Editorial: Wasted effort

In a town the size of Trumbull, there are always issues that require the attention of top elected officials. School safety, hurricanes, potholes, Gov. Malloy’s proposed budget are just a few, and all are important.

With so much going on, we were sorry to learn that numerous town officials threatened legal and police action over ... nothing, or close to it.

At last week’s Trumbull Housing Authority meeting, numerous Democratic officials attended as a show of support for the seniors living at Stern Village, Executive Director Harry Wise and the Democratic members of the authority who had either resigned or not been reappointed in the past month.

School board member Tom Kelly, one of the Democrats in attendance, recorded three short videos of the meeting that he later posted to his youtube.com page under the name TommyK88. But it was the first one, which he called THA Meeting 1, that generated an immediate and forceful response.

The 65-second video shows the crowded community room at Stern Village, and pans the room to show the THA and various town people. Toward the end of the video fellow school board member Deborah Herbst can be seen speaking with the THA’s legal counsel. Herbst later said she was asking if making video recordings of the meeting was legal.

On Wednesday, Kelly posted a link to the video on the community forum TrumbullChat.com and asked why a school board member was allowed to have a private conversation with the THA during a public meeting. And that’s when the fireworks began.

At 9:48 p.m., Herbst sent Kelly a two-sentence email, saying “I want my picture removed from Trumbull Chat. If you do not, I will contact my attorney.” Kelly replied a few minutes later, saying, “That was a public meeting. I think I am within my right as a  citizen to post video from a public meeting. When I go to the Town Council meetings and sit in the audience, I am often captured on camera and it gets viewed publicly. You have the right to contact your  attorney if you feel that video of a public meeting is not allowed to be  posted.”

Herbst and her husband, Trumbull High Athletic Director Michael Herbst, later spoke to Kelly by phone and demanded he take the videos down or face legal action. In addition, over the next 24 hours Deborah, Michael and First Selectman Timothy Herbst contacted The Trumbull Times, which administrates TrumbullChat, claiming invasion of privacy and demanding the video come down.

Both the Times and its parent company, Hersam Acorn, refused the demands, citing the fact that the video was recorded at a public meeting of a town commission. Kelly removed the video from TrumbullChat over the weekend, but it remains on his youtube page, where at last check it has received 104 views. So far, the promised legal action has not materialized, but indications are that this incident remains far from over.

Kelly is a frequent critic of the administration and was also vocal in his criticism of former First Selectman Raymond Baldwin. It was his willingness to criticize Baldwin’s policies that made him the choice to run for school board on the Republican ticket. Now that he has changed his party affiliation, his outspoken nature has become a source of irritation for the administration and likely made him its #1 target in the November election.

Politics can be rough, especially in small towns. Still, we can’t help but wonder how much could be accomplished by focusing more energy on town business rather than threatening an elected official with lawsuits.