Commissioner seeks ‘payback’ against volunteer mapmaker during routine Trumbull redistrict meeting
TRUMBULL — A routine meeting of the 2020 Redistricting Commission took an unexpected turn when a member of the commission announced he was seeking “payback” over a perceived personal slight dating back a decade.
The May 9 teleconferenced meeting was proceeding normally, with members discussing various details of a seven-district voting map that resident Richard White had compiled during a 2012 redistricting. The map used data from the 2010 U.S. Census, which remains the most recent population data available until 2020 data becomes available in mid-2021.
Commissioner Tony Scinto, who is also a member of the Town Council, had stated his opinion that the map was flawed and that District 2 contained a high proportion of rental units. The redrawn voting districts, Scinto said, would likely drive down voter turnout.
“Listen, I could really get into this map, and really cause a lot of trouble because this map is atrocious,” he said.
Kevin Shively, a commission member and fellow councilman, asked what, in particular, Scinto disliked.
“Tell me why it’s atrocious,” Shively said. “Give us a reason.”
Commission member Tom Kelly also objected to Scinto’s characterization.
“I don’t think we should be talking about the work that was performed to go into this as being atrocious,” he said. “It’s not atrocious; it’s highly skilled people that put this map together, doing it the right way with science and everything else.”
Kelly’s reference to White, the map creator, appeared to anger Scinto and resulted in a 90-second exchange between the two.
“Since you opened the door about skill, let’s talk about the person who drew this map,” Scinto said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for payback on this one.”
Kelly said Scinto’s comments did not belong in a public meeting.
“Hold on one second, you can’t talk about payback,” he said. “That’s not appropriate decorum.”
Scinto refused to be silenced.
“No, no, no, I’m talking now. Be quiet,” he said.
Holding up what appeared to be a FEMA flood details map, Scinto criticized White, claiming the flood map showed the Pequonnock River misleadingly close to his house. The street Scinto lives on dead-ends at the river and his house is second from the end.
“This is a guy who drew a map of my house, put a river next to it, and then he put it on the internet,” Scinto said. “And then my insurance guy calls me and says, ‘Why is there a river next to your house?’ You trust this guy?”
Kelly replied, “Yes, I certainly do.”
Scinto waved the FEMA map.
“I don’t. I’ve got the evidence right here,” he said. “This guy’s no good for the town. He’s a hack. He’s nothing but a hack. I’ve had enough of this guy.”
Some people want to move backwards, and others want to move forward, he said.
“It seems Tom, like you’re in the backwards time,” Scinto told Kelly.
Chairman Laurel Anderson calmed the meeting, reminding members that the district maps had been drawn based on data that members were welcome to present to the commission.
“I have been requesting from all of you, bring us what you have,” she said. “I would be very happy to see an alternative if you have one.”
Anderson added that it had been unwise to denigrate a volunteer at a public meeting. Scinto agreed with Anderson’s sentiments, but did not back off his criticism.
“I’ve got stuff here that I’ve been sitting on for decades,” he said. “The guy drew a map of my house, then put it on the internet.”
With the situation calmed, the meeting proceeded uneventfully for another 45 minutes, with members hashing out the precise language for describing boundaries between council districts.
White, reached for comment Wednesday, said it was disappointing Scinto “chose a public meeting to defame me.”
The flood map in question seems to have been one that White compiled during the most recent Geographic Information System update, completed in June 2010. White said he had created several flood maps based on GIS data. He had given flood maps to Town Hall, the Planning and Zoning Commission, even the Nature and Arts Center, he said.
“The flood data for Fairfield County was updated in 2010, and insurance agents called everybody,” he said. He created the maps, but the information they were based on came from official sources, he said.
“It’s not my data,” White said.
Without knowing exactly which map Scinto had, it was impossible to know precisely what his objection was, but White said it was likely Scinto had misread the map key.
“It’s disappointing for a town councilman who lives in a floodplain not to know the difference between a floodplain and the river,” he said.
According to the online Trumbull GIS map, Scinto’s house sits in a Flood Hazard Zone, and is about 20 feet from the edge of the Pequonnock’s high-risk AE Zone, which FEMA defines has having at least a 25 percent risk of flooding during a typical 30-year mortgage.
Wednesday, Scinto insisted the flood map was inaccurate, but agreed that he should not have let personal animosity creep into a public meeting.
“I should have parsed my words a little better,” he said. “That wasn’t one of my better days.”