If no graduation due to coronavirus, then no Floyd protests, ex-Trumbull official Herbst argues

TRUMBULL — Former First Selectman Timothy Herbst is urging his successor to halt the June 6 George Floyd protest vigil unless Trumbull High School allows an in-person graduation ceremony for the school’s seniors.

In a memo to First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, a Democrat, the former four-term Republican cited his experience graduating from the school and participating in the ceremony during his time in office.

“This is an important milestone and monumental occasion for a graduating senior,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, these Trumbull High School seniors will not have that same experience because of a global pandemic and certain orders from federal, state and local governments.”

Herbst, who ran unsuccessfully to be the Republican nominee for governor, then stated his belief that Tesoro had applied a “subjective double standard” and suggested political cronyism was behind it.

“Ashley Gaudino (sic), a Town Council representative and political ally of yours, can organize a protest at the Town Hall that essentially ignores the executive orders concerning large gatherings and social distancing requirements,” he wrote.

Gaudiano, who is co-organizing the event with fellow Town Council member and fellow Democrat Joy Colon and others, said Herbst’s comments were “par for the course.” Reached on her way to a meeting with Tesoro and Police Chief Michael Lombardo about safety precautions for the vigil, she suggested Herbst brush up on his constitutional understanding.

“As an attorney, he should know better than anyone that we have a constitutional right to peacefully assemble,” she said. “To conflate a peaceful protest with a town-organized graduation ceremony shows a lack of understanding of constitutional rights.”

Tesoro said she had been in daily contact with Lombardo and that all precautions would be taken to ensure community safety, including social distancing and face coverings.

She said she was heartbroken for the seniors and their families that would not get to play their senior sports seasons or perform in the school’s spring musical or any of the other school activities that had been canceled.

“These circumstances were not of their creation and the solution was out of their hands,” she said. “I wish it were different, but it is not.”

She also reminded Hersbt that graduation was a school function not under the first selectman’s purview.

“As a former first selectman, (Herbst) should know that the graduation ceremony is the province of the school system,” she said. “I did insert myself in the process to help, not dictate what should be done.”

Tesoro noted that numerous other towns have held similar vigils or rallies, and that it was not up to the government to determine the time or place of protests.

“As a believer in the Constitution, no governmental authority should infringe on these rights,” she said. “The organizers are our neighbors and our friends who feel strongly about this subject and as American citizens, have the right to assemble and speak their minds.”

Herbst said Title 28 of the Connecticut General Statutes allows municipal chief executives broad authority during emergencies to protect public health and safety.

Were he still first selectman, Herbst told Hearst Connecticut Media, he would “absolutely” shut down the planned protest.

“If I were still first selectman, I would say the rules apply to everybody,” he said. “What kind of message does it send that these kids can’t have a graduation, that we can’t have backyard barbecues, but a political ally of hers can gather hundreds of people on the town green for her political stunt? It’s total bull----.”

While the Floyd killing was a disgrace and a national tragedy, Herbst wrote, the protest can wait.

“They can have their protest next week, next month, three months from now when the state is fully reopened,” he said.