Letter: Herbst attack on council member revealing

To the Editor:

When First Selectman Tim Herbst last week publicly trashed Town Councilwoman Cindy Penkoff, the person who has without question been his most loyal and outspoken supporter since 2008, he revealed more than he perhaps realized.

At issue was an e-mail Penkoff wrote to fellow Republicans questioning Herbst’s strategy in negotiating with Monroe the terms of the construction of a Walmart off Route 25. Herbst accused Penkoff of “going rogue,” “playing lawyer,” and “inserting herself into things of which she has no knowledge,” among other things. He said Penkoff “almost compromised settlement negotiations.”

That’s tough stuff to say about a true loyalist. Never mind that Penkoff deserves to be treated with respect, which Mr. Herbst opted not to do. Never mind that as an elected representative of the town, Penkoff has every right to ask questions about the best interests of Trumbull — including questioning legal strategies. I suggest that’s why her constituents elected her.

But wait a second. Mr. Herbst said Penkoff “almost compromised settlement negotiations.” How can that be? He said on July 2 — three weeks before Penkoff’s e-mail — that he was happy to announce a settlement agreement. So which was it? Did Mr. Herbst mislead the public when he announced a settlement? This is a question he needs to answer, clearly and publicly. Similarly, he’s been claiming for months to be concerned about the traffic impact of Walmart, but he said last week that Trumbull’s concern is exclusively environmental — Pequonnock River water cleanliness. Which is correct?

First Selectman Herbst has been grandstanding this issue for months, in the process alienating our neighbor to the north with his lawsuit and confrontational language. This could have been worked out amicably between the two towns, quietly. But that’s something Tim Herbst is unable to do.

In the meantime, to call on the Town Council leadership to “make sure in the future no other members of the Town Council decide to go rogue” displays a lack of understanding of how democracy works. Mr. Herbst has no authority under the charter to tell an elected member of the legislative branch what issue to engage with, nor does the Town Council leadership. He’s confusing political discipline with official powers under the Charter. It is an insult to Councilwoman Penkoff and to every other elected official in Trumbull.

Tony Silber