Commission: Trumbull councilman's remarks violated ethics code

Jeff Donofrio

Jeff Donofrio

TCTV

TRUMBULL — A councilman violated the town’s code of ethics when he made derogatory comments about a volunteer municipal mapmaker during a public meeting in May, the Trumbull Ethics Commission ruled last week.

After two hours of heated discussion and a one-hour executive session, the panel unanimously ruled that Town Councilman Tony Scinto, R-2nd District, violated portions of the Trumbull Code of Ethics.

The violation references comments Scinto made to Richard White, a volunteer mapmaker for the town. The ethics commission will file a letter of public reprimand with the town clerk.

The hearing pertained to an incident during a May redistricting committee meeting when Scinto — a member of the committee — became angry when describing a map drawn by White, who is also a member of Trumbull’s land acquisition committee.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for payback,” Scinto said of White.

Scinto also described White as a “hack” and is “no good for the town.”

Scinto also said his insurance agent called him after seeing a map drawn by White that was posted online. Scinto said the agent questioned a blue line drawn on the map next to his house. Scinto said the agent told him it appeared to be marking a river.

The map is of Bridgeport’s Parks and Recreation Property. It was created for the Trumbull Nature and Arts Center to help identify possible future properties, according to White. White said the map shows flood hazard areas in one of the more prone areas of Trumbull within the lower Pequannock River watershed.

At last Tuesday’s hearing, Scinto said, “there’s no blue river” next to his house. Instead, he said, “the river is down the street.” Scinto then showed a photo of his home, where there doesn’t appear to be any water near it.

In response, White said the line he drew near Scinto’s property isn’t a river, but is showing the percentage of the annual flood risk.

However, Scinto said if someone looks at the drawing who is not a “map guy, who doesn’t know anything about maps, and they see blue as river, it looks like a river.”

He also said he doesn’t need flood insurance at his home.

“My house is not in a flood zone — the house itself,” he said. “Part of the property, the yard, may be in the flood zone, so that requires me not to have flood insurance.”

When presenting his complaint at the hearing, White said Scinto violated the town’s council’s standard for conduct by failing to treat him in a “fair manner.”

“I take some offense being referred to as a hack within my profession,” White said. “This is something that I’ve been doing for over 25 years and something I’ve been doing as a volunteer since at least 2010 in the town of Trumbull.”

White’s personal bias was questioned during the hearing when Donofrio asked him about his support for Trumbull’s efforts to move to seven districts. Donofrio then showed hearing members a screenshot of White’s Facebook page where he called the four-district plan “sucky” in 2012.

“You didn’t disclose your bias to the redistricting committee did you?” Donofrio asked White, who said he didn’t feel it was necessary.

Scinto accused White of being partisan, saying his interest in redistricting was not as an independent expert.

Donofrio agreed with his client, saying White went into the redistricting committee “with an opinion that he didn’t like the redistricting plan in 2012, and he wouldn’t like it in 2020. He wants to go back to seven districts. An expert witness should be independent and unbiased, especially when that expert witness is the only expert witness being given to a committee of lay people charged with districting.”

Donofrio asked White how he learned about Scinto’s remarks, since he did not attend the May meeting, which was held on Zoom. White said several people reached out to him, including Don Eng, editor of The Trumbull Times.

Scinto admitted during the hearing that he should have handled how he voiced his opinion during the May meeting differently.

“I had better days. It was Saturday morning,” he said. “I didn’t lose my temper. I was frustrated.”

Donofrio argued his client’s behavior “doesn’t rise to the level of a code of ethics violation.”