Public safety sparks campaign debate

Less than two weeks into the 2015 political campaign season, and the town’s Democrats and Republicans have already squared off on a pair of topics that have emerged as the first controversial issues heading into this fall’s election.
First Selectman Tim Herbst kicked things off Aug. 3 when he unveiled his 2025 financial plan — the first part of his Trumbull 2025 campaign, which discussed building upon the town’s stable tax rate, improved pension fund and upgraded credit rating.
On Monday, Aug. 10, Herbst was on the offensive again revealing his 2025 public safety plan that emphasized that Trumbull was ranked the fourth safest community in Connecticut under his leadership.
“You don’t become the fourth safest community in the state by accident,” Herbst told The Times Monday afternoon. “And while we’ve been able to accomplish all of this, we’ve been able to bring our EMS budget down and increase revenues — we’ve been able to reduce the tax burden for residents through smaller, smarter government.”
In response to a pair of press releases that raised concern over her past comments on budget increases and votes against capital improvement plans (CIP) that featured public safety projects, first selectman candidate and Town Council member Vicki Tesoro said attacks from her Republican adversaries were expected and “represent politics as usual.”
“We have real issues in Trumbull today,” she said. “My opponent wants to talk about the past and 2025. The only thing he doesn’t want to talk about is 2015, but I do. He doesn’t want to talk about the fact that we have the highest sewer rates in the state; he doesn’t want to talk about using the town’s general fund to artificially lower taxes and mask spending; he doesn’t want to talk about awarding six-year, six-figure contracts to town employees or excessive layers of high-priced management in town government.
“These are some of the real issues facing Trumbull today,” she added.
Out of context
Tesoro also defended herself regarding a statement from Jack Testani, chairman of the Police Commission, who claimed that she had “a proven track of not supporting the good guys” in a statement released Monday.
“The administration’s comment that I voted against public safety is laughable and points to how desperate they are to win,” she said. “I believe in doing the right thing the right way. Anyone who has the most basic understanding of representative democracy knows that we are a nation and a community of laws, not people. The law applies to all of us, and process and precedent protects both those in government and the citizens they govern.”
Challenging Tesoro’s public safety record, the Republicans said she voted against CIPs that would have made meaningful investments in public safety.
“Specifically, Tesoro voted against much needed improvements to our EMS headquarters and police headquarters,” Testani said. “She also voted against investments in building security upgrades and against a capital improvement program that provided for the much needed improvements to the police emergency communications center.”
The police commissioner added that Tesoro abstained from a resolution that brought the needed reforms to the Trumbull EMS Department based upon recommendations made in an audit by the Holdsworth Group.
Tesoro responded that the meetings selected — April 2, 2012, March, 4, 2013, June, 3, 2013, June 12, 2014 — in the release were selective and taken out of context.
“I abstained in that vote because Mr. Herbst failed to follow the proper process,” she said. “Mr. Herbst apparently believes that the laws do not apply to him, and unfortunately a majority of his Town Council Republicans are more than ready to enable that perception.”
She added that the April 2, 2012 vote was for a bond resolution that included an attempt to sell the Trumbull Nature and Arts Center.
“I voted against that bond resolution because part of it included something that directly affected people I represent,” she explained.
Furthermore, Testani said she publicly supported budgets that raised taxes 6% a year on average between 2001 and 2009 — two years before she was an elected public official.
Similarly, Rick Costantini, majority leader of the Town Council and co-chair of Herbst’s re-election campaign, challenged Tesoro’s previous position on spending increases.
“While these budgets provided for very generous increases to public education, these budgets also consistently underfunded public safety,” Testani said.
“Mrs. Tesoro has demonstrated a consistent pattern of supporting budget increases that are completely outrageous and that taxpayers clearly cannot afford,” Costantini added.
Tesoro said that any budget comments made between 2001 and 2009 were during a period of time where she served as a PTA council member as well as a PTA council president.
“Part of my job was to speak and advocate for teachers and students,” she said.
“I never have regretted my time on the PTA; I have no apologies for it,” she added. “I was advocating as a private citizen and I think going back to things I said back then, in 2001, and showing them in only snippets, is unfair...
“I’d rather focus and respond to issues of the present, not these press releases that are caught up on disproving my record from 15 years go.”
Public Safety 2025
Besides highlighting achievements like EMS revenues and upgrading the town’s emergency communitications center, Herbst discussed public safety issues are expected to be completed this year, including body cameras for all patrolman and implementing a bike patrol program that should be in effect by this fall.
Looking further ahead, he told The Times he would like to reinstate the school resource officer program — two in each middle school and one in the high school, as well as developing a regional system to purchase equipment such as ballistic vests, radio systems and vehicles in bulk.
He added that he would like to create a consolidated regional dispatch center for police fire, and emergency medical services.
“Regional purchasing and regional efficiencies reduce costs in other areas, thus allowing us to make investments in other areas at no additional cost to the Trumbull taxpayer,” the first selectman explained.
Other public safety-related items part of his comprehensive, two-page plan focused on addressing mental health needs of students and responding to the physical needs of the aging population of Trumbull residents.
“Commercial development and many physicians relocating their businesses from Bridgeport to Trumbull put a demand on EMS,” Hersbt said in a press release Monday. “Daytime call volume increases and demand is more than resources. By 2020, we need to add a third on-duty ambulance during the work week.
“In light of the aging population of Trumbull residents and the many long-term patient care facilities in town, we must plan for the future,” he added. “By 2025, a three-car minimum during the day shift and a two-car minimum during the overnight shift — by 2025, expand the existing EMS headquarters to better meet the needs of the department.”
As for mental health, Herbst said he wanted increase funding to the Mary Sherlach Counseling Center for additional mental health prevention and wellness.
“This needs to be done in conjunction with the Trumbull Police Department,” he said. “Prevention before intervention is critical and if a person has a mental health problem, we must do everything possible to treat that person so they do not eventually become a threat to themselves or society.”
He added that he would like to create a mental health forum that focuses on cyberbullying and teaches parents how to monitor their children on the Internet.
“This plan is real, it is comprehensive and it is designed to make sure that every Trumbull family can go to bed at night knowing they live in one of the safest communities in Connecticut,” he said. “My most solemn obligation as first selectman is to protect the people of Trumbull and I take no obligation more seriously.”
Republicans attack
Tesoro wasn’t the only person getting picked on by Testani in the press release Monday that was published along with the first selectman’s public safety plan.
Anthony Musto, who’s running for town treasurer on the Democratic ticket, was also slammed for “consistently protecting the bad guys.”
“Musto’s voting record is one that puts the needs of criminals ahead of the protection of victims,” Testani said.
Testani said that Musto voted for Gov. Dannel Malloy’s early prison release program that allows inmates convicted of offenses including rape and sexual assault, first degree manslaughter, robbery, as well as other crimes to receive shorter sentences.
“Violent felon Frankie Resto was allowed to accrue 199 days of early release credits from prison and released early,” Testani said. “Shortly after his release, Resto was arrested for the murder of a man he robbed at a Meriden store.
“Musto was one of only two state senators to vote against a bill that would have stopped the release of the Sandy Hook crime scene photos,” he added. “His justification for his vote was that the legislation was “too restrictive.”
Furthermore, he said Musto voted for SB 280, an act to repeal the Connecticut death penalty.
Democrats respond
Musto and Tesoro each issued responses Tuesday to the releases from earlier in the week.
“It’s too bad that we here in Trumbull are subject to yet another political attack from the Herbst Team that has nothing to do with Trumbull,” Musto said. “The only reason Tim disseminates these kinds of lies and half-truths is because his own record — over issues he can actually affect — is so poor: spending far above the ‘out of control’ levels he claimed existed six years ago; tax rate increases every single year even during a declining housing market; businesses leaving without any attempt to keep them; 20% pay raises and long-term job contracts for political friends; multiple lawsuits, all of which Trumbull spent money to lose; massive sewer rate increases; and politicizing every board and commission, even ethics.”
The Democratic challengers were both in agreement that the Herbst campaign wants to focus on the past and the future, while avoiding the issues that face Trumbull “right now.”
“If Tim thought he could win this election by focusing on Trumbull issues, then he would focus on Trumbull issues — then we could have a debate about what’s best for Trumbull,” Musto said. “If he can’t support his own record, then we can all expect much more of this from his campaign.”
Looking backwards, forwards
Tom Kelly, the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and member of the Board of Finance, provided further support on the financial debate Tuesday.
“It’s interesting that the first selectman looks back to 2003, and looks forward to 2025,” he told The Times. “We are looking at doing things that can help Trumbull right now. In 2016, and in 2017.”
The finance board member was also quick to mention Herbst’s campaign for state treasurer last year.
“The first selectman won’t even commit that he won’t run for another office in 2016, like he did in 2014,” Kelly said.
Looking at some of the current financial-related issues, Kelly listed off some items that are worth the attention of Trumbull residents.
“We need to address the highest sewer use rates in the state of Connecticut right now, not lock us into having the highest rates for another 10 years,” he said. “We need to solve our economic development challenges and fill our empty office spaces and storefronts right now.
“We need to have an honest conversation with Trumbull parents about student performance and the future of our public schools right now,” he added. “We need to better prioritize spending, eliminate waste and redundant positions, and re-examine the way we’ve always done things right now.”