Letter: Allegations against BOE leaders ‘puzzling,’ ‘unsettling’

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Letters must be signed with your real name and include a contact phone number that will not be published.

To the Editor:

The public charges of discrimination by three members (led by Ms. Shirley Mosby) of the BOE supported by the local NAACP is both puzzling and deeply unsettling.

Puzzling in that no evidence was presented to support these serious charges either by Ms. Mosby nor by the NAACP, presumably experienced in handling discrimination issues.

Puzzling that none of the other six BOE members offered any public support on the discrimination charge.

Puzzling in that Ms. Mosby is an experienced elected official who narrowly missed being elected NAACP President last November by just four votes. And, one of the other three members received just three votes for Chairmanship of the current Board on her platform that Democrats as majority party “own the BOE Chair.”

Puzzling that so far none of the city’s Democratic leaders or elected officials, including legislators, including the mayor, or other any known group have voiced public support for the unsubstantiated discrimination charge. The overwhelming comments of the public in the local press have sharply criticized the three members.

Puzzling in that two of the three members objected to the hiring of Dr. Rivera, our city’s first Hispanic superintendent and by all accounts the most capable superintendent in moderncity history.

Puzzling that, to date, the public record of BOE proceedings suggests no significant contributions by the three aggrieved BOE members.

Puzzling that the local NAACP, reportedly a small organization in terms of membership, should demand a meeting with the BOE chair to discuss the issue – a demand rejected by both the chair and city attorney on the grounds that there is no evidence presented to support the discrimination charge.

It’s puzzling that no formal charges were first made to the BOE by the three members before going public. And, especially puzzling that no formal complaint was filed in the courts. Going public against a duly constituted major elected body is not something that a group of experienced elected officials ordinarily do without having gathered up supporting evidence and lined up significant popular support, especially among other elected and party officials. It’s puzzling that the NAACP would support this charge without having clear evidence. That doesn’t enhance its reputation. At first glance this peculiar public complaint seems just a “media event” to draw attention by three BOE members who appear to be non-contributors. Not gaining attention within the BOE, they decided to go public, hoping something sticks.

The public charge by three BOE members is also deeply troublesome and potentially injurious to the BOE, the Norwalk Public Schools system, and the city of Norwalk. No similar charge has been made in recent decades, if ever.

What’s especially troubling is that under the superb leadership of Mike Lyons the BOE has emerged as our first truly distinguished and capable BOE in recent decades with the breathtaking distinction of attracting one of the nation’s premier superintendents. Moreover, in a sharp break with past practice, Mr. Lyons, a Republican, was re-elected chair by the Democratic majority within the BOE.

By all accounts, our city is unusually well served by six of the nine BOE members who have worked well as a team. Even our historically hostile NFT (Norwalk Federation of Teachers) appears to have worked well both with the BOE and our new superintendent. The importance of a well-functioning BOE in the city of Norwalk cannot be overestimated.

That three disaffected BOE members would seek to tarnish the reputation of this well-functioning and admirable BOE is not only troublesome but severely detrimental and antipathetical to the very notion of “public service.” It comes fresh on the heels of years of egregious failure of NEON’s leadership to effectively serve the most disadvantaged of our minority citizens.

Given the absence of support by any well-established group of Norwalk citizens (save the NAACP), it’s appropriate to ask that these three disaffected BOE members to resign so that more capable citizens can better serve our community. Having made these unsubstantiated discrimination charges, how can these three BOE members usefully serve on the BOE going forward? They clearly have no support within either our city or the BOE itself.

Finally, when elected public officials do outrageous behaviors it’s insightful to see how other public officials react. BOE Chair Lyons rejected the unseemly NAACP demands for a meeting to discuss unsubstantiated charges. As did the city attorney’s office. And the other five BOE members kept their cool, demonstrating that the BOE (minus the three disaffected members) functions well together. All of these six BOE members, especially Chairman Lyons, merit our fullest respect and appreciation.

What’s missing from the picture is a clear statement from Mayor Rilling to the effect that the BOE enjoys the full support of the community and has achieved a high level of distinction not realized in many decades. There are times when the mayor is called to recite the facts of the matter. Not simply that the aggrieved BOE members have failed to present evidence. That’s called “fence sitting.”

Now is the time for all citizens of our fine city, led by our mayor, to stand up and express both their appreciation for the superb contribution of our BOE and deplore utterly unwarranted, hurtful and deprecating charges by three dissident members making utterly unwarranted charges of discrimination.

Peter I. Berman


16 responses to “Letter: Allegations against BOE leaders ‘puzzling,’ ‘unsettling’”

  1. Mother Jones

    What’s more puzzling? How to work in a dozen “puzzling’s” in, half a dozen paragraphs. Much misinformation and partisan attacks and little if any “contribution” to the concerns raised. Just because you don’t like or agree with the message doesn’t give license to attack the messenger or dismiss the concern raised. “Three BOE members who appear to be non-contributors”, hmm, doesn’t that statement lend credence to the the concerns raised about marginalizing?

  2. M. Murray’s

    There are either facts to support these allegations, or there are not. Until such time as these facts are presented, the accusation is baseless. If there are facts backing the complainants, they should bring them forward and give their claim some validity.

  3. EveT

    What you call “fence sitting” I call restraint. Mayor Rilling displays wisdom in waiting to examine the facts and see multiple facets of a situation before making a public comment. More elected officials with this quality would be welcome.

  4. EDR

    Marginalized perhaps by their own lack of effort to contribute to the greater good of the BoE and the students of our city? The train has left the station with respect to the failed politics of the past.

    What is puzzling is that Dr. Rivera is trying to make Norwalk a world class urban school district and these ladies do not seem to want that. A strong school system means an excellent education, strong property values and lower real estate taxes. I am sure Mr. Lyons will let Ms. Mosby “pull out his every grey hair” if Dr. Rivera and the BoE could achieve that goal.

    If these BoE members cannot and will not be part of the solution please do the students and the residents of this city a favor and resign. If you want to be part of the solution then stop complaining and do the job you were elected to do.

  5. MarjorieM

    Rather than all the name calling and possible bullying going on, why not look for solutions? If people feel strongly about the way in which they are being treated, perhaps more of an effort to at least listen to their complaints should take place. These are Board members. Don’t they deserve respect and the right to be heard? Whether their complaints are justified or not, the right thing to do is listen.

  6. Casey Smith

    Well, Mr. Berman, you and I have had different viewpoints on many issues in the past. However, here is a hat tip to you from me! Well done.
    As for Ms. Mosby, Ms. Murray, and Ms. Rivas – I’ve seen their attitudes in the past when they served on the Board together. Sadly, this is nothing new. And I don’t think they will change, so unless the people who live in Ms. Mosby’s, Ms. Rivas’ and Ms. Murray’s districts decide they have had enough, this is the way it’s going to continue. My question to those who are represented by these three is simply, is this type of racial contention what you want for your children? Where endless lawsuits are threatened based on someone’s feelings rather than actual actions? If you are tired of these kinds of antics, it’s time to start proposing a new candidate, whether it be yourself or someone you know. It’s time.

  7. EveT

    @Casey Smith, unless I’m mistaken, Board of Ed candidates are elected at-large, not in-district. The voters of Norwalk as a whole get to decide who will serve on the Board of Education.

    1. Mark Chapman


      There are, I’m told, at large and in-district members. The last round, when Shirley Mosby, Sherelle Harris, Heidi Keyes and Artie Kassimis were elected, was at-large. The next BOE elections are in-district and involve the rest of the seats.

  8. Scott Kimmich

    It seems to me that the grievances voiced by the three minority members of the BOE are those decrying courtesy and comity. It is hard to tell whether they feel more threatened by their race or by their gender. Probably their complaints do not rise to the level of actionable charges, but it should behoove the chairman to ask the majority members to refrain from derogatory body language or voice tones. As representatives of minority students in our school system, the three minority members have every right to stand up for programs that will narrow the achievement gap. At the same time, they should embrace any positive changes put forward by the Superintendent and other members of the Board. It is time for apologies all around, and a pledge to make a new start. Opposing ideas should not be met with hostility but with solid counter proposals.
    Both sides should make a strong attempt to respect each others’ opinions, regardless of how they vote. If such an attempt is made, I would not be surprised to hear that there is more agreement, not less.

  9. One and Done.

    EveT. Another thing you are mistaken about is the mayor’s role in all of this. He is on the BOE. He is at the meetings. The subject of the complaint is how Mike is dealing with these uninformed grandstanders at meetings. What facts does he need to see? Is he simply sitting there not listening, daydreaming, or texting his girlfriend the whole time? How can he not have a position other than to say things are civil? How can he not take a leadership position and tell these knuckleheads to knock it off and to come prepared to the meetings?

  10. One and Done.

    ScottKimmich. There was no transgression by Mike. Capitulation on his part would be taken as admission of guilt by these race baiters. They think this attitude is going to help their constituencies lot in life, but sadly it has the opposite effect of delegating them as permanent victims the state has to take care of forever. It doesn’t get more disgusting.

  11. piberman

    We have legal statutes against discrimination. Charges of discrimination in public should have consequences. Especially when made by public officials against a duly elected public body and where no supporting evidence has been presented either to the body in question, the City Attorney or anyone rlse. Such behavior is deplorable. Equally so the studied silence of our Mayor, Councilmen and Party leaders. No city can properly function if some elected officials can cry “discrimination” without presenting evidence and without consequences for such behavior. Unfounded charges do not constitute “evidence” in our legal sysytem. Absence strong condemnation of these charges offered without evidence will only enhance Norwalk’s reputation of a poorly governed city. Like Bridgeport.

    Going forward the 3 BOE members will not be effective within the BOE and should resign. Citizens who elected them deserve more capable BOE members who can work effectively within the BOE. These members have embarrassed themselves, the BOE,our City and the Democratic Party that supported their candidacies.

    As a former Police Chief Mayor Rilling should understand that a clear statement of improper behavior is warranted. Unless Norwalk is a city where public officials can cry in public “discrimination” against other officials without consequences or presenting evidence. A truly dark day for Norwalk.


  12. Scott K. – “It should behoove the chairman to ask the majority members to refrain from derogatory body language or voice tones.”

    I have done so. Generally such body language and voice tones are much more common among the three dissenters than the majority, but I have requested all to act civilly. All current members of the Board except Ms. Mosby have signed a civility pledge (Ms. Mosby refused to sign it). I have also noted to the Board, on multiple occasions verbally and in writing, that any Board member who feels they have been treated improperly at a meeting can and should raise a Point of Personal Privilege or Point of Order, per Roberts Rules, to have the matter addressed. To date, no member has ever raised such a Point at any meeting; but the mechanism is there to use.

    “As representatives of minority students in our school system, the three minority members have every right to stand up for programs that will narrow the achievement gap.” I agree that they have this right; I just wish I could think of a single concrete example where they have done so. One or more of the three dissenters have provided the only “no” votes on many of the proposals of Dr. Rivera and the Board majority to close the gap (K-5 Literacy, After the Bell program for students in South Norwalk, appointment of new Special Ed director, enhancement of Special Ed department, and others), but have proposed no alternatives to those proposals. Perhaps some day they will; there’s always hope.

  13. Bill

    Norwalk NAACP is a obsolete organization supposedly serving the interests of Norwalk’s shrinking african american population, when in reality it is a political organization looking to keep their pro-union cronies in power.

  14. James Balitsos Sr.

    Just as Jack C had the temerity to call the situation for what is, let there be no doubt that this is an effort by Sherelle Mosby to gain personal power, satisfy her ego and the most important element the control and dispersing of the $150 million plus budget. Let me remind you of what happened over at NEON.
    It is interesting to note that the 3 dissenters generally vote down most of the programs that Dr. Rivera has recommended to bring some equality to the difference in test scores by race. (A lot of money and effort was spent to bring Dr. Rivera and his experience to Norwalk. Let him do his job without this back-biting.) This confirms what I have said that the motivation is to seek the power and not some altruistic reason or concern for the kids. They are just a convenient tool to acquire the “money” tree. It is all personal.
    According to Mr. Lyons’ statement he has advised any of the council members to file a grievous complaint if they have been attacked as stated in the news article. No paperwork has been submitted. A strange lack of follow-thru if the accusations are true. In hindsight none of this makes any sense.
    Finally, Mr. Lyons was elected Chairman by a majority of the BOE. He is entitled to respect and an apology is in order. And, if the majority of the Board believes some other is better qualified then let that person legally be voted under the rules and regulations of the local laws. It should be noted that the black population in Norwalk is about 20%, Hispanics about 25%, 5% others and 50% white.
    Just as Jack C has been accused of being a divisive figure I suggest that S. Mosby reconsider her accusations and resign from the Council since she has lost her credibility. The other two women should give thought to withdrawing from further participation on the BOE since they have made themselves toxic. Let the voters decide if they should be returned as Council members. That’s why we have elections. It would be the prudent thing to do.
    Under the laws and regulations of the town of Norwalk what will be, will be. Now shut down this senseless argument and let the process take care of the issues being debated.

    Editor’s note: Her name is Shirley Mosby. Sherelle Harris is another African-American Board of Education member who is not a part of the three-member group you are talking about. Also, we are not aware of Ms. Mosby having any involvement with the NEON debacle. Her father having served on the board once and has sued the organization.

  15. Jim Balitsos Sr.

    Boy, did I get the names screwed up. My apologies to Sherelle Harris for using her first name when identifying Shirley Mosby. I should have done a better job of research. I’m not too familiar with those on the BOE committee, but that is a poor excuse since a click of the computer would have given me all the names of the sitting committee. As far as my reference to NEON I was simply using that as a reminder that many of the funds that were misdirected to other people’s benefit. I didn’t think I had to explain the specific problems they experienced.

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