and scandals involving money in Norwalk’s BOE and many employees who should not work with children. Sad state of affairs for this great town. We are currently looking to leave as well. How many employees have been in the news paper lately: principals, teachers, assistant to the super? Our own Harvey Weinstein’s! Who votes and approved the BOE should and would pick up Lyons tab ?

Tysen Canevari December 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Well said Jason! Its a shame that all this garbage only ends up taking from the kids. There is no accountability in Norwalk Board of Ed. I think you might have to retreat back to Dr. Briggs in the old days to find someone that led by example. All they do is cut programs in this town for the children. We teach classes in Spanish for goodness sake! Really? I pay for my 4 kids to go to private school because it is frustrating that the town we love has fouled up the school system so bad. I hear everyday of friends that say they will move back once their youngest finishes high school. Isn’t that sad!

Speechless Sped Parent December 6, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Donna…. {…} There must be something better to do with your time than to berate and harrass anyone and everyone. {…} Please find a new hobby. {…}
Edited to remove insults, in conformance with the comments policy.

Concerned December 7, 2017 at 8:32 am

Nora King, why should we thank Mike Lyons? This unprofessional personal vendetta he was foolish enough to put in writing is COSTING us money. Not him. US. Our children. I don’t know about you, but if I made a mistake that cost my company that much money I’d be out of a job immediately.

Reading these comments is so frustrating. You want to tear down Nancy’s reporting and discuss if Mike is good or not at his job. At the end of the day this stunt of him cost us MONEY. Actual dollars and cents. Where is the outrage over that? Even if you think Mike is doing a bang up job, how do you justify the fact that he just cost us over $300,000. Are you all so petty that you can’t see what that money could do for our school system?

Direct your frustration at Mike because this is all his doing. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things and he did this the wrong way and we pay the price.

Jerri Drazkiewicz December 7, 2017 at 11:43 am

If a person working for a private firm offered this kind of “advice” to a former employee’s new employer, the company they represented would be “at risk” for burden of proof; that is why in the corporate world, requests for review MUST come from the new employer to a “recognized” representative of that company. And that representative has the right to not offer any feedback. Lyons should know this, he worked for Covindian, and is an attorney if I am not mistaken; it was a stupid thing to do.

Bryan Meek December 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm

@Jerri. You have the private sector confused for the public trust. Connecticut towns and cities share $2 billion in education funding and if one of us is hurt, it hurts all of us. The plaintiff here settled for less than 3% of the original ask. You can sue anyone for anything in this lousy state and there is an industry that feeds off of it. Fact is it would have cost more to win the court case so it was decided to save money.

@Tysen. I’m working on it, brother. We have controls in place now so that money can’t go out the door like it used to in the past without proper authorizations. There’s work to do still, but things are trending better.

Mike Lyons December 7, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Concerned, according to the Court I didn’t do anything the wrong way. Read the court documents linked above (if you have any actual concern for the truth).

Concerned December 7, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Brian Meek, you again speak in percentages but let’s talk in dollars and cents. $300,000.00
That money could go so far for our children. Time and time again you speak of percentages but it’s REAL money, not monopoly money, that is being taken away from our children. Certain things are beyond our control, such as a leaky school roof that has to be fixed (for example), but this was well within our control and cost us money. More money.

How many aides could that hire? What about chromebooks? Upgraded electrical? Blinds for windows that don’t get any shade and obstruct a student’s view of the smartboard, equipment for gym, lunch tables that work, books for the classroom, desks for the classroom, sand for playgrounds, install basketball nets, install parking lot lights for teachers and parents that have to come and go at night, do you want me to go on?

I don’t think we saved any money. I think Lyons wasted OUR money for his unprofessional actions. Let’s hold him accountable and stop punishing the children for the mistakes of the adults. And this was a mistake, a $300,000 mistake. I don’t know about you, but that’s alot of money to me.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

I would admire it too if I saw it with some frequency and delivered sincerely without the defensive posture and the unfounded accusations. I can understand the frustrations of NPS parents who read half the story and take away from the blog that the BOE and those who defend them are meanies who should leave town, get a life, etc.

The level of animus is fed by the content of the story. I don’t care if people feel the need to insult me because I defend the board or because I’d like to hold a 501c3 news source to a higher standard than click bait headlines suggest. But stirring the pot for clicks and calling it News—that upsets me. And infantilizing grown ups is gag inducing.

Jason Waldren December 7, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Thanks Tyson, again he’s up to his old tricks bashing people on Facebook. What are we teaching our kids. You all cried and cried about a tv show but this Mr. Lyons is a poor example and money spent on this defense is horrible. Do your kids read this garabage. Teach by example. It’s over. There needs to be a full investigation into the Norwalk corrupt BOE and the trash that is put in the media.

Jason Waldren December 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Nancy everyone makes mistakes but at least you are willing to report the news that is important to our children in our community. I wish that you would composite a list of all the BOE members that have had charges pressed against them in the last few years and {…} It’s a vicious cycle and no one is looking out for the children. People who make peanuts are the ones fighting for our kids people that make the big bucks are too busy worried about who they could topple over to get up the ladder or make a few extra bucks.
Edited to remove character assassination through innuendo, a violation of the comments policy.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 7, 2017 at 9:05 pm

@Jason Warden, what motive would a BOE member have to take a bribe? No one is looking out for the children? Everyone is looking out for the children, especially the BOE members old and new who engage in this delicate balance of educational standards, outcomes, staff needs, union negotiations and federal and state requirements. There’s no bribe big enough for anyone to be in this for the money. Believe it or not, even the ones you dislike and disagree with are doing this for the children.

Iliana Zuniga December 8, 2017 at 7:49 am

It is absolutely appalling that our children have to pay the price for a personal law suit against Mr. Lyons.
How many supplies, field trips, equipment $300k would fund???
I cannot even begin to understand why are Norwalk tax payers responsible for paying the price of Mr. Lyons actions….

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 9:26 am

@Nancy, @Jason Waldren has made a request for an investigation into bribery on the Board of Education. “I wish you would composite a list of all board of ed members who have had charges pressed against them in the last few years and how many have taken bribes and got friends jobs and put money in pockets of friends.” Considering that these statements are unsubstantiated and potentially libelous, I’m surprised the comment was allowed to stand. Waldren does not “wonder” if this had taken place. He alleges that it has, and that all that is required is your investigation into the improprieties he claims have taken place.

Another pernicious mischaracterization is that the cost of settling the Fensore lawsuit, when balanced against Mike Lyons’ tenure on the BOE, has taken services away from children. This is a false claim made by many and never corrected. Fensore filed suit. Attorneys for the BOE concluded that though they would likely win the case, the cost of pursuing it in the courts was more than the settlement. Fensore’s lawsuit was frivolous and unwinnable. Lyons’s emails were protected Free Speech. The CGS mandate that BOE members receive legal counsel.

Iliana Zuniga above believes that Lyons’s is not only responsible for a case initiated by a disgruntled former employee, but fails to appreciate that Lyons has saved the District MILLIONS during his tenure.

Why the selective fact-checking, Nancy? I was asked more than once about the specific language in the Fensore court documents that I quoted, but truly specious comments are allowed to stand.

Jerri Drazkiewicz December 8, 2017 at 11:09 am

@Bryan Meeks, I have confused nothing; if you take action to curtail or limit the ability of another person to pursue employment, that is a constitutional violation. Period, Full Stop.

Know your law, what your BOE chief did, was cause Norwalk to spend money un-necessarily, In a business, where this matters, that individual would be dismissed.

Take care in your arguments, they are invalid in this case, which is why this was ruled in the fashion it was.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 11:35 am

@sped parent, so you are cool with unchecked bribery allegations? Wow! The SpEd kids are really in trouble if that’s where you are in your advocacy.

Bryan Meek December 8, 2017 at 12:03 pm

@Jerri. So you don’t even know the facts of the case then. This had nothing to do with her seeking employment. She was already employed. You are correct about most corporate policies, but confused about the facts of the case which is understandable. The “independent” journalist leaves out most of the relevant facts from her reporting. {…} Some call it click bait. I wish this were corporate, things would be a lot easier, but clearly do not understand what fiduciary responsibilities of public funding entails and how it is different from corporate. Norwalk could have been held liable by District 14 or others if it didn’t disclose the hidden expenses. And by your last comment “ruled” as it was, clearly indicates you haven’t bothered to inform yourself of the basic tenets of the outcome of the case. Nothing was ruled on.
Edited to remove ascribing motives, which is prohibited by the comments policy.

sped parent December 8, 2017 at 12:09 pm

@Donna, I’m sure there is a friend of a sister-in-law’s brother’s uncle’s neighbor who said it was true. That chain of information seems good enough for you in your “evidence” of sped. I’m just not sure why this should be any different.

Bob Welsh December 8, 2017 at 12:21 pm


You appear to have interpreted Nancy’s request for more information as “selective fact checking” that singled you out.

I have seen people across the political spectrum react negatively when Nancy asks questions that cause them to feel challenged. I take Nancy at her word that she was following up to see if she missed some important information. As you well know, comments are not fact-checked.

Nancy Chapman December 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Donna, the comment was “allowed to stand” because I was sleeping. I cannot moderate comments while I am sleeping. It’s fairly common knowledge that I sleep late.
Now that the offensive phrase has been deleted, it will remain on the website as part of your comment, which does not violate the comments policy. Perhaps you should rethink this approach.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 1:06 pm

I’m not sure what comment we are talking about now Nancy, the one above or some other one elsewhere. As I’ve told you before, I’d rather the insults stand as a reflection on the character of the poster. People who stoop to personal attacks have run out of ammo, if they ever had any to begin with.

Perhaps, Bob, my sense that the rules and requests were applied unequally was an accident of sequencing.

Nancy Chapman December 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Donna, you said:
“@Jason Waldren has made a request for an investigation into bribery on the Board of Education. ‘I wish you would composite a list of all board of ed members who have had charges pressed against them in the last few years and how many have taken bribes and got friends jobs and put money in pockets of friends.’ Considering that these statements are unsubstantiated and potentially libelous, I’m surprised the comment was allowed to stand.”

The offensive phrase would be removed from public view if you had not quoted it. Again, Jason Waldren’s comment “was allowed to stand” because I was not available for comment moderation.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 2:19 pm

@Nancy, do the people who violate the comments policy also get free public advice from you regarding their approach? Tony Ditrio told me to move back to Westport. Any advice for Tony? What about Waldren, who made potentially libelous allegations? Where is his polite public rebuke from the editor? You just proved the point that the editing practices are applied unequally.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 2:33 pm

@Bob Welsh, you mischaracterized my concern about editorial bias by dismissing it as a negative reaction to a question that caused me to feel challenged. That is not precisely what I have said. This is not about me reacting negatively to a challenge. This is about—in my opinion and the opinion of many others—potential reportorial bias.

When Harry Rilling was interviewed pre-Election, he misrepresented the contents of a 2014 letter he received from Firetree. Once presented with a copy of the original letter, proving that Rilling either lied or misled, Nancy did not update the article with a link to the letter. The best I could do was post to correct the record. You added the link. But what you and I did lacked the forced of a public correction by the reporter. Rilling misstated the facts and it was allowed to go unchecked.

Nancy Chapman December 8, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Donna, as was explained at the time, I was swamped with other pre-election coverage. I was feverishly working to post a transcript of the Lisa Brinton Thomson interview before I had to go to a meeting. You may think it an indication of bias that I did not drop everything to post your Firetree letter but in fact I did not (and do not) see it as the hot button election issue that you seem to regard it as. On a list of priorities it was rather low, in terms of election information. I did, however, stop long enough to get online, as you note.

Bryan Meek December 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

No, Nancy, you rush to defend Harry at every turn, and jump to indict the BOE whenever you have a chance. This has been going on a long time whether you even notice your own bias or not. I like Harry, but no one is beneath criticism. You however have even interjected on his behalf whenever someone bothers to lay out facts about him. I’ve never once seen you rush in to defend anyone on the BOE in this fashion. I’m not the only one who sees it this way. Most I run into are asking what is going on. I don’t know? It stains what is an otherwise admirable effort.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 8, 2017 at 3:57 pm

@Nancy, it was not “my” Firetree letter. It was the 2014 letter from Firetree to Mayor Rilling in which they laid out their plan for 17 Quintard.

Articulate the specific comments policy offenses. Last time I checked, there was no policy prohibiting correcting the record—or what you wrongly characterize as “harassing” you.

Also when you decide one piece of information is less important than another for public discourse based on the available time, you are exhibiting editorial bias. These are the kinds of observations I have made that you mischaractize as harassment. Clearly, they are not.

Lucille December 8, 2017 at 5:55 pm

@donna do you have children in the school system, do you ever talk to people, like central kitchen who are give a hourly budget of 10$ an hour to hire people who care for our kids at recess and lunch, my son has allergies and I worry this low balling pay check doesn’t assure top notch care and the schools that are short staffed. This money blown on Mr. Lyons defense could have saved some jobs. You are out of line. Please tell me what grades and schools you have kids in because my child was at a fantastic magnet school that has tanked. It’s sad walking through the doors now and seeing the cuts and people lost and what has replaced them. Please let’s go back to the emails of the super agreeing to get rid of the sped team like trash taken out on a Monday morning. Poor examples these comments are setting.

MarjorieM December 8, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Almost everything here is so much worse than when we had the “old guard” in Norwalk. This is what the taxpayers in Norwalk wanted? Good people were publicly humiliated for this? How disgraceful! Now Donna S is turning on Nancy. Big surprise! The taxpayers in Norwalk need to drain the “New Norwalk Way” swamp.

Education101 December 8, 2017 at 7:58 pm

The belief that this legal settlement is driven by pure economics is a hard pill to swallow. What precedent is this setting to potentially opening the flood gates to more legal action? It’s understandable the BOE has their dedicated groupies drinking the punch /believing this narrative but please apply some common sense here. . . On a side note, to the serial bloggers who are writing unfair characterizations about this site – perhaps taking a time out on the pontificating could do you a world of good as well as coming to a realization that you are just another ___ with an opinion- nothing more nothing less.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 9, 2017 at 12:39 pm

The costs of protracted litigation aren’t limited to legal fees. If litigation settlements encourage more litigation, positive changes enacted by the superintendent and BOE also encourage additional positive benefits. The net result is an improved school system that continues to implement strategic changes in order to better the schools and improve student outcomes. Change always comes with growing pains.

Sometimes the only avenue for setting the record straight is in the comments section. It is neither fair nor balanced to shine a light in one direction only.

cc-rider December 9, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Donna- so the citizens of Norwalk are supposed to rely on your 2 cents worth in the NON comments for truthiness?

Lisa Brinton Thomson December 9, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Now at 60+ comments – I thought to share data on the City of Norwalk and lawsuits. Data below was taken from page 59 of the Norwalk Budget under the Corporation Counsel performance indicators section. I don’t know if this includes lawsuits against the BOE, but it does include CIRMA claims, grievances, temporary injunctions, warnings of zoning violations, tax appeals and FOI complaints. Mike Lyons is not the first nor likely the last.

Closed lawsuits 54
Received lawsuits 255
Open lawsuits 313

Closed lawsuits 18
Received lawsuits 218
Open Lawsuits 132

Closed Lawsuits 14
Received lawsuits 130
Open lawsuits 136

Closed lawsuits 11
Received lawsuits 31
Open lawsuits 157

US Blues December 9, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Sorry for this question, but what is the difference between “Received lawsuits” and “Open lawsuits”?

TONY DITRIO December 10, 2017 at 11:21 am

Lisa – I do not understand how the information you included has anything to do with the fact that the Norwalk taxpayers must pay large legal fees for an act that was carried out by Mr. Lyons while not acting in his role as a Board member. Furthermore, as a lawyer he should have realized that his actions were ill advised. Mr. Lyons acted without the agreement of the Board and before he even investigated the charges he claims. This was a reckless act that should not be payed for with our taxes. It also does not matter what account the money comes from.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 10, 2017 at 1:09 pm

@TONY DITRIO, please refer to Connecticut General Statutes 10-235 regarding indemnification.

Debora Goldstein December 11, 2017 at 8:55 am

There has to be another category of lawsuit in those stats for the math to work…is it settled suits…withdrawn suits?

132-14+130 136

Lisa Brinton Thomson December 11, 2017 at 9:54 am

Folks, Look at the budget – I just copied their performance indicators. You’ll need to contact the legal department for further clarification of their numbers 🙂

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