Trumbull forms inclusion task force

TRUMBULL — A sometimes contentious town council debate ended with near unanimity as the members approved forming the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

Keith Klain, D-2nd District, and Lisa Valenti, U-4, abstained.

The group will be charged with making quarterly reports to the council and examining ways in which the town can be an inclusive and welcoming community.

The council meeting dragged into the wee hours Wednesday, after nearly an hour of comments from the public. Of the 15 speakers who signed up to comment about the task force, all of them supported , with resident Wayne Winston saying Trumbull had a chance to “be on the cutting edge of getting this right.”

Julia McNamee said she was overjoyed that Trumbull was looking into forming the task force.

“There are so many areas worth looking at,” she said.

One area that could be more inclusive is education, said 16-year-old Chris Powell.

“I’ve been disappointed with my education,” he said. “We learned almost nothing about African American history. There was slavery, segregation, then boom — that’s the end. Racism ended.”

But that’s not reality, he said.

“Racism didn’t end just because Obama got elected, and it breaks my heart to see that it took the killing of George Floyd for this to happen,” he said.

Numerous speakers mentioned scores of comments on Trumbull-oriented social media pages, with posters either opposing the formation of a diversity task force or stating that there was no need for it.

“Trumbull seems to have gotten more racist over the years,” said Sue Neil. “Especially having seen what people are writing. You hear, ‘They had the rally, what more do they need?’”

Tara Figueroa said she was disheartened by those opposing the initiative.

“Privilege affords the luxury to feel like this is a choice,” she said. “For minorities like myself, we don’t feel that luxury. This is an imperative.”

All people approach issues with their life experiences, said Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, who also expressed surprise that there was opposition.

“All of us have different experiences, and we ourselves cannot know the experiences of others,” she said.

When the council took up the topic at 11:47 p.m., discussion mostly focused on the makeup of the task force’s proposed eight members. Republicans Stephen Lemoine, R-4th, and Minority Leader Carl Massaro, R-3rd, each introduced similar amendments seeking to mandate a 4-4 party split among task force members.

“A task force whose thinking is biased does not have everyone in the community’s best interests,” Lemoine said. “It would be a flawed task force. The process of selection is flawed.”

In reply, Ashley Gaudiano, D-4th, pointed out that as a creation of the town council, the task force would be subject to the council’s minority representation rules. An eight-member commission could not have more than five members of any party.

“If you have people in mind, bring them forward,” she said.

But Tony Scinto, R-2nd, said that in his experience, commissions and task forces always tend to become political, a comment that Mary Isaac, D-1st, took exception to.

“It’s a shame to turn it around and say that this is going to be political, and to put it out there as though it is,” she said.

Joy Colon, D-4th, was more direct.

“This task force may be a town council creation, but it’s community driven,” she said. “This isn’t politics, it’s humanity wanting our diversity to be celebrated, not tolerated.”

After the council rejected Lemoine’s motion, Massaro suggested a 4-4 split between the parties. This led an exasperated Kevin Shively, D-2nd, to suggest that debating the partisan split of the task force was going against the very nature of what it was intended to be.

“Why are we even talking about it?” he asked. “What is different about equality, diversity and inclusion between political parties? Equality is equality right? Inclusion is inclusion. If we’re going to inject some sort of litmus test, aren’t we injecting partisanship into it?”

Colon agreed, saying that “the level of micromanagement continues to be a micro-invalidation” of the issue from people who had been opposed to even forming a task force.

In the end, the five-hour meeting ended with both parties voting in favor of forming the task force, without placing additional limits on party affiliation.

Shively concluded the discussion by expressing the hope that those who wanted to serve on such a task force do so with the community’s best interest at heart.

“I know what’s going to happen after we do this is that there will be some who will say it’s political,” he said. “But before you do that, can we all just please wait until we can work together and put this task force together, and maybe we’ll all be surprised.”