Democratic first selectman candidate Vicki Tesoro called for a sweeping overhaul of how the town government creates and enhances community spirit and delivers services that build a sense of identity.
“We’re committed to creating opportunities for residents to interact with each other,” she said in a press release Monday. “Over the last five years, partisan politics has pervaded our community life. A confrontational, partisan and overly legalistic leadership style has turned off would-be community participants. Opportunities for us to listen to each other have been lost.
“That’s going to change with a Tesoro administration," Tesoro said. "No longer will community volunteers be vilified for having a different opinion than the person who occupies the corner office at Town Hall.
"We will strengthen our community, build bridges across generations and put the fun back in Trumbull.”
After reading his competitor’s statements Monday, First Selectman Tim Herbst replied that it was the town’s Democrats — not its Republicans — that were engaging in “partisan politics and vilifying others.”
The first selectman pointed to last Friday’s charity golf outing that raises money for student programs at Trumbull High School as an example of partisan politics.
“It’s a completely apolitical event where we have raised $187,000 for student programs at THS over four years,” he explained. “Throughout the years, members of the Republican Party have played in the golf tournament and made donations toward the event, because no matter who is the First Selectman, this event should go forward because this charity golf tournament is about the kids at Trumbull High School, not about politics.”
Herbst said that not one member of the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee attended the event or volunteered the day of the event.
“In reviewing the financials for the Golf Classic, I can confirm that over the last four years, the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee has not donated $1 dollar to this event,” he said. “This really says it all. Actions speak louder than my opponent’s empty rhetoric.”
He said that the Democrats need to look to the past at previous community leaders who attended events like these despite their political beliefs.
“I am pleased that people like Rosemary Seaman and the late Tony Timpanelli checked their party affiliations at the door and put the kids first,” Herbst added. “It’s a shame that the new Democratic Party leadership of Tom Kelly and Lisa Labella are so blinded by partisan hatred that they make everything political and personal.
“These are the people that Mrs. Tesoro surrounds herself with and this does not serve the town well.”
Tesoro’s plan
In her release, Tesoro announced a series of initiatives designed to rebuild the bonds of Trumbull community.
They include these commitments:
•We will restore Trumbull Day to a summer event for the community, planned by community volunteers in a proactive, methodical manner. The decline of the event was avoidable. It has frustrated the community and become a case study in mismanagement. We will restore the Trumbull Day Commission and staff it with community volunteers, starting in our first month in office, and we’ll plan for a 2016 Trumbull Day months in advance, not weeks.
•We will explore the possibility of turning Trumbull Day and other community events and celebrations into self-sustaining programs.
•We will restore the Trumbull Youth Association (TYA) to an independent line item in the budget and study the development of a community theater program. We will treat youth theater and the arts in general for what they should be — opportunities for valuable education for young people and enriching experiences for the whole community. We will also restore the youth director position.
•We will focus on expanded programming and enhance participation at the current senior center. We believe the existing senior center could serve the community better and has suffered from official inattention and from failure to utilize existing funds for improvement.
•We will explore the need for a community center by creating a committee that brings people of all ages together and delivers a set of viable options within six months. This process will seek input from a true representation of our entire community, because our goal is to create true and lasting cross-generational interaction.
•We will hold quarterly open forums with the public. In order to allow for maximum community participation, these forums will be scheduled on weekend days. The dates will be set well in advance. These meetings will be community-driven conversations where residents can share their thoughts and concerns and receive direct responses to their questions and comments.
•We will methodically and regularly survey our residents for their input about new events and festivities. Participation depends on encouragement, on support of interesting ideas, and on celebrating the spirit of community involvement, not crushing it by attacking volunteers.
•Modest investments for our community will be paid for by cuts to line items where spending is excessive, such as legal fees.
“We don’t need to spend more,” Tesoro said. “We need to spend smarter. We need a fresh approach and we need it now.”
Herbst responds
Similar to the charity golf event, Herbst said that Trumbull Day is another community effort that has lacked the support of the Trumbull DTC.
“In the last three years of Trumbull Day, my colleagues in the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee have not taken a sponsorship for Trumbull Day and have not volunteered the day of the event,” he said. “Many of them did not even choose to attend the event. Their appointees to the Trumbull Day Commission resigned rather than working in a collaborative manner.”
Herbst called the lack of collaboration “unfortunate.”
“My question is rather simple — if you want Trumbull Day to succeed, why won’t you take a sponsorship, attend the event or volunteer the day of the event?” he asked. “My opponent’s supporters actually root for the Town to fail because they believe if Trumbull fails, they win. People that think like that don’t belong in government.”
Going over the other points in Tesoro’s plan, Herbst was critical of several aspects that he said were already happening, such as open public forums and a community center for all ages.
He added that his opponent's statements about restoring the Trumbull Youth Association were not factual.
"Again Mrs. Tesoro’s rhetoric doesn’t match the facts," he said. "Board of Finance vice chair Paul Lavoie and BOF Republicans motioned to fund TYA in the operating budget. Mrs. McHugh, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Palo voted against this motion only to reverse their position after being called out for voting against TYA.”
"The Democrat party is claiming that they restored TYA when in fact it was the Republican's on the Board of Finance that restored it," Lavoie added. "In fact, the Democrats voted it down and when informed by Chairman Hammers, asked to rescind their vote and voted to pass it unanimously."
Stop lecturing
The first selectman was even more combative when discussing his opponents stance on fiscal responsibility.
“If she believes in spending smarter, she should explain to Trumbull taxpayers why she supported a 78% increase in spending over ten years,” he said. “She called a 12.5% budget increase a ‘status quo’ budget and told seniors on fixed incomes that an 8.3% budget increase was palatable — an increase that she thought should have been even higher.
“In 2004, she actually criticized my predecessor for a 3.7% spending increase because she felt it wasn’t enough,” he added. “That same year she was advocating for a 6.7% increase. She opposed the right of voters to decide a $73 million dollar renovation of Trumbull High School and she opposed spending and borrowing controls that were approved by the voters during Charter Revision in 2011.
“Being lectured by Mrs. Tesoro on fiscal discipline is like Anthony Soprano lecturing someone on how to obey the law.”