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