Norwalk Democrats censure Barbis

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Barbis in 2017 listens as he is nominated to be Board of Education Chairman. A new chairman will be elected Tuesday.

Updated, 1 p.m.: More information, correction.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Democratic Committee voted unanimously (with one abstention) to censure Mike Barbis, calling for his resignation from their body and from the Board of Education.

“An email from him that was recently released is one of many that shows a lack of civility and a lack of racial sensitivity that is incompatible with service as a member of an elected body like the Board of Education. Members of the Board of Education are elected officials who hold the public trust and are required to set an example for the children of Norwalk who attend the public schools. Uncivil, profane, and racially insensitive emails breach that trust and set the worst example possible,” the resolution states.

This followed a reportedly unanimous vote by District E members to censure Barbis, both on Monday evening.

It’s not legally possible to remove Barbis from the Board of Education, DTC Chairman Ed Camacho and DTC Vice Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez explained to DTC members; the ensuing conversation examined the roots of the offensive email.

“We have finally come to a boiling point,” District B Democrat Darlene Young said. BoE member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell mentioned a “vendetta culture” and “pending litigation.”

Barbis was not available for comment late Monday and did not answer an email sent just before midnight.

Barbis received a DTC endorsement to run for reelection; he ran unopposed, winning a third four-year term. Board of Education members will be sworn in Tuesday evening and new officers elected.

The email that has prompted this censure was sent in June – before the DTC endorsement – and reportedly seen by Mayor Harry Rilling, Chief of Staff Laoise King, Camacho and Melendez. It was sent to NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams three days before the election. Anonymously, she said.

“The email was forwarded to other people at the time it was received. I have no idea who those people forwarded it to or who those people might have forwarded it to,” King said on Nov. 3.

Rilling recently told NAACP members that he didn’t make the email public in June because he was trying to arrange a conversation between Barbis and Penn-Williams, to calm tensions.  “Hindsight is 2020. If I had to do it over again, probably would have released it back then, knowing what was happening now,” he said.

He tried to get a Democrat to challenge Barbis but “he has a District E stronghold and in Rowayton he is going to get a lot of votes. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Rilling said.

NancyOnNorwalk did not attend Monday’s DTC meeting but left a recorder in the room.

Judge of Probate Doug Stern abstained. It would be against the judicial code of ethics for him to vote to censure Barbis, Camacho said.



‘The ball is in his court’

Barbis, in his June 5 email inspired by the resistance to the Board of Education’s plan to demolish the “Concord Street school,” called South Norwalk Democrats a***** and suggested a news headline of “Blacks F*** Latinos.”

He has apologized, said it was sent “out of complete frustration,” and, over the weekend, promised to “seek help and do the work I need to do to ensure that my anger and frustration is handled in a more professional and reasonable way.”

The DTC’s censure language was an amended version of the one passed by District E. DTC Recording Secretary Colin Hosten moved to have the entire DTC censure Barbis.

“The purpose is to publicly, I guess, denounce the email and that language, that perspective, that point of view, that sentiment, but beyond that, there’s nothing we can legally do to get him to step down from the ‘Board of Ed’ or the DTC,” Camacho said.

He asked Meyer-Mitchell to explain the Board of Education’s civility code.

“This email certainly violated that and was executed after we signed it, however the code of conduct has no teeth, we can’t act on it,” she said. “So essentially it is upon the individual, as it was for Jack Chiaramonte in 2014, to come to the realization that perhaps it is more divisive for that person to be active on the board, to continue to create controversy.”

“The ball is in his in his court. But the bottom line is that we want to make the message clear on our position,” Melendez said.



‘It’s a monster now’

This all goes back to the Norwalk Public Schools Facilities Feasibility Study, Young said, referring to the beginning steps of the Board of Education’s effort to build new schools and renovate existing ones, back in 2015-16.

“I think District B would not be doing what it needed to do for the people we serve if we did not ask questions,” she continued. “…  I can be confident and sure in knowing that there are other things that have been said. We’ve only asked questions and we’ve been vilified. We’ve been called obstructionists, against education, all of these things and not a lot of folks from the district have spoken out against those sorts of things. And no one has even come to us ask us what our real opinion was, what our positions were.”

She continued, “I mean, you might have heard our representative, Travis Simms, have a position that didn’t mean that that was everybody. We are not a monolith.” They had a state expert down and asked about options and “those are questions that I think that if this were a project that was slated in any other district, their residents would be asking the same questions.”

“I think moving forward as a party, we have to speak up sooner and not allow this to go on,” Young said. “Because it’s my understanding that it just doesn’t happen in this arena. It happens at the schools. It happens with young people. It happens all the time. And as long as we allow it to grow … it’s a monster now, and now we’re trying to tame the monster. And you can’t, it’s very difficult. We have no teeth.”

Penn-Williams said Barbis sent the angry email the same night there had been a “great meeting” at the South Norwalk library, about the Concord Street school, which is on Chestnut Street and is currently the home of Columbus Magnet School.

“You all know that Mike Barbis does not like me. You all know, I don’t like him,” she said. “OK, so, I’m walking out the meeting …. He runs up to me and he kisses me on my cheek… I kept walking.”

“That’s frustration? I’m sorry, that was not frustration,” she said. “It’s frustration now that he was caught and whomever sent me that email, thank you.”

Barbis’ Facilities Committee didn’t have meetings for months, and then came out with a plan for new schools, Bruce Morris observed.

“Then we started having our own meetings to communicate to people what was happening, so they can make good choices,” he said. “All we were asking was to have a venue where our choices and options could be vetted. Instead we had a process to get a plan rammed through between October and December 2016.”

Then-BoE Chairman Mike Lyons in 2016 said that there had been numerous public outreach meetings, including two in South Norwalk.

Barbis, Lyons and “a bunch of them have gotten away with it too long,” Morris said. “… Many of us … were stigmatized in the media. We came to these meetings to at least let our party know, here’s what’s going on. And no one came out loud to say, this is wrong.”

Penn-Williams asserted that Barbis “called the police on me… I had to go to the police station and make a statement because he, they just fabricated a whole bunch of lies. Mike needs to go. He really does.”



‘Culture of retaliation’

“I don’t feel comfortable speaking to some of the charges of racism, both because of our civility code and due to pending litigation,” Meyer-Mitchell volunteered. “I represent our children and have to protect (Norwalk Public Schools). However, I do want to speak to something Darlene Young alluded to, which is the culture of retaliation and vendetta, which has damaged our community. I experienced that to a very large extent. But I’ve never experienced that in my entire professional career.”

Meyer-Mitchell declined after the meeting to explain what she meant by “pending litigation.” Barbis has snapped at her in many BoE meetings.

The DTC has a lot of work to do “to bring people back together, because I know what the impact on me and my family was of during that,” Meyer-Mitchell said. “And I can only imagine people who have been enduring it for five years, 10 years, 20 years… we have to change the culture.”



Roll call vote

Rilling did not comment during the discussion but called for a roll call vote. Voting in favor were:

  • Nicol Ayers
  • Dickson DeMarsh
  • David Heuvelman
  • Laoise King
  • Eloisa Melendez
  • Elsa Peterson Obuchowski
  • Kadeem Roberts
  • Darius Williams
  • Ron Banks (by proxy)
  • Sherelle Harris
  • J.J. Byron (by proxy)
  • Jody Proct
  • Mike Mushak
  • Sonia Oliver
  • Sharon Stewart
  • Martha Dumas
  • Travis Simms (by proxy)
  • John Kydes
  • Pam Parkington (by proxy)
  • Stephanie Thomas
  • Sam Pride
  • Brenda Penn-Williams
  • Kay Anderson
  • Greg Burnett
  • Patricia Marshock
  • Barbara Meyer-Mitchell
  • Dominique Johnson (by proxy)
  • Lynne Moore
  • Joe Tamburri
  • Deb D’Arinzo
  • Tina Duryea
  • Colin Hosten
  • Esther Murillo
  • Lucia Rilling (by proxy)
  • Patricia Tinto


Mayor Harry Rilling cast his wife’s vote. Anderson is Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel’s wife. Harris was just reelected to the Board of Education after a two-year hiatus.

“I have to abstain,” Stern said.

“Nobody voted against it,” Hosten said.

The DTC is a 55-member body; 36 votes were cast.


‘Don’t appoint him to anything’

After the meeting, Morris suggested that whoever is elected BoE Chairman on Tuesday shouldn’t appoint Barbis to any Committees.

“Maybe you can’t ask for his resignation, but you can certainly disable his influence,” he said.

Kimmel appears likely to be elected Board of Education Chairman for the upcoming year. Asked about this by email, he responded, “Committee assignments will be finalized after tomorrow night’s organizational meeting.” On  Tuesday, he wrote, “I hope to finalize all committee assignments by the end of this week or early next week, at the latest.”

This story was amended at 10:30 a.m. to show additional information from Colin Hosten: DTC members who voted by proxy. That includes Travis Simms, who wasn’t in the original list. At 1 p.m. it was changed to show that Ed Camacho did not second the vote, as he is not a DTC member. 


18 responses to “Norwalk Democrats censure Barbis”

  1. Sue Haynie

    Mike Barbis, I’d suggest you become an Independent, heck with political parties and their group think.

  2. Bryan Meek

    And 40 years later the children of SoNo still do not have a modern neighborhood school facility.

    Academic professionals with national experience have told me no where have they ever seen political leaders actively fighting against new schools. Only in Norwalk.

    I wish a 1/10th of the energy being spent on rebuking someone for words would be spent on actual actions to help our neediest children. If it takes building a charter school there so you can give out jobs to the politically connected, just get it done. I know I speak for many when I say we are sick of your games.

  3. Ron Morris

    I know I speak for many when I say we are sick of the racism from the BOE

  4. TRS

    It’s APPALLING that the Teacher’s Union sent out a one-sided survey to get rid of Mike Barbis. Not partial AT ALL!

  5. John ONeill

    @Ron — I’m new on this forum, but you seem to use racism on every post. Is Norwalk really that bad a place? Please confirm and I’ll move out by the end of the month. I would never want to live in that environment. Is there a place that you’d recommend?
    My travel budget allows me to go anywhere in the world…Let me know.

  6. Nora King

    How about District E! Gotta love this one. 11 voting members and 6 left out because 6 of them would not have agreed to this.

  7. niz

    racism is a legit problem in nps, there are complaints prior to the email releases. just like failing to provide SpEd kids F.A.P.E., and building more schools. not just cause of the resent influx… Meek makes an honest point. btw Rahway, NJ is facing not just need for schools, but new families,kids on waiting lists to get in!! yeah they got w/ new apartment buildingbtoo. mr O’neill, yes, please take me with u?

  8. JustaTaxpayer

    We are really in a bad place. Not just Norwalk, but society as a whole. Conservatives try to speak on college campuses and are continually shouted down. We see a microcosm of this in Norwalk. If you don’t tow the in-party line, or God forbid comment on the number of illegals in this country, you’re shouted down. Love has no hate here? Right

  9. JustaTaxpayer

    Can someone tell me how the Mayor’s wife is voting?

  10. Franchesca Feliciano

    @john O. I’m Hispanic and I’ve don’t recall having experienced racism in Norwalk. Clearly its present, but in the last 5 years I’ve been here (relocated from Queens, NY) I love Norwalk’s diversity and accessibility to lots. My kids are young, only 2 and 3 so experiencing school(preschool) is new but positive for me. I attend the United Methodist church on West Ave and it too is culturally diverse and accepting(mostly elderly folks). I don’t know much about Barbis, but he was clearly wrong and the public shaming tells me others aren’t standing for it and will hopefully work to make it right.

  11. Sharon Stewart

    I voted against taking the play area away from the Roodner court children.
    You gave the children a play area near North Taylor Ave?
    That’s ridiculous.
    Let’s not forget Nathaniel Ely was a school at one point, all the neighborhood children went there, this school used old ancient books, lacked supplies, had some not all of the worst teachers and parents started refusing to send their children there.
    Let’s talk about charter schools, which like catholic schools have a curriculum expectation lower than a regular public school curriculum, once these children transition to high school they fall behind and never catch up. so your suggestion is to have a charter school from grades K – H.S. eventually?
    Wont that mean when the children graduate and go to college the children will be ill prepared?

  12. Mimi

    And the Barbis witch hunt goes on, perseverated by the same predictable Rilling cabal who orchestrated coordinated character slander hit pieces this past election season, with not one elected official from the Democratic Party publicly calling out the cabal for their very own incivility and morally indefensible behavior. I’ve never met Mr. Barbis. As I have children in NPS, I’ve followed him and his work very closely through media and through attending some meetings. He has exhibited on countless occasions that he fights hard for all children, not some children.

    Profane language, name calling, anger and frustration were in Mr. Barbis’s email. Profane language and name calling should have no place whatsoever and should not have been condoned several months ago by our mayor, who many feel should be held accountable for his inaction. Anger is a human emotion which we all experience. A few people on the vote list in this article have been guilty of hurtful, vitriolic rants and accusations on various social media sites. Barbis’s frustration is understandable and relatable once you attend some BoE meetings and at times sense a sort of contention and disconnect between the BoE and the mayor and Common Council. What I did not read in the email is racism, yet Barbis has been for months, and continues to be, marked a racist. What’s next, DTC, will you stone Mr. Barbis in the town square for all to see?

    Meanwhile, the public wants to know who of a very small circle sent the anonymous email as a hit piece right before the election. They want to see the communications back and forth, and they have a right to see it. If the sender had no ulterior motive and this is now all in the open, then why can’t he/she come forth? We have only been privy to a controlled narrative and one side of the story. Far less scandalous goings on have been FOIA’d by the media.

    The deeper the Rilling cabal digs itself into a hole with pack mentality smear tactics intent upon maligning individuals who don’t fit their personal preferences or political agenda, the more disgusted the general public becomes. Norwalkers are not being governed so much as they are being lorded over by the machine which has persisted in dividing our city by playing constituents as political pawns, defending false cries of racism and accusing racism for their own political gain, destroying reputations and undermining public opinion and progress, all of which are weakening Democracy here in our city.

    A woman who read the Barbis email, did not believe it racist, and is choosing not to buy a home in Norwalk because of the insider drama, commented under another NoN article:

    “And for me – a woman of color – I walked away feeling that the race card was being used as a tool to obliterate a hated opponent rather than an actual racist act having been committed. And that offends me. When actual racism occurs, it needs to matter, be recognized and dealt with. False accusations undermine progress. This situation seems – from a pure spectator perspective – like next-level infighting designed to fuel fires, undermine progress and satisfy egos. It’s not a good look.”

    This commenter is spot on. It’s not a good look. It is saddening but not surprising that the commenter is choosing another town because while she appreciates Norwalk’s community and culture as she mentioned in her post, she is turned off by our broken governance and by the dirty politics employed by our elected officials from the top down. Maybe Duff, Rilling, King, Camacho and Melendez will finally get it together once they realize that residents are becoming so fed up with their corrupt antics that more and more of them are voting with their feet.

  13. John ONeill

    @Sharon Stewart: You bring up lower curriculum expectations at Catholic Schools?? If I wrote what I was thinking Nancy wouldn’t print it. I have children who went thru Catholic Schools — I would put their teachers/curriculum/culture up against any public school in Norwalk. Probably Fairfield County. I don’t know whether you have a hidden agenda or not, but please do your homework before commenting on something you obviously know nothing about. All Saints is an experience my family wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China. Holy Cow! Not only were our children not behind, they were ahead upon entering High School. And trust me, it has nothing to do with their father’s genes. I would recommend All Saints to any family in Norwalk. As a matter of fact, the reason we ended up at All Saints is the principal at Fox Run at the time forgot she had an appointment. My wife who had taken the afternoon off. Not a good first impression on a new school district for us. Again, before pontificating about the curriculums of schools you know nothing about do your research. I would like to emphasize this is NOT a knock on Norwalk Public Schools, they are terrific considering the lack of support from the state on ELL crisis. The teachers have a lot of juggling to do. It is my hope the teachers step up and publicize the realities of our Band Aid approach to ELL situation. I’m still shaking my head at your comments..

  14. Ron Morris

    John ONeill
    You many want to recheck what you wrote.
    You state that I seem to use racism on every post. That is just wrong as the only issue that I have used the word racism about is the BOE. FACTS DO MATTER.
    With that said you seem to somehow bring up EEL funding in every post. Why? Everything doesn’t have to do with ELL funding.
    You also state I’ll move out by the end of the month. Well what can I say other than BYE.

  15. John ONeill

    Hey Ron: You may not realize it, but just about every dollar spent on ELL funding is coming out of resources for young African American kids. Hence, my concern. If you don’t realize this, go to Nancy’s story today on school overcrowding. Thanks for bringing ELL crisis up. It needs to stay on the front burner…Can you recommend a locale that’s less racist than Norwalk? Thanks in advance for any direction..

  16. John Miller

    @John O’Neill’: Your response to Sharon Stewart’s comments was spot on. I don’t know where she got her information about Charter and Catholic Schools but it bears no resemblance to reality. Your assessment of Mr. Morris’ modus operandi of always defaulting to racism is also spot on.

  17. Ron Morris

    @John O’Neill
    You have failed to acknowledge that I do not use racism on every post. That in fact the only time I have brought up racism is when commenting on the racist issues with the BOE.
    You only have a few days until the end of the month to move as you stated.

  18. John ONeill

    Hey Ron — You have to find me a place that’s less racist than Norwalk. I’m not sure you can do that, but I’m all ears. Reread my original post…. Don’t worry, many people these days read things too quickly without completely digesting the words. So, reread my original post slowly, take a minute or two to digest those words, then take a few minutes to gather your thoughts together, and then reply. Look forward to hearing from you. You do agree with my premise regarding ELL resources strangling other programs don’t you?? You must also agree that it’s completely unacceptable and irresponsible that state funding has been ZERO. By the way, I will also agree that not all of your posts have racist undertones..I hope this clears up any misconceptions you may have…

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