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Norwalk BoE to NAACP: Did you not investigate first?

Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr.
Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr.

NORWALK, Conn. – The standoff continues between the Board of Education and the Norwalk Branch NAACP, as Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr is demandiing evidence to back up a claim of racial discrimination against three board members and Norwalk NAACP President Darnell Crosland is demanding more time.

Spahr’s last comment in the exchange is to suggest that Crosland is engaged in stalling tactics after speaking to the Board of Education on Tuesday in support of the NAACP’s request to have a meeting with BoE Chairman Mike Lyons. Crosland’s comments to the board came after Norwalk Branch NAACP Second Vice President Brenda Penn-Williams announced that the Legal Redress Committee was in receipt of a complaint from BoE member Shirley Mosby.

Norwalk Board of Education member Shirley Mosby.
Norwalk Board of Education member Shirley Mosby.

“She alleges that the African-American and Hispanic female board members are subject to continual intimidation, harassment, disrespect, exclusion, discrimination, lack of transparency and not being informed, and subject to disparate treatment,” Penn-Williams said to the board, reading a letter sent June 22 to BoE Chairman Mike Lyons.

Lyons said he would not be meeting with the NAACP unless and until there was evidence produced to support the complaint. He said Spahr had sent a letter to Penn-Williams.

In the first of three letters attached below, dated July 2, Spahr tells Penn-Williams that the city takes the complaint very seriously, and strives to make sure that all board members have the right to have their voices heard. He then makes reference to recent charges levied against the board that are “devoid of any factual support,” “baseless,” and, in some cases, filed on behalf of various groups without authorization. In the wake of this onslaught the city believes a “best practice” that any association “promoting the broad, sweeping and unsubstantiated charges of an individual to have that individual produce the supporting facts and information, if any” in order to the complaint to be investigated.

Spahr requested evidence to support the accusation of racial discrimination, including correspondence, emails, documents, records and minutes, as well as video segments that would show the “disparate treatment” alleged in Penn-Williams letter. Spahr gave her seven days, the same amount of time that she had requested for a response.

“It is assumed that before your letter was sent you would have already assembled the supporting documents, information and evidence,” Spahr wrote to Penn-Williams. “Thus, turning them over would just be a ministerial matter of document/evidence transferal.”

Crosland wrote back to Spahr that day. He asked who Spahr was representing – Lyons or the board? The reference to recent “baseless claims” was irrelevant, Crosland wrote. The request for evidence was “tantamount to a request for production/discovery,” Crosland wrote, and therefore “highly unreasonable” to suggest that it could be done in seven days. Crosland also asked if Spahr was acting at the direction of Mayor Harry Rilling.

The response is cutting.

Spahr first wrote that while it is clear that the city provides legal representation to board members it is not clear who Mosby was accusing.

The letter from Penn-Williams was “vague in the extreme and totally devoid of factual content,” Spahr wrote. The complaint from Mosby was “not even” attached with the letter, Spahr wrote.

“I believe that it is appropriate for us to ask for the immediate exchange of these documents and materials – that is, if any such materials exist,” Spahr wrote. “For example, it should represent no hardship to turn over to us immediately all materials and proof that Ms. Mosby presented to your organization (including a copy of her ‘complaint’).”

The charge is serious, Spahr wrote. “I can only conclude that your organization (if it were acting responsibly) would have accumulated all the facts, evidence and materials that are supportive of these charges before making these accusations. With that being the case, it should merely be a matter of turning over to us what you have already gathered,” he wrote. “On the other hand, if you do NOT have any supporting materials, kindly admit to this. Raising procedural questions, as you have, can only be considered a stalling tactic. For now, just turn over whatever materials that you have that are supportive of the accusations that have been leveled. If you have no evidence in your possession, just say so.”

Norwalk to NAACP July 2 2014

NAACP to Norwalk July 2 2014

Norwalk to NAACP July 3 2014

Comments

20 responses to “Norwalk BoE to NAACP: Did you not investigate first?”

  1. One and Done.

    Throwing the race card down where no issue exists is like yelling fire in a crowded theatre.
    .
    The worse part is it waters down real instances and victims of racism. Pretty shameful.
    .
    Lyons would be equally insane to meet with these lunatics.

  2. LWitherspoon

    Speaking of “intimidation, harassment, and disrespect”, it was Ms. Mosby herself who stated the night of her swearing-in ceremony that “I’m going to pull every white hair out of his head,” a reference to Lyon’s white hair. Has she apologized? Does the NAACP think she should? (Source: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/11/new-board-has-rough-start-as-dem-majority-boe-re-elects-gop-chairman/ )
    .
    Could it be that Attorney Crosland publicly accused the BoE of inappropriate behavior without first checking whether there was any shred of evidence to back up the claim? One would expect better from a lawyer.

  3. Lifelong Teacher

    All this should not take away from the important work: reform and moving the district forward. It certainly makes sense that a national organization such as the NAACP would have gathered information before splashing such a serious charge all over the media.

  4. John Hamlin

    If the accusers can’t point to a single fact or any evidence to support their charge, or refuse to share the information, it’s hard for the Board, the City, or any individuals to respond — nor should they be expected to respond — except to make a general denial. Making charges of discrimination is serious business, and it should require some serious support.

  5. Mike Lyons

    Amidst this nonsense, keep in mind how much progress Dr. Rivera, backed by the Board majority, is making in improving the Norwalk schools (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/06/opinion-a-status-report-from-the-board-of-education). This should be the real story about the NPS.

  6. Bill

    NAACP becomes less relevant by playing the race card when absolutely unnecessary.

  7. Oldtimer

    Mike Lyons is generally very professional about running BOE meetings and seems to try hard to be open and civil about all BOE business. However, behind that well polished professional public face, he sometimes slips and makes comments more personal than professional. Calling a NAACP complaint “nonsense” reflects his personal reaction, but is not what we would expect, based on his usually cool professional behavior. Calling custodian’s salaries a “trivial” concern also sounds more like a personal rather than professional choice of words. A lot of discrimination has been defended as not proveably intentional and the term de-facto has been used to describe practices that are effectively, if not, intentionally, discriminatory. Once people stop assuming all discrimination complaints are personal attacks, and take the time to look at the facts from the victim’s point of view, we will see a lot fewer complaints. We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but some reasonably see a considerable way to go.

  8. RU4REAL

    Very confusing chain of events. Similar accusations were made against another department head by Naacp V.P. and all that came out was that he failed to get two signatures, how come no action was taken regarding the allegations? Is this department head exempt from any accusations leveled publically?

  9. Jody Sattler

    The complaint is “nonsense” because it is not based on facts. I attend many of the BOE meetings and I see Mr.Lyons have a level of patience that is unmatched by any Chairman. If you have any doubts, attend some of the meetings, you will see that these complaints really are “nonsense.” Ms.Mosby and Ms.Rivas come to the meetings completely unprepared and the questions they ask show they are not reading the materials until they arrive. I was at the meeting in question and they had obviously not read any of the documentation provided earlier that week. The vote in question was in regards to staff positions that had already been approved in the budget process. Dr.Rivera was simply putting the approved budget into action. Ms.Mosby and Ms.Rivas are against any action, change or reform that will help students and that is the real problem.

  10. Bruce Kimmel

    As chair of the Common Council’s finance committee, I can say that these positions were thoroughly discussed during the budget process by both the Council and the BOE, and also by the Board of Estimate. No objections were raised at that time.
    .
    I served on the BOE some years ago with both Ms. Mosby and Ms. Rivas, and occasionally attend current BOE meetings. In my opinion, Mr. Lyons has shown a level of patience as well as fairness that I find remarkable.

  11. Lisa Thomson

    Patience of saint!

  12. Mike Lyons

    Oldtimer, your points deserve comments.

    “Mike Lyons is generally very professional about running BOE meetings and seems to try hard to be open and civil about all BOE business. However, behind that well polished professional public face, he sometimes slips and makes comments more personal than professional.”

    They aren’t “slips”; they reflect the difference between actively chairing a meeting under Roberts Rules and being an individual member with opinions of my own. My job as chair is to run the meetings in accordance with the Rules and with civility. As most commenters here (including you) acknowledge, I do that. When not engaged in that role (as when making comments here), I’m perfectly entitled to express my opinions openly.

    “Calling a NAACP complaint “nonsense” reflects his personal reaction, but is not what we would expect, based on his usually cool professional behavior.”

    You wouldn’t expect me to express my personal reaction to being wrongfully attacked? You don’t seem to have any problem with Ms. Mosby expressing her personal opinion when she makes the attacks.

    “Calling custodian’s salaries a “trivial” concern also sounds more like a personal rather than professional choice of words.”

    Now let’s not re-write history here. You know perfectly well that the actual words I used were “relatively trivial”, precisely because the custodians’ salaries are unaffected by our outsourcing proposal. As I responded the first time you attempted this re-write, “in comparison to the real purpose of the school system — educating children — an extended debate over this custodian issue IS “comparatively” (my actual statement) trivial. No current custodian is losing their “essential” job. No custodian is losing any compensation. No custodian is losing any benefits. No position can be replaced except by attrition (quit, retirement, etc.). Our custodians are at the top of the pay scale in the State (higher than those in Westport and Greenwich, for crying out loud!).”

    “A lot of discrimination has been defended as not proveably intentional and the term de-facto has been used to describe practices that are effectively, if not, intentionally, discriminatory. Once people stop assuming all discrimination complaints are personal attacks, and take the time to look at the facts from the victim’s point of view, we will see a lot fewer complaints.”

    True. And a lot of claims of discrimination are false, and are raised as an intimidation tactic against those the claimants are trying to intimidate. Just as we shouldn’t assume that all discrimination complaints are personal attacks, we also shouldn’t assume that they are all valid – and must acknowledge that some are, indeed, personal attacks. Like complaints that have no factual basis.

  13. Auntie Mae

    Just asking, if Mr. Lyons was a teacher, would he dismiss or scold or belittle his students in front of the class if they came to class unprepared? Or asked a question because they weren’t clear on a subject? Or would he reach out and explore ways to help those students excel? It’s sad to see the divisiveness dragon yet again rearing its ugly head and folks choosing sides. Have we not learned yet, that we are all in this together, sink or swim? We can do better, can we not? Can us adults not set better examples for our children to emulate? Have we not have had enough of costly embarrassing headlines? Anyone else remember a time when all Norwalker’s got along and actually helped each other. What happened to us, more importantly why? We are neighbors, we are each others brothers and sisters keepers, are we not? Lets try and remember whats important and the roads we have already so arduously and painfully traveled and expended so much human and capital resources on? “Put up or shut up” is not a diplomatic response that will compel a swift resolution, everyone, wants and seeks, is it?

  14. anon

    @Lyons, a pleasure to see leadership in Norwalk city government for a change. Keep focusing on the important stuff.

    And when bullied and defamed, call them out.

    Bravo.

  15. EveT

    @Auntie Mae, Mr. Lyons’s job is not to be a teacher. His (volunteer, unpaid) job is to chair a city board of adults who are elected by the voters to oversee the school system. It is not unreasonable for all BOE members to be expected to behave like responsible adults, not children who need to be “helped.”
    If anyone is being divisive, it is the complaining parties with their very serious, unsubstantiated charges. The rhetoric of “we’re all in this together” works both ways, it does not mean the majority is supposed to bow to the minority. Democracy is predicated on majority rule. Just because your wishes are not granted and your fellow board members don’t vote the way you want, does not mean they are being divisive or discriminatory.

  16. piberman

    How ironic that a newly elected BOE member whose former BOE Chairmanship was truly undistinguished with revolving Supts. and managed only 3 votes to become Chair of the current BOE now charges the current BOE – the most competent in the modern history of Norwalk – with unstated and apparently unfounded discrimination charges in the press. And her two co-defendents are most noteworthy for their opposition to hiring the best Supt. the City has had in modern times. Reportedly Ms. Mosby narrowly lost the recent Presidents election for NAACP. And how many members does the Norwalk chapter of the NAACP have ? Perhaps a 100 ? So far commentators have wholehearedly supported our esteemed BOE Chair Lyons. Absent protests by other groups of City residents the “gang of 3” have simply stated a media event that will fade away. If their complaints had substance they’d take the usual route and go to the courts. But in Norwalk its easier to go public, disparage the most well funcitoniing body of our City governance and diminish the superb achievements of one of our most capble and devoted BOE Chairs ever. Time for the media event to be over. Of course, we’ll hear more from the “gang of 3”. Unable to get their own way on a well functioning BOE their only recourse is to call attention to themselves. Time to resign. Do it for the children. They really would benefit from much more capable BOE members willing to respect the views of other BOE members.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @PI Berman

      Fact check, again.

      Shirley Mosby was never chair of the BOE. That was Rosa Murray, who is not a newly elected member. Ms. Mosby was not nominated for BOE chair. That was Ms. Murray.

  17. M. Murray’s

    If there are no facts to support these accusations, then some type of action should be taken against those who throw malicious false allegations against their fellow board members. If there are concrete facts to back up these allegations, bring them forward and take action against those accuses. Put up or shut up.

  18. Norwalk Cares

    Crosland’s complaint is the same thing we heard a few years ago (when Murray and Mosby lost).
    It was unfair then and it’s unfair now.

  19. Oldtimer

    Mike Lyons
    Nobody suggested you did not have the right to use words like nonsense and trivial, but I tried to point out you do not have the ability to switch from cool professional chairman to just another member with a personal opinion. Anytime you speak, or write for public consumption, you are unavoidably speaking as BOE chairman. You know what you meant, and so do I, but we both know some people hear certain words directed toward them and form opinions based on those words, not the entire carefully crafted sentence. Take comfort in the fact that most people, me included, think you are doing a very difficult job very well, even though some of us think your occasional use of unflattering, if not insulting, language is not helpful. Just because you believe there is no basis for discrimination charges, does not justify terms like nonsense. The City, in the mosgue lawsuit, in in a similar position and,regardless of personal feelings, is not publicly calling the religious discrimination charges nonsense. Other, more diplomatic, words are being carefully used to answer the charges and reach resolution of the real issues. A polite conversation with the BOE members who complained might accomplish a lot with less drama than the current schoolyard “prove it” dispute approach. There are nice ways of saying “I don’t understand your position” that might actually start a conversation that would benefit both sides. A difference of opinion about process doesn’t have to end up with anybody being “proven” wrong.

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