NORWALK, Conn. – It is well past time for Mayor Harry Rilling to publicly respond to a Board of Education member’s charge of racism, according to the Republican Town Committee executive board.
“It can’t always be, ‘Well, it’s in the works, it’s in the works.’ Really?” RTC Chairman Pete Torrano said Thursday. “It’s been in the works for seven months. You only have 24 months in your tenure. It’s seven months of (dealing) with this – and nothing has happened.”
Torrano on Thursday released three letters the RTC sent Rilling since the first of the year requesting action on the allegations of racism made by BoE member Shirley Mosby in June. The reason the letters are going public is that Rilling has not reached out to the RTC to communicate any action, he said. The only response came from Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho, who accused Republicans of a politically motivated attack.
Neither Rilling nor Camacho were available for comment.
Rilling has said that he attempted to set up a meeting with Mosby and BoE Chairman Mike Lyons; Lyons agreed but Mosby had not responded. Rilling has said nothing else publicly since releasing that information.
Torrano said the letters were written by seven members of the RTC executive board and sent with the approval of all 16 members. They were written because people are “very upset” about the situation, he said.
The first was sent on Jan. 3:
The Executive Committee of the Republican Town Committee is respectfully calling upon you, Mayor Rilling, to act on the allegations of racism on the Board of Education made by Board Member, Shirley Mosby.
As you and many citizens and parents of students in our school system are aware, Ms. Mosby not only made comments accusing certain members of the BoE, and in particular, Chairman Lyons, of racist activities supposedly targeting her and two other members of the BoE, but she also orchestrated the demonstration at City Hall put on by an outside group from Hartford. That group called Norwalk “ground zero” of racism, and compared Norwalk to Ferguson, Missouri.
Allowing these attacks by Democratic members of the BoE toward other public servants, including other Democrats and Republicans on the BoE to hang in the air, never addressed, poisons the atmosphere and scares people of good will away from participating. You as Mayor and leader of our city must take positive steps to determine if, in fact, the allegations are true or not. To allow such serious allegations to remain unresolved on one of your most important boards without any action of note to date by you cannot continue.
Please take the proper and transparent steps to end this uncivil and inflammatory situation.
This is an issue that can no longer be ignored. You must act to let our parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers know if these allegations are true. And, if so, you must take the proper action to remedy them. If they are not true, then you must say so, publicly.
Please notify the Republican Town Committee within 10 working days of your intentions regarding this matter.
The Republican Town Committee
A reply came from Camacho:
The Mayor has asked me to respond to what I respectfully submit is a purely political letter from you and the executive board of the Republican Town Committee, which sadly seeks to capitalize on and exacerbate racial tensions in our community. The Mayor seeks to ease those tensions, in accord with his fiduciary responsibility to the City. The Mayor has met with all sides in an effort to facilitate civil discourse and the respectful airing of grievances, perceived or otherwise, in public. That effort is ongoing.
On Jan. 26, Torrano and the RTC responded:
Thank you for your response, via NDTC Chairman Ed Camacho, to our letter of November 22nd regarding our concern with the very public and still unresolved charge of racial discrimination against BOE Chairman Mike Lyons.
You contend, according to Mr. Camacho, that our letter was (1) a “purely political letter” and a letter that (2) “sadly seeks to capitalize on and exacerbate racial tensions in our community.”
In our view, you are wrong on both points. If the letter had been “purely political”, we would not have communicated it to you privately. Secondly, the suggestion that we, by seeking a resolution of the charges, want to exacerbate racial tensions is frankly bizarre, since it is Shirley Mosby’s accusation that exacerbated racial tensions, and it is the lack of any apparent action to get to the validity of the accusation that sustains those tensions.
However, your response also states that you have met with all sides and that an effort to facilitate an “airing of grievances” is “ongoing.” This is encouraging but, we believe, insufficient.
First, we think the seriousness of the charge against one of the most important components of our city government requires more than an “airing of grievances”. It requires a clear determination of whether Ms. Mosby’s accusation is true or false. Without that, the atmosphere around BOE proceedings will remain noxious and, as a result, good people who might otherwise get involved in Norwalk’s education issues will decide not to.
We understand that last summer you quietly offered to Ms. Mosby and Mr. Lyons your availability to serve as a mediator, and that Mr. Lyons immediately agreed while Ms. Mosby did not. We are not aware that you pursued the matter any further. That is why we are encouraged to hear that your efforts are ongoing. At the same time we are puzzled at why seven months have passed with little or no hint of such efforts.Parents, teachers, school administrators, and taxpayers deserve to know if racial animus plays a role in BOE deliberations. You are the only one who can direct the appropriate parties to find an answer to that question and to insist that you get an answer and then to inform the public.
If we do not soon see evidence that there is indeed an ongoing effort to get to the bottom of this issue, and that there is a resolution in sight, then it will need to be brought to the public’s attention.
Norwalk Republican Town Committee Peter Torrano, Chairman
Cc: NDTC Chairman, Ed Camacho
On Feb. 11, Torrano wrote:
On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Norwalk Republican Town Committee I am advising you that since our first request to you on January 3, 2015 asking that you take appropriate action regarding the allegations of racism leveled against the Board of Education Chairman, Mike Lyons, has not been addressed in any positive manner, that we believe that we have no choice but to ask you again, and with the full knowledge of the public, to resolve this issue.
You, sir, have repeatedly stated that you have a transparent administration. We are now asking that you do as you state, and be transparent in this matter.
You responded to our original request, not personally, but through the Democratic Town Committee Chairman, Mr. Camacho. You said, through Mr. Camacho, that: “The Mayor has met with all sides in an effort to facilitate civil discourse and the respectful airing of grievances, perceived or otherwise, IN PUBLIC (caps added). That effort is ongoing.”
You have yet to say, publicly what that effort is. To our knowledge you have not met with the Chairman any time recently. We have no idea if you have met with the accuser in this matter, Shirley Mosby. We do know that our efforts on behalf of our Republican elected official have seemingly fallen on deaf ears.
Mr. Mayor, the Republican Town Committee will be releasing our original letter, your response, and this latest letter to the news sources in an attempt to clarify, once and for all if the charges of racism against Mr. Lyons are true, or if they are fabricated.
As stated in our first letter to you, the parents, taxpayers, students, teachers and school administrators deserve to know that you are acting on their behalf. You cannot simply ignore charges as divisive and serious as these and allow them to go unresolved.
The Republican Town Committee
Peter Torrano, Chairman
Torrano said there have been other attempts to get action from Rilling, beyond the written letters. Lyons has been asking, he said.
“We’re a good seven months now and it’s time for this to occur. … Enough is enough and this has just gotten to be a little bit ridiculous. This much time passing, seven months, and claims from the mayor that he is doing something and meeting people and frankly we don’t think he has met with anyone. There may have been the occasional phone call, but no action,” Torrano said.
Lyons, reached late Thursday night, said the mayor has been trying to resolve the situation.
“The Mayor has made several attempts to resolve this,” he wrote in an email. “I have agreed to participate; my understanding is that Ms. Mosby always claims she is ‘too busy’ to do so.”
Lyons said he appreciates “Torrano’s support and his effort to get a resolution here. No one should make charges like this against someone and then refuse to provide any evidence to back them up.”
Lyons said the DTC can make a statement this summer when it endorses its slate of candidates for the BoE.
“The Norwalk Democratic Party will signal this summer where it truly stands when it nominates its Board of Education candidates,” he wrote. “Does it endorse this kind of behavior, or does it say ‘there is no place in Norwalk politics for falsely accusing innocent people of racism as a political tactic.’ That will be its true test.”
Torrano denied “absolutely” that the motivation is political – the RTC has no mayoral candidate yet and Rilling was given the opportunity to respond privately, he said. There would be no release of letters if Rilling had provided an update or a schedule for action, without going into the specifics of who said what to whom, he said.
When it first became an issue, people said Rilling was new and still learning the job, he said. Now it’s said that it’s too close to an election.
“When is the right time to do this? It’s only a two-year term,” Torrano said. “No matter when, he’s going to claim this has something to do with the election. That is a standard response from somebody who is under the gun, to then point the finger at the person making the accusation or asking for a resolution, and making it sound like it’s political. It’s not political. If he had responded to this thing correctly on Jan. 3rd, with a letter… This wouldn’t have had happened.”