Kelly: Elected officials should not be participating in a community center survey

To the Editor:

This letter will serve as the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee's response to First Selectman Tim Herbst’s email from June 2, 2016 regarding the Survey for the Community Center.

Your comments regarding who participated in this survey are inaccurate. The email sent by the town using Survey Monkey may be able to track who responded to the survey through the email link, but it can't track who may have taken the survey by simply directly going to it when it was on the town's website. Indeed, some of the people you describe in your email did participate in the survey, and therefore, your statements are untrue.

That being said, we believe it is totally inappropriate for the Town Council to charge the Building Committee with determining the opinion of the town regarding a Senior/Community Center, and then sending the survey to town elected leaders who could skew the results if the sample size was small enough. Elected officials should not, in our opinion, be participating in a “community survey” meant to gauge public opinion. This could skew the results, and instead of listening to the public’s opinion, the elected officials’ opinion could misrepresent what public opinion actually is. In effect, you would have elected officials and political insiders telling the public what their opinion is.

More importantly, we believe that the use by the government of Survey Monkey in the fashion you describe is another example of overreach by "Big Brother" compiling information without disclosing it to the town residents who received the survey. Nowhere on the survey does it inform the recipient that the town can collect their IP address data if they click through to the survey. Nowhere in the email or the survey does it inform the recipient that Survey Monkey allows the survey creator to match the email addresses to the responses so that the town could identify who submitted each survey. Since the survey did not have a space for a person's name, the inference is that the survey results are anonymous, but such may not be the case when Survey Monkey is used. Nowhere on the survey is it disclosed to recipients how they got on the list to receive the survey, or that their participation was being tracked and could be publicly disclosed.

In this case, a town survey was created using taxpayer-paid town resources, and the data collected from that survey, which was sent unsolicited to various people, was used in a public partisan political attack. We believe this is abuse of government resources, and falls right in the same line with hiring private investigators to look in people's windows, sending Trumbull police officers outside their jurisdiction to deliver ethics complaints, calling the employers of perceived political enemies, etc.

Beyond this, we live in a free country with constitutionally-protected free speech. You do not determine what the prerequisites are for people to voice their opinion on a community center.  Whether someone participated in a survey has no bearing on how he or she chooses to voice their opinion on a proposed building that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

We are willing to work with you on this and every important issue in our town if you wish to engage in respectful collaboration. We will work with you to find common ground for the good of our town. Unfortunately, you have shown no real desire to work with us on anything during the entire six and half years of your administration.

Finally, we believe it is wrong for you to characterize the discussion of the Senior/Community Center along Republican vs. Democratic lines. One of the fiercest critics of these plans has been Roy Molgard, an elected Republican on the Board of Finance.  Another person who has expressed her opinions publicly is Rachel Yahwak, another Republican who just resigned as Chairman of the Senior Commission and member of the Building Committee.  

Also, Republican Councilwoman Ann Marie Evangelista recently publicly urged the committee to slow down and listen to the input of town residents. Several other local Republicans have voiced their disagreement with the way that this process has been handled thus far.  

We urge you to listen to those within your own party, and stop trying to portray this as partisan issue.
Tom Kelly,
Trumbull Democratic Town Committee Chairman