NORWALK, Conn. – A rift on the Norwalk Board of Education stoked simmering resentments Monday night at the Democratic Town Committee meeting.
DTC Chairman Ed Camacho said it is important for members to try to work together to overcome lingering hard feelings left over from his rise to leadership over long-time active DTC member Brenda Penn-Williams, but his efforts to organize the troops – and provide a way for resentments to be aired in an organized way – hit roadblocks.
Two of three BoE minority members who are behind a recent complaint to the NAACP alleging racial discrimination on the board aired their grievances, asking, in part, that Camacho take a stand on their behalf over a comment they said was indicative of the problem they have been facing. A feeling was expressed by the BoE members and others that the DTC is not supporting its elected officials, in that DTC members are leaving comments online, under their own names, attacking those officials.
Camacho said he had talked to Gov. Dannel Malloy, who is up for re-election this fall.
“You know, he’s in a dogfight,” Camacho said. “But his thinking is if each of the towns he won can get 5 percent more votes than he did last time he can win by a landslide. On the other hand, if he gets 1 percent less then he’s going to lose. So it’s that close and I think I would like for us to do our part, because Norwalk has historically been viewed as not the most functional DTC in the state. Since we are the sixth largest city in the state, it’s my hope we can not make this about personalities.”
A personality not in the room loomed large over the proceedings: Republican BoE member Jack Chiaramonte was recently quoted in a published report as calling BoE member Shirley Mosby “the girl who cried black,” a takeoff on the cliché, “the boy who cried wolf,” in an article stemming from her complaint to the NAACP.
Mosby said many people in the community are upset about the comment. “That goes to the insensitivity that we have been talking about for the last year and a half, two years,” she said. She wanted to know what the DTC would do about it.
Camacho said he thought the way that comment was played up was “highly insensitive,” but tried to discourage having a conversation about it in the DTC meeting. But Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said it should be discussed there as members of the community found it “highly offensive.” Camacho should write a letter to the editor on the topic, she said.
Camacho said he’d like to have a collaborative conversation to draft such a letter. “There is a difference of opinion about what has occurred, what the dynamics have been, on the Board of Education,” he said. He said he had only been to one BoE meeting and did not want to step on NAACP President Darnell Crosland’s toes.
The topic was revisited when NAACP member Andre Williams expressed confusion over who was representing Mosby legally. Camacho said he didn’t know if Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr was representing anyone on the board at this point, although Spahr penned several emails to Crosland on the topic on behalf of BoE Chairman Mike Lyons.
“I know that was a contentious issue,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “It’s kind of like the same situation, the Corporation Counsel will represent members of the Common Council. They’re not city employees either, but they are representing the city in their actions. He is representing the Board of Education. I know there is some question as to the legality of whether or not Mr. Spahr can rightfully represent the Board of Education. I think that is being looked into. I don’t know what the final decision is going to be, but they did show language in the city charter that said the Corporation Counsel could, at times, represent the Board of Education.”
“In this particular instance the matter is problematic because this issue is amongst members of the board,” said Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein. “… One board member is getting city aid and the other is not.”
That issue had been raised by BoE members, Rilling said.
BoE member Rosa Murray sat silent through the discussion, but BoE member Migdalia Rivas said she had come to the meeting, although she is not a DTC member, to decry the lack of support from the committee, citing “People in the DTC who have said that I should be removed because I am unprofessional, that I am not capable of doing my job.” She said her daughter had seen these comments and that it was hurtful.
“This isn’t about one person, it’s about all of us and it’s about our children,” Mosby said. “I know all of us want what is best for our kids. It’s about accepting people for who they are. … Three elected officials, three female, women, have stood up and said something is wrong. If you get three women saying something is wrong – not one, not two, but three, three women, you would think that – and then on top of them speaking up, they have to be subjected to this kind of stuff, where their children (see hurtful comments). I mean my son, personally he will not even touch this party now and I am sad because he has potential. He won’t even go near it now. He said forget these people. That’s sad. We lost a great leader in the future, a great leader, because he doesn’t want to deal with these people.”
“I don’t think that any of these issues have been aired out so I don’t think we can take any actions on them tonight,” Camacho said. “The actions we have taken tonight is we have formed committees. These conversations can be had in those committees and then those committees will then be able to report to the full DTC and recommend actions or anything else in connection with those.”
Camacho had emphasized the team building approach, which includes social gathering so everyone can get to know each other.
“The last few months and the next few months are going to be about establishing a process,” he said, “so that we can have these issues dealt with in an orderly manner rather than a haphazardly manner because I don’t think we’re going to like the result if we do things in an haphazard manner.”
Correction, 2:11 p.m.: Deb Goldstein is not a DTC member.