Trumbull ethics hearing delayed over email mixup

Richard White

Richard White

Zoom screen capture

TRUMBULL — An ethics complaint against town councilman Tony Scinto has a new hearing date after an apparent glitch omitted Scinto from at least one email notice about it.

The Ethics Commission postponed a public hearing into derogatory comments made by Scinto, R-2nd District, about Richard White, a volunteer mapmaker who had helped the 2020 Redistricting Committee draw district maps. Scinto was also a member of the committee.

The hearing, scheduled to take place Aug. 17, is now tentatively scheduled for Oct. 5.

Attorney Thomas Lee, who chairs the commission, told the other members and White that a communication problem meant Scinto did not receive adequate notice of the hearing.

“I have been informed that there has been some problems with the email on the town website,” Lee said.

Members of various boards and commissions, like Scinto, have email addresses. Emails sent to those addresses should forward to a personal email address, but the spam blocker used by the town instead acknowledged receiving the messages but did not forward them, according to Technology Director Bill Chin.

“The email forwarding addresses work properly when the sender is because the email server trusts its own accounts,” Chin said. “So our volunteer officials were receiving emails in those instances. Only the external emails were not being forwarded by the server.”

Chin said the problem was difficult to detect because town officials were receiving emails from each other, and they had no way of knowing that a member of the public had sent them an email that they never received.

It was Scinto himself that brought the problem to light, Chin said.

“On Wednesday (Aug. 12), Tony asked us to see why he didn’t receive an email that was sent to him on (June 30),” Chin said. “We started looking into it and found the resolution.”

The problem went undetected for at least two months because the town does not routinely scan the rejected emails. The servers block thousands of spam emails every day, he added.

“Nobody feels worse about this problem than I do,” Chin said. “When we put a technical solution in place, we expect it to work properly.”

White, at Monday’s meeting, acknowledged sending emails to both Scinto and the council’s Minority Leader Carl Massaro, R-3rd, in the past few months. He never received a response from either, he said.

Because Scinto did not receive the email notices about the hearing, and because of an expressed desire from Scinto and Lee to have the hearing in person, the commission agreed to postpone to Oct. 5. The hope is by then the commissioners, Scinto and White at least will be able to participate in person.

Witnesses could be held in a separate waiting area until being called in to testify; the public still could observe the proceedings on Zoom, Lee said.

White’s complaint stems from a May 9 videoconferenced Redistricting Committee meeting when Scinto said he was seeking “payback” against White over a perceived slight dating back a decade.

The incident occurred as the committee was discussing a voting map that White, a Geographic Information System professional with 27 years experience and a member of the town’s Land Acquisition Committee, had prepared using U.S. Census data. Scinto had stated his opinion that the map was flawed.

“Listen, I could really get into this map, and really cause a lot of trouble because this map is atrocious,” he said during the May 9 meeting.

Fellow committee member Tom Kelly objected to Scinto’s characterization, saying the map had been prepared by “highly skilled people” using scientific data. Scinto in reply singled out White, who had drawn the map, saying he had “been waiting a long time for payback on this one.” Scinto went on to say, “This guy’s no good for the town. He’s nothing but a hack. I’ve had enough of this guy.”

White, in his ethics complaint, said Scinto’s comments had violated the town’s Code of Ethics, specifically the obligation of town officials to discharge their duties conscientiously and impartially, and to treat the public with tact and courtesy.

The animosity appears to stem from a 2010 GIS flood hazard map that White had prepared for the town. Scinto claimed the 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.

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 as having at least a 25 percent risk of flooding during a typical 30-year mortgage.

Scinto characterized the map as showing the river “next to” his house, and said it had caused confusion with his insurance policy.

White in his complaint has requested Scinto’s comments be removed from the meeting’s video and minutes, and that Scinto apologize and retract his comments.

“All of Mr. Scinto’s comments and claims about me, my work and the volunteer work that I have done for the town of Trumbull are false and without merit,” he said.

Though he has said he should have chosen his words more carefully, Scinto said he stands by the substance of his comments.