Council reaffirms Trumbull diversity task force, with a one-word change

TRUMBULL — Nearly three hours of public comment and often contentious council debate resulted in a one-word change to a resolution that reaffirmed Trumbull’s commitment to a diversity and inclusion task force.

In passing Resolution TC28-171, the council committed to reforming the depleted Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force with four new members to bring its roster back up to eight. The resolution originally said the council would appoint a “new” chairman and vice chairman but the members struck the word “new” from the document, allowing current chair Tara Figueroa a chance to continue to lead the group.

The resolution passed 12-8-1, with a mostly party-line vote. All those in favor were Democrats, with Democrats Michael Miller, Kevin Shively and Joy Colon joining all five Republicans in opposing it and one abstention by a member who is non-affiliated with a political party.

Figueroa remains a member of the task force but her chairmanship was not specifically addressed. The council will appoint both chair and vice chair and Figueroa may be appointed to either role but is not guaranteed a leadership position.

The council also rejected Republican proposals to limit party representation on the committee and to mandate that the chair and vice-chair not belong to the same party.

“It is time for a fresh start in recognition of the need for EDIT to continue its work,” said Council Chairwoman Dawn Cantafio, D-1st District.

Cantafio opened discussion, which came after a public comment session in which dozens of residents expressed their thoughts, with a statement that the social media controversy surrounding the task force had brought social divisions within the town to the forefront.

“If nothing else, these conversations have shown us the urgent need for this kind of community dialog about diversity that this very task force is designed to foster,” she said.

Republicans on the council sought to amend the resolution to give the council greater control over the task force, something GOP leader Carl Massaro, R-3rd, said the council had “failed miserably” to do when it formed the panel in July.

Massaro offered amendments to define the scope of the task force to just suggest areas in town government where issues of equity, diversity and inclusion should be reviewed by the council, and to provide recommendations to address them.

Joanne Orenstein, D-3rd, objected to limiting the group’s scope, saying the members had been making progress during the short time the committee operated before being shut down by the social media blowup and subsequent member resignations.

“All of this has nothing to do with what EDIT was doing,” she said. “They were reaching out to every department in town.”

Orenstein also addressed Figueroa, whose social media post over the summer that she would replace anyone’s stolen Blue Lives Matter sign with a Confederate flag precipitated a controversy seven months later.

“There was never any sort of politicking or anything that I found divisive and the chairwoman was never anything but graceful and competent,” Orenstein said.

Massaro disagreed, saying he took “great issue” with Figueroa’s words.

“Her intention was very clear and very negative and we have not brought the task force before us to address any of these issues,” he said.

Massaro also sparred briefly with First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, an ad-hoc member of the council, after he claimed Tesoro had done nothing to address the controversy except to hold “secret meetings” to try and calm the waters.

“I have to ask Mr. Massaro what he is referring to,” Tesoro said.

“I know what I’m talking about and you know what I’m talking about,” Massaro said in reply. “You have done nothing to address this problem.”

Tesoro said she organized two meetings to which Figueroa, the town’s police union, Police Commission and a few others had been invited, but calling the meetings secret was “absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

Lori Rosasco-Schwartz, R-3rd, supported Massaro’s proposal to exert tighter control on the task force, pointing out that the group had begun meeting in September and had not submitted its required quarterly report on its activities.

“The task force was set up without enough definition, and we lacked enough governance structure,” she said.

But the council’s Republican caucus had been opposed to the committee from the outset, said Majority Leader Jason Marsh, D-3rd. He also objected to Massaro’s comment that Republican input wasn’t welcome.

“EDIT wasn’t receiving participation from the Republican caucus since its inception,” he said. “If you want to have a voice in the committee, participate. You haven’t done it. To sit here and say the committee wasn’t doing its job is very disingenuous and frankly insulting to the members who gave their time.”

The task force simply never had a chance to make any sort of real progress since it met only three or four times, including its inaugural organizational meeting, said Ashley Gaudiano, D-4th.

“Diversity work is hard,” she said. “To say they were floundering is unfair.”

Michael Miller, D-1st, suggested the task force’s critics look in the mirror.

“All of this is mostly noise. It’s embarrassing,” he said. “Everyone who spoke about or worked with the commission had nothing but glowing reviews (for Figueroa). The chairwoman has been treated abysmally for one comment she made and then deleted. We should re-examine ourselves and look how we treat others.”

Kevin Shively, D-2nd, agreed, saying the social media controversy should have been a non-issue.

“A months-old social media post pulled out of context and grossly mischaracterized as a statement of hatred and bias against our police department, which the post did not even mention,” he said. “The public attacks and threats that followed are unacceptable. If we learned anything from this experience, it is just how important this effort is.”

Colon, believed to have been the first Black council member, expressed disappointment that a diversity committee had experienced such harsh backlash when a member expressed an opinion that challenged some beliefs in town.

“The ultimate test of our humanity is not where we stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where we stand at times of challenge and controversy,” she said. “The answer to injustice must always be solidarity. Always.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com