Here's why a Trumbull Town Council member abstained from voting on controversial diversity panel

Lisa Valenti

Lisa Valenti

Contributed photo

TRUMBULL — As the Trumbull Town Council debated the future of the town’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, there was one notable constant throughout the entire 2-hour debate. Every roll call vote ended with the same question, “Lisa Valenti?” and response, “Abstain.”

As Monday’s council meeting dragged on, Valenti’s abstention from every vote began to draw comments from those watching the meeting streaming on social media. Whatever the topic — from adding a full-time police representative to redefining the group’s mission or striking a single word from a proposed resolution — Valenti’s answer was the same.

“Abstain.”

In a written statement after the meeting, Valenti said she abstained from every vote out of sadness and frustration.

“I am saddened by the April 5 town council meeting,” she wrote. “How can we preach EDIT when we do not practice it ourselves? I have abstained from all votes pertaining to this issue as in a small town of Trumbull it is not the place. Unfortunately, we have now mimicked the great divide of the country.”

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, an ad-hoc member of the council, also noticed the repeated abstentions. A former two-term council member, Tesoro said she was “not an advocate” of such actions.

“Your constituents put you there to make decisions,” she said.

The council discussion stemmed from a social media blowup following the posting of a screen capture of a comment made by the task force’s chair, Tara Figueroa, that she would replace stolen Blue Lives Matter signs with Confederate flags.

The comment was made in July in a Facebook thread about three Trumbull youths who were arrested after stealing the signs. When the screenshot was posted in February a group of local residents began demanding her resignation, and the comments on social media grew so heated that four of the task force’s eight members resigned.

Valenti decried the “Hatfields vs. McCoys” attitude that seemed to permeate this week’s meeting — referring to the legendary feud between those families — and the council in general. This mentality seems to trickle down from national politics, she said.

“This is still a small town,” she said. “At the local level many people don’t vote party line, so I really think we’re muddying the waters going down that road.”

Tesoro agreed that national issues had trickled down to local politics, but those who ran for council seats owed it to their constituents to represent them.

“None of us ran on social justice and Black Lives Matter,” she said. “But you put yourself in that situation (on the council). You need to take a position. I really don’t understand it.”

Valenti, who represents the 4th District, is one of two unaffiliated council members, but the only one that does not caucus with either party and holds no leadership position on the council. The other unaffiliated council member, Tom Whitmoyer, U-2nd, is the council’s vice chairman.

“I’m kind of on my own island,” Valenti said.

Valenti said she can’t understand why there can’t be some common ground.

“Yes, I have witnessed acts of bigotry, discrimination, and prejudices in my involvement in PTA, religious organization and in life in general,” she said.

Valenti said she agreed with Republican Lori Rosasco-Schwartz, who had said at Monday’s meeting that the council should have set specific parameters and areas of responsibility for the task force. The task force, which formed over the summer as social justice marches in response to the killing of George Floyd made headlines, never had a clear direction, she said.

“The entire council and the entire committee should have met to talk about what they were going to do,” she said. “I think the task force was a great idea, but we formed it in reaction to national events, and I think we reacted too soon.”

One positive that did come from Monday’s meeting was the hour-long public comment session, where residents were each allowed two minutes to voice their opinion. Valenti said that an open public forum where everyone can have their say could be a way forward for the town and its disparate views on hot-button topics like race and social justice.

“Make it a full day, let’s hear from as many people as possible, what are their thoughts,” she said. “But I don’t know if even that’s feasible now. We’re in this crazy situation and I hope Monday’s meeting didn’t make it worse.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com