Council approves community center concept

About 70 residents turned up an hour before the Town Council meeting to protest the community center and the proposed sale of six town-owned properties.
About 70 residents turned up an hour before the Town Council meeting to protest the community center and the proposed sale of six town-owned properties.

Monday’s Town Council meeting had it all: a close vote on a contentious issue, passionate statements for and against it by dozens of residents, and a sign-waving protest and a 20-hour social media skirmish to boot.

The council voted 11-8 mostly along party lines to approve an Old Church Hill Road site for the construction of a community center and also to give preliminary approval to the artist renderings for the project. All six council Democrats voted against the proposal, as did Republicans Ann Marie Evangelista and Tony Scinto.

“This vote is only to approve the idea of a community center, and that it is an appropriate site,” Council Chairman Carl Massaro said before the meeting. Massaro stressed that final approval of construction, including cost estimates and site plans, was a long way off.

Prior to the vote, a series of residents spoke for and against the proposed community center, which would incorporate the current Senior Center and recreation programs. Artist renderings of the building also include a basketball court, pool area, cafe, and multi-use rooms.

An hour before the meeting, a group of about 60 people gathered on Quality Street near the entrance to the Town Hall parking lot in a protest against the perceived lack of transparency in the buildup to the community center vote, and also against the planned sale of six town-owned properties, including the Board of Education building, the Veterans Hall, and the Town Hall Annex. The property sale was not on Monday’s agenda.

After the meeting adjourned, the politicking continued, with First Selectman Tim Herbst taking to Twitter to accuse Trumbull Democrats of disrespecting senior citizens.

That particular exchange started when Trumbull attorney Ashley Guadiano posted a photo of the packed Council Chamber with the comment, “This is what democracy looks like @timherbst — a full town council meeting. The people want to be heard!”

In reply, Herbst pointed out community center supporters Suzanne and Domenic Monaco in the photo, ending with the hashtag #verybitter. In subsequent replies he referred to Trumbull Democrats acting out of “Hillary induced anger” and channeled his inner Donald Trump, tweeting “Very angry people. Very sad.”

Resident Regina Hobbs Haley questioned Herbst’s comments, writing, “I can’t even believe I am seeing a public official speak like this. @timherbst is this what you think a Governor sounds like?” to which Herbst replied, “I can’t believe the behavior I saw last night from Trumbull Dems and the disrespect towards senior citizens!”

The exchange, which began shortly before 8 p.m. Monday and featured several posters tagging the Trumbull Times @trumbulltimes, lasted more than 24 hours, with Herbst ultimately posting a GIF of a glass of wine being poured and inviting Guadiano, Haley and several others to continue the political discourse in person.