Trumbull GOP cries foul on diversity task force nominations

TRUMBULL — A Town Council task force intended to provide a forum for diverse viewpoints is once again drawing the ire of council Republicans, this time over a plan to have a volunteer committee screen potential applicants.

In a written statement issued June 14, the council’s Republican contingent — Minority Leader Carl Massaro, Deputy Leader Lori Rosasco-Schwartz, Steve Lemoine, Tony Scinto and Donna Seidell — criticized the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, citing a lack of results from the group, which the council formed in July 2020 and seated its eight volunteer members in September.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Town Council creation of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (EDIT), there is nothing to show for it,” the GOP contingent wrote in a statement signed by all five members.

Council Democrats replied to the criticism by criticizing Republicans’ lack of participation with the task force.

“EDIT wasn’t receiving participation from the Republican caucus since its inception,” said Majority Leader Jason Marsh at the council’s April 5 meeting when Republicans raised similar complaints about the committee’s perceived lack of results and lack of GOP representation. “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 council is currently in the process of naming new task force members. The group has four vacancies after half the members quit earlier this year after controversy arose over a social media post by the committee’s chairwoman. The rancor around the post caused the committee to pause its work in January.

Over the past weeks, the Republicans have protested council chairwoman Dawn Cantafio’s decision to appoint a committee to screen potential replacement members.

“This will prevent the public and Town Council from ever having the chance to see all of these candidates for themselves,” they wrote. “What are the Democrats afraid of — that some members may offer perspectives that differ from their pre-determined agenda?”

Cantafio said the process to select candidates would be the same as it was when the task force originally formed — nominees would be screened by a committee before being forwarded along to a council subcommittee, then voted on by the full council.

“I’ve reached out to all 10 applicants, and I’m hoping to interview them with a bipartisan group of three people, and then refer candidates to a subcommittee and then to the full council,” she said. “I would like the process to be bipartisan. I’ve reached out to the minority chairman (Massaro) to see if they would like to participate. Ideally, I would like the committee to consist of one (Democrat), one (Republican) and one of the council’s unaffiliated members.”

Cantafio said she hoped to have the final candidates on the council agenda for its August meeting.

“We have a good mix of applicants, and I’m excited to meet with them,” she said. “We have a lot of volunteers interested in serving our community. Depending on everyone’s availability, we’d like to schedule everyone’s interview by August.”

Tara Figueroa, who had been the task force’s chairwoman, lamented the fact that numerous opportunities to have community dialogue had been missed during the months the task force had been paused.

Among the events since January have been the anniversary of George Floyd’s killing, Juneteenth and Pride Month.

“It’s unfortunate we haven’t met since January,” she said.

In July, three juveniles, one 12-year-old and two 15-year-olds, posted a video of themselves with stolen Blue Lives Matter lawn signs. At the insistence of the property owners, the three were arrested on 13 larceny-related charges.

At the time, Figueroa made a comment in a Trumbull social media page offering to replace the Blue Lives Matter signs with Confederate flags.

When Figueroa’s comments resurfaced in a screen capture posted on social media in January, a political firestorm erupted, with the town’s police union, Police Commission Chairman Ray Baldwin and scores of private citizens demanding her ouster from the task force, and others advocating protests at Figueroa’s home and threatening to burn a cross on her lawn.

In the ensuing weeks, four members of the task force resigned, leaving the group without a quorum. After holding four meetings between October and January, the group has not met since.

Schwartz said the GOP problems with the current situation boiled down to three issues — the proposed subcommittee pre-screening applicants out of public view, the drawn-out process of naming replacement members and the council not addressing the task force’s initial shortcomings.

“This whole thing has been one misstep after another,” she said. “We believe the controversy was mishandled. There’s been no apology or public statement or explanation. Now, instead of revisiting the setup of the commission, we’re simply filling vacancies.”