Herbst and Horton: Chief wasn't at meeting

First Selectman Tim Herbst
First Selectman Tim Herbst

This story, originally published on Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 12:45 p.m., has been updated to include information from Attorney Bruce Elstein, from Trumbull Library Director Susan Horton as well as more information from First Selectman Tim Herbst.

An allegation that Police Chief Michael Lombardo was present in a meeting ordering Library Director Susan Horton to take the painting down is not true, according to the first selectman and Horton.

This is a “complete and utter lie,” First Selectman Tim Herbst said Saturday morning. Later in the day, Horton returned a message from The Trumbull Times to confirm this.

Attorney Bruce Elstein released a statement Sunday, saying he believes the  police chief's presence was no accident and deflects from the heart of the issue.

Herbst said Chief Lombardo was walking out of Herbst’s office, on a completely unrelated matter, when Horton was walking in to meet on the painting and legal issues surrounding the collection.

Horton said that she passed Lombardo on her way into Herbst's office. The library director said she's upset that false information was spread around town, adding she's not sure how it got out.

"The confirmation of Chief Lombardo's appearance,"coincidentally" when Ms. Horton arrived, was an important admission for Tim Herbst to make," Elstein said Sunday. "Further, Mr. Herbst claims it was "coincidence" when Dr. Resnick called him and Chief Lombardo was again in his presence.  These "coincidences" are too much to withstand credibility."

In the meeting about the painting, Horton said, was her union representative and Herbst's chief of staff.

The painting titled “Women of Purpose,” depicting several famous women in history, including Mother Teresa and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, was rehung at the library Friday, though the entire collection’s future at the library remains a mystery. Herbst, town attorneys and an Attorney Bruce Elstein, representing the collection owner, Dr. Richard Resnick, have been going back and forth on an indemnity agreement. Resnick has signed an agreement, but not the one submitted by the town.

Herbst threatened Friday to have the entire collection taken down. On Saturday, when asked if the collection will come down, Herbst said he has to consult with town attorneys.

Elstein’s response to Herbst’s letter on Friday, states that Herbst does not have the authority to remove the collection, against the Library Board’s wishes. Elstein also mentions involvement of the police chief in taking the painting down.

Elstein said Horton was “summoned to the First Selectman’s office together with Trumbull’s Chief of Police to witness his directive to Ms. Horton.” (Read Elstein’s full letter here)

The allegation that the police chief was involved led to some outrage on Facebook, particularly on the group Keep Trumbull Real.

Horton, on Saturday evening, said that was Elstein's mistake. She was emphatic that she never told anyone that the police chief was in her meeting.

Herbst said the chief, who started his position in town in January, passed Horton as she was coming in. Lombardo was meeting on another issue in the building and had stopped in the first selectman’s office, Herbst said.

"It was my understanding that the Chief was present in the room when Tim directed Ms. Horton to remove the painting," Elstein wrote Sunday.  "I came to that understanding when Ms. Horton called to ask me to tell Dr. Resnick that the painting had been removed Friday morning.  To the best of my recollection she said, "He had the police chief there."  She was obviously, to my ear, quite taken aback, emotionally charged and shaken up over seeing the  Police Chief and the command she had been given.  She expressed distress over being in the unfortunate position of standing between the Library Board, who was against the removal, Dr. Resnick who was adamant it shouldn't come down and the First Selectman, who had issued the order."

Elstein said Horton did contact him to clarify the chief passed her as she was entering.

"Either way, the presence of the Chief was no coincidence in my mind either time," Elstein said.  "Finally, this issue deflects from the cause that brought us to this point. The First Selectman clearly bowed to a special interest group at the expense of important first amendment rights."

Herbst has said Elstein should apologize to the chief from dragging him into this.

“To have the chief sucked into this is despicable,” Herbst said.

On Friday night, Horton emailed Elstein to tell him the chief was not at the meeting; on Saturday she forwarded that email to Herbst, which he shared with The Times.
"While I am glad you clarified this statement not to be true," Herbst wrote back to Horton, "I don't know what troubles me more. The fact that Chief Lombardo was unfairly slandered by Attorney Elstein or by the fact that as a Town employee you are actively working against the Town in defiance of the recommendations made by Town legal counsel.
"We currently have artwork valued at over $300,000 sitting in a building that you manage absent insurance and an appropriate agreement and this attorney has taken a position that puts tremendous liability on the Town of Trumbull- the Town that employs you.
"Words cannot describe your conduct," he wrote in the email.
Earlier on Saturday, Herbst said the painting controversy has become a “complete circus.”

“If you start wrong, you end wrong,” he said. “If we started with hanging artwork and following certain protocols, all of this would have been avoided.”

Some have alleged the painting’s removal was due to pressure from a Catholic group in town, see story here.

Herbst has said this week that the Library Board was responsible for fanning the controversy flames.

On Friday, The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut joined the conversation, see story.