Trumbull politics gets messy — again
The town’s political committees exchanged blows this week over an incident involving a Democratic constable candidate; and then about a Republican Board of Education member who is switching party allegiances before this fall’s campaign.
First Selectman Tim Herbst raised concern over a reported outburst that happened in the tax collector’s office on Friday, July 31, involving David Kayne, who is running on the Democratic ticket for town constable this fall.
In a letter to first selectman challenger and Town Council member Vicki Tesoro on Aug. 3, Herbst detailed that Kayne had screamed at Tax Collector Donna Pellitteri, Town Clerk Suzanne Burr Monaco and Administrative Assistant Alicia Altobelli after initially trying to pay his taxes at 8:30 a.m. on July 31 — 30 minutes before the office opened.
“The tax collector advised him that the office hours began at 9 a.m. Mr. Kayne did not like that response and indicated he would come back,” Herbst wrote. “He ended up coming to Town Hall after 5 p.m. when the office was in fact closed and systems were shut down. Mr. Kayne then screamed at the tax collector and then proceeded to go to the town clerk’s office where he screamed at Susan Cole, assistant town clerk. He continued his outburst into the tax assessor’s office.
“During this spectacle, Mr. Kayne made the statement that the tax collector’s job was ‘done in November’,” Herbst said. “Mr. Kayne then came up to my office and continued with his outburst. Ms. Altobelli took him downstairs to the tax collector office to determine if in fact the office was closed.”
The first selectman added that Monday, Aug. 3, was the last day that a resident could mail in taxes without penalty, but that Kayne did not want to mail his tax payment and demanded a stamp from the assistant town clerk as well as the tax assessor’s office to cover the expense.
Herbst called Kayne’s actions “despicable.” He added that Pellitteri was “on the verge of tears” based on Kayne threatening her job, which is an appointed, not elected, position.
“If a member of my ticket spoke that way, they’d be out the door in a nanosecond,” Herbst told The Times Monday afternoon. “Politics is politics but the people in here aren’t politicians — these are public servants who endure everyday hardships. To say she was going to lose her job based on a campaign just isn’t right.
“It really hits home when an employee comes into my office in tears — I can’t sit back and allow it,” he said. “Donna has done a tremendous job and has no right to be fearful of her job because of something like this — she’s implemented our online payment system that thousands of residents use and has made billing more efficient...
“While I’m sure people don’t like paying taxes, I know that nobody has ever complained about Donna — she’s one of our best department heads,” he added. “The whole incident is disturbing to me.”
Speaking to The Times Wednesday, Kayne said he did make an apology to the tax collector, all the members of the town clerk’s office and to the first selectman’s assistant.
He denied screaming at anybody, but admitted that he did make a comment about the tax collector’s job.
“Right when I said it I knew I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have said it,” he said. “I was still upset and I walked out of the building not wanting to further escalate the situation. I wanted to go back in and thank Tim’s assistant because she did help me — I was agitated and raised my voice, and I’m sorry for that, but I didn’t scream at anyone.”
Kayne added that he got to the office before 5 p.m. — driving from work in Danbury — and that another town employee outside of the office witnessed his arrival.
“She wondered why they were closed early, too,” he said. “I knocked on the door, nobody answered it, but it wasn’t five yet — I remember my cell phone said it was 4:55.
“I went up to the main part of Town Hall where the tax assessor’s office was and they were open and didn’t now why the collector’s office would be closed early,” he described the events. “I went up to the town clerk’s office and they brought me to the first selectman’s office and that’s where I got help from Tim’s assistant who brought me back downstairs and opened the door for me.
“She told the tax collector that there was someone there to pay there taxes and that’s when I was told the system was shut down, which was fine. I said, ‘can’t you just take it and process it Monday?’ And that’s when she recognized me from earlier and said she would take it but it would be considered late if there was anything wrong with the payment,” said Kayne, who works in customer service. “That’s when I walked away and said the comment about her job because she should have just taken it — it wasn’t great customer service for her to make the comment about it being late when the office was indeed closed early, and I had already been there that morning.”
Tesoro, who repeatedly said she didn’t condone Kayne’s behavior, said she did not approve of Herbst bringing the incident to the media before speaking to the Democratic candidate directly.
“Mr. Herbst looks for political advantage. I prefer to resolve the situation by contacting the person directly,” she said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that Mr. Herbst takes the fire-aim approach...
“When a person makes a mistake they have two choices: they can bloviate and double down on the mistakes,” she added. “The other [choice] is to recognize your mistake, and own up to it and apologize. That is what Mr. Kayne did, he acknowledged his mistake and apologized. Had Mr. Kayne done anything other than what he did, I would have asked him to leave my team. We all make mistakes but how you handle them is the true measure of your character.”
Tesoro also tried to draw a connection between Herbst’s approach in this situation and how he’s handled other matters that affect Trumbull in a broader sense.
“That approach is why we lost the magnet school, cannot reach agreement on sewers with Bridgeport and have found ourselves mired in costly, mostly losing litigation.”
Speaking with The Times Tuesday, she said that Kayne was in the wrong but acting as a private citizen, and that putting his name in the paper was a step too far.
“He has a wife and children and this is just hurtful and embarrassing to him and to them — I think we need to treat people with respect,” Tesoro said.
“Obviously, I don’t condone his actions, but if I were elected I would never push to put a resident’s name in the paper like this — it’s humiliating,” she added. “I guess it just shows we have very different approaches — I would never do something that’s this disrespectful.
“Tim should have talked to him; he should have talked to me — it should have been handled a lot differently, and not drag a private citizen into the public eye.”
“For this to keep going on is wrong, and I’m shocked Tim would use this to attack Vicki because it has nothing to do with her or her campaign,” he said. “I have a wife and children and my family shouldn’t have to hear about this.
“Tim knows how to reach me and he never called me,” he added.
Herbst and Tesoro exchanged emails on Aug. 3 with the first selectman calling his challenger’s initial response “entirely unacceptable.”
“An apology should not only come from Mr. Kayne, but you should be the one calling on him to apologize,” he said in his second email to Tesoro. “The fact that a member of your ticket threatened the employment of our Tax Collector and my administrative assistant is reprehensible. The fact that he screamed at multiple people in multiple departments is also entirely unacceptable.
“And the fact that you don’t hold him accountable or call him to task is even more troubling,” he added.
Tesoro said Herbst overlooked the fact she did call on Kayne to apologize and that he agreed to do so long before Herbst’s last email, which came minutes before the Aug. 3 Town Council meeting.
“Why couldn’t he speak to me directly?” she asked in a Aug. 4 statement.
“In a nutshell, Mr. Kayne took responsibility for his actions and did what any normal sensible person would do: he apologized,” she added. “What’s reprehensible is that Mr. Herbst plays media games for political purposes rather than do as I did — seek a sensible solution by speaking to the person involved.”
Positive out of a negative
Tom Kelly, the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and member of the Board of Finance, said that the party does not condone anyone losing her or her temper.
“David Kayne did the right thing and apologized for doing so,” he said. “The fact that Mr. Kayne took responsibility and apologized is not noted in the first selectman’s press release.”
He said that Kayne’s outburst might lend itself to something positive, though.
“Perhaps something constructive can come from this, however,” he added. “I think many taxpayers would be frustrated if they come to the tax collector’s office on one of the busiest days — near the deadline, shortly before 9 a.m. — and the office is not yet open. Perhaps the hours can be changed to make life easier for our hard-working taxpayers and the office open at 8 or 8:30 a.m. on the few days before the deadline.
“Most area tax collector’s offices are open before 9 a.m.”