An Open Letter to the Citizens of Trumbull and Tim Herbst, First Selectman:
When religion, politics and censorship threaten both our First Amendment right of free expression and the wall of separation between church and state, it is time to speak out and take action. For political, religious, and personal reasons, First Selectman, Timothy Herbst, removed, without legitimate authority, a selected painting, one of the thirty-three portraits of remarkable individuals, in the Town Library’s Great Minds Collection exhibit. By doing so, he interfered with the rights of all Trumbull’s citizens. Also, most recently, he has publicly impugned the integrity of our outstanding Library Director, Sue Horton, and the Library Board for choosing the exhibit and the protocol they used in acquiring it. These are unjust accusations. The Collection’s legitimacy and appeal were already established by two prior exhibits, one year at Colgate University, a liberal arts college, and six months in the lobby of the Quick Center at Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution. After two years of public viewing, there has not been one critical complaint about the exhibit, a single painting, or the entire collection. The exhibit is meant to engage the public, to encourage controversy and intellectual debate, but never censorship.
Mr. Herbst first claimed to have the right to remove the painting, Women of Purpose because of a copyright infringement that, he said, could make the town liable for damages. He was, he stated, protecting the taxpayers of Trumbull. But, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, who became interested in this issue on their own, there never was a possible copyright problem. And Mr. Herbst posted an image of the painting on the Internet, an action that defies logic if he was worried about copyright infringement.
Now Mr. Herbst is threatening to remove the entire Great Minds Collection over a bogus insurance issue. Before the paintings were hung, I had agreed with the Trumbull Library, an independent institution with its own rules and bylaws, to hold the library and the town of Trumbull harmless for any damage or loss to the entire collection. So the library and the town were always protected from any possible future expenses. Now, Mr. Herbst is threatening to take the entire Collection down unless I meet his new unreasonable demands. He insists that I sign a specific new agreement to indemnify the town for damages to the paintings, even though I have already done so. He insists that I ensure the paintings, an action which should be my own prerogative since I am the owner. He insists that I assume liability for any personal injury to town employees or library visitors who might be hit on the head by a falling painting installed by the library, or any other unpredictable event. In this new agreement he also demands, that I repair any damages to the walls that may occur because of the library paintings. However, unlike town employees, there is no reason for me to be intimidated by these demands. My plan is to keep the exhibit in place until the expected time in May, a plan I made with an independent Town Library with a valid oral agreement.
If Mr. Herbst removes the paintings and stores them, he will do so at his own peril and expense. I have made a considerable financial commitment to fight his actions already and I will continue, if necessary. I am especially saddened by the fact that an exhibit whose primary goal is education has been unnecessarily embroiled in a political, religious, and personal battle. If this is not resolved amicably, the town will be the biggest loser.
Lastly, I hope Mr. Herbst is aware that Sue Horton is a fantastic Library Director who followed all the protocols necessary in her agreement with me. I believe he owes the citizens of Trumbull an apology for his actions because they have hurt the town’s reputation as a wonderful place to raise a family with great institutions like our library. I do not expect an apology, but because of this incident, I worry that other members of the town have been treated with disrespect and vindictiveness. If Mr. Herbst intends to remain in office, and continue in public service at all, I would ask him to read the biographies that are an integral part of the Great Minds Collection. He would learn something about our great civilization, our freedoms, and our particular democracy.
Richard Resnick, owner of The Great Minds Collection.