Tag Archives: TEAM Westport

Steve Bannon’s Podcast: Westport Is Run By “Unelected Marxist Politburo”

You’ve heard of Steve Bannon. You may not have heard of Todd Wood.

But both of them have heard about Westport.

And — to hear them tell it — our town is one of the main reasons that Connecticut is “the belly of the communist beast.”

Bannon hosts “War Room,” a multi-platform podcast.

Steve Bannon, hosting “War Room.”

Recently, he interviewed Wood. He’s the “founder and editor” of the Connecticut Centinal, though its website says it was “established in 1802.” He’s also editor-in-chief of CD Media — the initials stand for “Creative Destruction” — which, he told Bannon, is “reopening newspapers up and down the Colonies.”

His company, he said, is “known for real journalism, and telling the truth on both sides.”

The truth about Westport, Wood said, is that “the town is run by an unelected Marxist politburo called TEAM Westport. They’re actually injecting transgenderism and CRT (critical race theory) into the schools.

“Now they’re complaining about the uniforms of the police, (saying) they’re too intimidating.”

“It’s over the top, what they’re doing on this gender ideology,” Bannon agreed.

“Yeah,” Wood noted. “They’re showing grooming videos to elementary kids — large, obese women with their breasts flaunting, jumping up and down with their beards to 3rd graders. Literally opening the door to behavior that’s really inappropriate for children.”

Todd Wood, on “War Room.”

Wood continued: “This CRT thing has really blown up in Westport. There’s a lot of angry parents, which have shown up at Board of Education meetings.”

In fact, he continued, “The head of the Board of Education in Westport won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. You literally have a group of Marxists running the town, and controlling the town.

“Even though we won the election” — presumably referring to 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, a Republican — “they won’t change this TEAM Westport. The guy who is running it has been there like 20 years.

“It’s a real problem, Steve,” Wood concluded. “And it’s been up and down the coast, where they’ve spent a lot of time and money infiltrating with this Marxist ideology.”

Click here for Steve Bannon’s entire “War Room” interview with Todd Wood.

Screen shot of the Connecticut Centinal website.

(“06880” relies entirely on readers like you. Please click here to contribute.)

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Winners Tackle Racism

When TEAM Westport announced the topic for its 9th annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest, a small group had their say. They did not like it.

Now the high school students have had their say.

They responded to the prompt —

In 1,000 words or fewer, describe what you would like to explain to people in your community who avoid or struggle with talking about race, or acknowledging system racism, or who apply a “color blind” approach to issues —

with passion, power and insights.

The contest was open to anyone in grades 9-12 who lives in Westport, or attends a public or private school here. An awards ceremony was held last night, at the Westport Library.

Junior Ian Patton won 1st place — and $1,000 — for his essay, “How to be a Good White Person.”

Patton writes: “The white presence, even if it’s not in the majority, is the baseline, the standard. White people living within this society don’t have to do any work to figure out their identity. They can live comfortably without thinking about race.”

Being white, he says, “allows me to expect certain treatment and be unaware, or ignorant rather, of the feeling of being treated as less than.”

Patton adds: “When we lash out or shut down after being made uncomfortable, that is evidence of the work we have to do. And white discomfort is dangerous. It’s what causes so many potential allies and accomplices to shy away from activism. lf we can’t handle being held accountable, and if we can’t learn about our history and reality without feeling personally attacked, we are useless to the fight against white supremacy.”

TEAM Westport Diversity Essay Contest winner Ian Patton (3rd from left) with (from left) 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey Jr., superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, and Westport Library director Bill Harmer.

Second place — and $750 — went to junior Colin Morgeson. Describing himself as of “white and minority descent,” he tackles the fraught topic of critical race theory.

“Tribalism,” he says, “naturally leads people to avoid race-related discussions.” But “racism is an illness, an affliction of the soul that our country has long struggled to vanquish, and a disease that will probably never be completely eradicated.” To treat it, “citizens need to make an active effort, and this begins with awareness of systemic racism and its effects.”

We need humility, level-headedness and compassion when talking about race, Colin writes. And “through discussion, we take the first step into becoming the heroes of our stories.”

Sophomore Leigh Foran won third place, worth $500, for “Embracing Privilege to Tackle Racism.” (An hour earlier, she won 1st place: in the mile, for the Staples track team.)

She says, “Many white people feel that privilege undermines their success and is solely meant to put them down. But using this discomfort to avoid conversation impedes progress.”

Conversations about race are not meant to “expose” white people, Leigh writes. A “color-blind” approach to combating racism won’t work. And, she says, having white privilege is “not a character flaw.” However, “learning to embrace conversations, instead of denying the discomfort, is a step more of us can take.”

Essay winners (from left) Leigh Foran, Colin Morgeson and Ian Patton.

You can read — and reflect on — the 3 winning essays below. (To read the winners of all 9 TEAM Westport essay contests, click here.)

1ST PLACE: “HOW TO BE A GOOD WHITE PERSON” (Ian Patton)

I don’t identify with my race. My whiteness is inherently a part of who I am and
how I move through the world, but the way I see myself, mind and body, has next to nothing to do with my race.

When I look in the mirror, I recognize my face, my hair, my
skin. But I don’t see whiteness.

This isn’t a claim that I’m somehow race-blind. There’s a difference, for me at
least, between identifying with your race and identifying as your race. The former implies a deeper connection to the label, one that means the additional connection to a community.

But whiteness doesn’t come with a community. We have the ability to ignore
our race and develop a cultural identity completely separate from it simply because we are treated as the default. We see people that we’ve been taught to think look like us everywhere, and they see us as “like them.”

That’s part of what it means to live in a white supremacist society. The white presence, even if it’s not in the majority, is the baseline, the standard. White people living within this society don’t have to do any work to figure out their identity. They can live comfortably without thinking about race.

Ian Patton

We don’t have to think about race. That’s an opportunity afforded uniquely to
white people. We’re intrinsically seen as complete individuals, but this construction of identity separate from race means that we lose individual facets as well as the access to a community. The construct of race benefits us, and so questioning it doesn’t come naturally, and most importantly, it’s uncomfortable.

Given a head start and an advantage in every walk of life, we’re desensitized to the feelings of white privilege. I notice it when I’m taught by a nonwhite teacher, and suddenly whiteness doesn’t dominate the classroom. I notice it when looking at a collage of presidents, and the 44th stands out while the others spark no reaction. I notice it when I hear someone I know say something racist, but I don’t know how to respond.

My whiteness allows me to expect certain treatment and be unaware, or ignorant rather, of the feeling of being treated as less than.

Essentially, white thresholds of comfort are much different from systematically
oppressed racial minorities’, especially when it comes to discomfort around race- related topics. Being able to discuss and think critically about race is a skill, one that doesn’t come naturally because race isn’t natural.

Non-white people gather a lifetime’s worth of personal experience that makes them experts on racism, and by extension experts on white people. On the flip side, white people can safely live without caring about systemic racism. We can live our entire lives and still be uninformed.

The white experience doesn’t enable its people to understand race, it just enables us to enforce racism on to the next generation. We have lifetimes of experiences that teach us to, subconsciously or consciously, view people who look different from us as different from us.

Challenging these implicit biases is difficult for everyone, but especially white people who haven’t fully worked through their own relationships with race. We have to acknowledge that our brains are wired in ways that hurt entire communities, but that can easily trigger fragility responses. Especially when our ignorance causes harm to the people of color around us.

When we lash out or shut down after being made uncomfortable, that is evidence of the work we have to do. And white discomfort is dangerous. It’s what causes so many potential allies and accomplices to shy away from activism. lf we can’t handle being held accountable, and if we can’t learn about our history and reality without feeling personally attacked, we are useless to the fight against white supremacy.

White people, you don’t have to be perfect at everything you do. ln fact, wanting
to be the perfect white person is a symptom of white supremacy. But you can want to be good. What you need to do is understand that your imperfections are going to cause harm. Your mistakes will cause harm. And the first step towards improving yourself is to look at yourself and where you’re lacking.

Work through your thoughts, and feelings, and traumas, and prepare yourself for the hard conversations, the conversations that need to happen. White people as a community need to come together and help each other through our racism. We need to reclaim our own identities beyond and through our whiteness, so that we can live and work as fuller human beings. We need to call each other out on our racism, because we’re the ones who won’t be hurt by the microaggressions and self-defensiveness that follows.

Racism was created by people who look like us, so we need to do the work and fix it. lt’s a responsibility.

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2nd PLACE: “VILLAINS OF OUR STORIES” (Colin Morgeson)

“What’s wrong with talking about race?”

It was an ordinary lunch period at Staples High School, and on this particular day, my friend and I had elected not to share amusing stories or interesting developments from our lives; no, instead we had decided to discuss racism and education.

For the past 10 minutes, I had been trying to understand why he was adamantly opposed to schools teaching kids about inequalities present in society today. If today’s kids are soon entering such a society, what should stand between them and learning about topics related to the very nature of their world?

My friend was quick to answer my aforementioned question: “Because kids shouldn’t be taught to hate each other.”

The entire discussion had been prompted by a rather contentious subject: critical race theory. You’ve heard about it in the news, or maybe you’ve seen the signs around town, or maybe you’ve even been vocal about your belief on whether or not it belongs in the classroom.

CRT is a simple concept: Race is a social construct, and racist elements are present in American institutions. I’ve always found the debate around CRT uniquely fascinating, because no matter your stance on the issue, everyone seems to agree that it’s an especially divisive issue. Such a simple concept has long been the subject of nationwide debates, and even today, politicians move
to ban CRT from their states’ school curriculums. Clearly, the subject strikes a very particular chord with the masses, triggering particularly potent emotions.

Colin Morgeson

Both my friend and opponents of critical race theory place focus on the inherent ties between societal racism and pride. Indeed, as humans, conversations about our race — people that look like us, people that have experienced things like us, people that are treated like us –-have a certain gravitas, naturally prompting us to defend the honors of those that are similar to us, and it is from this that concerns of “hating each other” spring.

When white people read about the legacies of the Founding Fathers falling under question, it’s only natural that their collective sense of pride feels under attack. When minorities read about the persistence of the wealth gap, it’s only natural that pride compels them to feel indignation.

As someone of both white and minority descent, I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed to multiple sides of racial issues, but large swaths of the population exist in more homogenous communities. For someone who’s spent their entire life surrounded by people like them, why wouldn’t other racial groups become
the villains of their story?

This complex, conflict-prone landscape of tribalism naturally leads people to avoid race-related discussions entirely. But should they?

Racism is an illness, an affliction of the soul that our country has long struggled to vanquish, and a disease that will probably never be completely eradicated. It certainly won’t vanish of its own accord; no, in order to properly treat it, citizens need to make an active effort, and this begins with awareness of systemic racism and its effects.

The wealth gap, hate crimes, and police brutality won’t disappear with plenty of water and a good night’s rest; no, citizens need to be aware of these issues, and awareness is born from discussion. Without discussion, without acknowledgement, without action, we allow the malady to roam unchecked, spreading through the cells that are our communities and taking root in the body that is the United States of America.

Whether we like it or not, the illness will continue its merciless rampage, and the
symptoms will persevere. Every now and then, a flare-up will occur, temporarily drawing attention towards some poor soul who has been gripped by the disease.

Of course, this can’t go on forever: such an ailment is unsustainable. Do you know what happens when an infection goes untreated? Catastrophe.

If pride serves to inflame the disease, then perhaps the proper anti-inflammatory agents in our conversations are humility, level-headedness, and compassion. People shouldn’t be taught to hate each other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge the world we reside in, faults and all, in order to make it better.

My friend has reservations about the teaching of systemic racism in our schools, but as someone who represents a racial minority himself, he recognizes the need for our society to commit to fighting discrimination. Furthermore, his willingness to share his views and experiences with me proves that despite concerns of divisiveness, he accepts the need to communicate about race in an environment he knows is receptive.

Indeed, talking about societal racism is essential, and though it’s not always easy, a proper approach can turn potential divisiveness into productivity. Through humility, we can accept the reality of our world, past and present. Through level-headedness, we can understand that it’s our actions that ultimately define us. Through compassion, we can empathize with the plight of others, and seek to cure our world as best as we can. Through discussion, we take the first step into becoming the heroes of our stories.

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3rd PLACE: “EMBRACING PRIVILEGE TO TACKLE RACISM” (Leigh Foran)

I don’t think we can talk about race without talking about privilege. Without exploring the extensive systematic disparities and historic inequities that have plagued people of color for centuries. Because privilege is both a cause and effect of racism, genuine conversations about race inevitably coalesce into deeper discussions. They force people to acknowledge their own privilege, and this can be an uncomfortable and jarring experience. As such, conversations about
race can be difficult because recognizing privilege can feel like a personal attack.

White privilege has been a long-standing fixture of American society. However, many people get defensive when the conversation tums to this topic. I recently heard a parent in town express his concern that discussing the idea of white privilege in school would make his children question themselves. He said, “I don’t want them feeling bad because they’re white.”

I was disappointed when I heard this, because his perspective represents a widely held misconception. Many white people feel that privilege undermines their success and is solely meant to put them down. But using this discomfort to avoid conversation impedes progress. This type of thinking prevents people from coming to grips with the reality of white privilege; we have to break through these fears to have meaningful discussions.

To prompt more people to join in on the conversation, I think it is important to acknowledge the following truths:

First, conversations about race and privilege are not meant to “expose” white people. These discussions may feel like a direct attack on oneself, one’s achievements, or one’s success. But in reality, having conversations about race and privilege isn’t about vilifying advantaged groups.

In her groundbreaking essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy Mclntosh writes, “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’  to remain oblivious.”

Nowhere does she imply that acknowledging privilege is meant to demonize white people. A conversation about race is not a personal attack; instead we can use this dialogue to understand privilege. This will allow us to develop a more equitable community.

Second, the ironic quality of privilege is that its absence triggers our awareness, not its presence. Mclntosh calls white privilege “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” People who have privilege oftentimes aren’t aware of the way it helps them, oblivious to the unearned advantages they have over others. But people of color are very aware that they lack the same resources and face more implicit bias than their privileged counterparts. Knowing this, conversations are essential to understanding one’s own privilege.

Leigh Foran

Third, conversations about race are not complete without acknowledging privilege — the ways race disadvantages some while it puts others at an advantage. Most people are outraged by the blatant ways race can be a disadvantage – how people of color are subject to atrocious hate
crimes.

But a holistic approach to stopping racism also requires solving a more subtle problem, one of privilege. A true commitment to rooting out systemic racism takes more than outrage at hate crimes — it takes acknowledging and talking about privilege.

This is largely why the “colorblind” approach to combating racism doesn’t work. It fails to address the inherent advantages certain groups in society possess. By viewing everyone as the same, we ignore how white Americans enjoy privileges denied to people of color. We will fall under the false impression that we live in a meritocratic society, unable to address the inequitable impacts of privilege.

Fourth, the silence surrounding privilege is the key problem here. Constant denials and stigmatization of the issue keep privilege invisible, an unseen contributor to the vast systemic racism present in American workplaces, educational facilities and communities. But we can use conversation to remedy this and shatter the silence.

There is a burgeoning need for more conversation about race. Most people who have privilege aren’t aware of it; so we can create a more conscientious community by discussing the social, political, economic and cultural impacts of privilege.

Finally, having white privilege is not a character flaw. Like the father who was concerned about his kids, discussing privilege makes too many people feel like a figurative finger is being pointed at them, accusing them of perpetuating bias and hatred. They get defensive, and reject the assumption that they are apart of the problem. It’s time to change the way we see privilege.

Conversations are not meant to blame or call people out — they help us understand the causes and impacts of racial inequity.

In spite of all this, so many approach conversations about race with emotionally charged opposition and discomfort. This form of defensiveness hinders the conversation, making it harder to explore privilege and combat racism through civil discourse. Some deny the existence of privilege, citing that many white people have struggled and worked hard to achieve success. But the idea of privilege is not meant to undermine the fact that many white people have overcome difficulties and worked hard to earn their achievements. Simply put, privilege is a congenital advantage, separate from what someone earns or achieves during their lifetime.

It’s easy to decry hate crimes or to make a social media post condemning racist violence. But this is not enough. Too many hide behind the superficial mask of outrage, but don’t take action. Addressing the systemic racism in our society requires a deeper response, and we can use conversation as the starting point in fighting privilege and driving systemic change. We cannot achieve the next phase of racial equality without conscious, purposeful involvement. Learning to embrace conversations, instead of denying the discomfort, is a step more of us can take.

Conversations about race expose privilege, and having the courage to engage is crucial.

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Advisory Committees, Beach Grooming …

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Tonight (Wednesday) is the night for the first of 3 community conversations on Westport housing.

“Drafting Westport’s 5-Year Affordable Housing Plan” is set for 7:30 p.m. at Temple Israel.

The sponsor is the Westport/Weston Clergy Association. Moderators include Rabbi Michael Friedman, Pastor Heather Sinclair and Reverend John Morehouse.

Among Westport’s affordable housing options: Sasco Creek Village. Tonight’s meeting will explore what’s ahead.

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Bored?

Or just looking for a board to serve on?

Westport needs registered voters to serve on 5 advisory bodies:

  • Arts Advisory Committee: advises on the preservation of Westport’s legacy as an arts community, provides oversight of the Westport Permanent Art Collections, and helps increase visibility of the arts in town.
  • Maintenance Study Committee: the Committee recently completed studies of all major town buildings, and reviewed buildings recently purchased by the Town, or under consideration for purchase and/or demolition.
  • International Hospitality Committee: advises town officials about local activities related to the United Nations and international visitors.
  • TEAM Westport: advises town officials about achieving and celebrating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport community.
  • Wakeman Town Farm Committee: helps WTF serve as an educational demonstration center for sustainable living.

Registered voters seeking an appointment should click here for an application. It must be emailed (selectwoman@westportct.gov) or mailed (110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880) by April 15.

With few exceptions, non-elected members of town boards, commissions and committees are appointed by the First Selectwoman.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker ways, “Westport’s electorate is dynamic and diverse. This community could not run successfully without the many citizens who willingly and enthusiastically give of their time to benefit us all.

“Among the many appointed boards, commissions and committees, there are a number of vacancies that may filled by the members of our community who seek an opportunity to volunteer, gain knowledge of their municipal government, and provide service to the town. Some boards have minimal commitments, others are more hands-on and skill-driven, but all play an important role in keeping our community strong and vibrant.”

Click here for a list of all town boards, commissions and committees.

Those alpacas didn’t fall from the sky. The Wakeman Town Farm Committee helps oversee activities there. (Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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It’s springtime.

Flower beds get mulched. Poodles get shorn. And Westport beaches get groomed.

Crews were out yesterday, smoothing the sand at Compo …

(Photo/Karen Como)

… and Old Mill.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Meanwhile, work began on the Burying Hill jetty/groin restoration project.

(Photo/Chris Swan)

Our shoreline is beautiful.

Thanks to these folks, they’ll soon be even more beautiful.

And safer.

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Wayne Blickenstaff — aka “Blick” — was a key member of the Eighth Air Force, part of the England-based World War II air campaign against Germany.  Rising to lieutenant colonel, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, he flew 133 destroyed 10 enemy aircraft.

After the war, Blickenstaff settled in Westport. For many years, he was part of Famous Artists School.

Now he’s written a book. “Ace in a Day” will be published in September.

Amazon calls it “Blick’s honest and gritty personal memoir of his air war in Europe. His vivid writing places you in the cockpit as he and his comrades battle the enemy in the skies or attack ground targets across Europe. His account conveys a true sense of just how dangerous flying World War II fighters, in all weather conditions, really was.

“It was not just the enemy that could kill you. A moment’s inattention, overconfidence or simple mistake could be deadly. As a keen observer of character, Blick’s pen portraits of those around him, including many of those who sadly did not survive the war, offer a poignant and deeply moving tribute to those with whom he served.” Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Laurie Woog)

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Staples High School sophomore Grace Power has a big role in Amy Schumer’s new series “Life & Beth.” It debuted on Hulu this month.

Grace — who was part of last year’s Staples Players radio shows — is seen in 7 episodes, as “Young Liz,” the best friend of Amy’s younger version of herself.

The New York Times says: “The straightforward, emotionally grounded acting that much of ‘Life & Beth’ requires isn’t Schumer’s strength, but … Grace Power (is) also good as Beth’s best friend in the flashbacks.” (Hat tip: Nicole Mayr)

Grace Power

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This Sunday (March 27, noon to 5 p.m., 190 Main Street), the CAMP Gallery hosts “Sip and Shop for a Cause.” It’s a closing event for the current exhibition: “Not Dior’s New Look III.”

20% of the gallery’s commission will be donated to Fashion Fights Cancer. The organization provides design-oriented therapeutic programs to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones.

In addition, all participating brands — Kristi Vosbeck, Rosie Assoulin, The Hidden Gem, Johnny Was, Boho Prep and Le Rouge Chocolates — will contribute a percentage of all event sales towards Fashion Fights Cancer, and efforts in Ukraine.

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No, it’s not the Serengeti. But these deer grazing locally — today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature — do have something to do with Africa.

They’re at Nyala Farm. The corporate headquarters between the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road, just north of I-95 Exit 18, was once part of the vast Bedford estate.

E.T. Bedford’s son Fred gave the house and farm its “Nyala” name for the spiral-horned antelope that had captivated his attention during a safari.

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

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And finally … speaking of the Serengeti, and Africa:

Tooker Affirms TEAM Westport Commitment — With Member Requirement Change

TEAM Westport will continue to operate as the town’s multicultural body. However, membership criteria will be tightened.

That’s the crux of a letter sent by 1st Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker to attorney Vincent Marino of Orange. She responded to his clients — Westporters Zack Alcyone and Camilo Riano — who charged last month that the group was illegally constituted.

Marino said that too many members are from one political party; that not all are Westport electors, and that several served longer than the town charter allows.

Members had been appointed by Democratic and Republican selectpersons, dating back to TEAM Westport’s formal recognition in 2005.

After consulting with town attorney Ira Bloom, Tooker said:

First and foremost, the work of TEAM Westport is important to the future of our community by helping to ensure that every — residents, employees, business owners and visitors alike — feels that they belong and are welcome here.

The town of Westport thrives on the volunteer efforts numerous people, including members of TEAM Westport, who generously give of their talent and time. I am so grateful for our appointed board, commission and committee members who help make Westport the best place to live, work, and play.

Bloom told Tooker that because TEAM Westport is “advisory” — and formed with “the intention to utilize the most qualified volunteers to offer guidance and advice” — it is not subject to the same charter provisions as boards and commissions.

However, she noted, Bloom advised that the minority representation rule should be applied. She will make sure that no more than 50% of members come from the same political party.

 

Tooker added:

I am fully committed to maintaining and preserving the original mission of TEAM Westport. It is crucial.

I am confident we have the knowledge and expertise among our residents here in Westport to fulfill the slightly amended membership requirements, and that TEAM Westport will continue to serve our community in it advisory role in creating a more welcoming, multicultural Westport.

Westport Boards And Commissions: From A(rchitectural Review) To Z(oning Appeals)

A recent legal challenge to the makeup of TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural commission — shined a light on local government.

Seven boards or commissions are elected by voters. Members “must be” registered Westport voters. Those boards are:

  • Board of Assessment Appeals
  • Board of Education
  • Board of Finance
  • Board of Selectwomen
  • Planning and Zoning Commission
  • Representative Town Meeting
  • Zoning Board of Appeals

In addition, voters choose the Probate Court judge, and the Democratic and Republican Registrars of Voters.

The RTM — Westport’s “city council” — includes 36 members, from 9 voting districts. Elections are non-partisan.

However, much of the government work is done by appointed boards and commissions. Members are chosen by the 1st selectperson, and “shall be” residents of and registered voters in Westport.

Those 45 groups make suggestions and decisions — usually advisory — covering a wide swath of Westport life. They include arts, aesthetics, recreation, the police, education, youth, senior citizens, people with disabilities, the environment, animals, downtown, housing, the water, mental health and conservation:

The only member of any of the elected and appointed boards who receives a salary for service is the first selectperson. (The other 2 members of that board receive a very small stipend. Board of Assessment Appeals members receive an even tinier stipend: $200 each.)

Everyone else is a volunteer.

To learn more about Westport’s elected and appointed officials, click here.

The Westport Youth Commission dates back to the late 1960s.

 

RTM Ordinance Writer Says: TEAM Westport Always “Advisory Only”

In the wake of threat of legal action against TEAM Westport, one of the original sponsors of the town’s multicultural commission says: Not so fast.

As a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in August 2005, Ann Sheffer says she and her husband, Bill Scheffler — a fellow member — wrote the ordinance establishing the organization.

They authored 2 others during their tenure too — for the Arts Advisory Committee, and the International Hospitality Committee.

All were approved by the RTM. What all 3 share, Sheffer says, is that they have “absolutely no authority or even membership requirements.” All are “completely advisory.'”

The language adopted by the RTM reads:

The Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism (TEAM) Westport Committee is hereby established, to be appointed by the First Selectman, in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to specific actions that may be taken to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural Westport/Weston community. This Committee’s recommendations shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.

TEAM Westport was accepted by the RTM on August 2, 2005, and became effective 10 days later. It had been established as an ad hoc group by First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell in 2003. Her successors — Gordon Joseloff, Jim Marpe and now Jen Tooker — have supported the committee.

The Arts Advisory Committee was established in 1997. The RTM adopted this language:

The First Selectman is hereby authorized to establish an Arts Advisory Committee in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to the preservation and promotion of the artistic heritage of the Town. This Committee’s recommendation shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.

The International Hospital Committee language says:

An International Hospitality Committee is hereby established, to be appointed by the First Selectman, in order to advise the appropriate Town officials as to activities in the Town related to the United Nations and international visitors. This Committee’s recommendations shall not be binding but shall be of an advisory nature only.

 

TEAM Westport Membership Challenged

An attorney representing 2 Westporters has charged TEAM Westport with violating the town charter, and state statute.

In an email to 1st Selectman Jen Tooker, Vincent Marino — representing Zack Alcyone and Camilo Riano — says that since its formation in 2005, the town’s multicultural organization has “failed to satisfy the minority representation requirement and has included ineligible members. As a result, the Committee has conducted business in violation of the law, and in recent years, in absence of a quorum.”

Marino says that TEAM Westport includes 14 members, and that by charter and state statute, no more than 9 can be from one political party. He lists 11 Democrats, one unaffiliated, and one resident each of Weston and Redding, along with a 15th ex officio member. (Click here for TEAM Westport committee members, as listed on the town website.)

He charges also that “only electors of the Town may be appointed to serve on elected or appointed boards and commissions of the Town.” Two other members, he says, no longer live in Westport.

Marino says that at least 5 members — including chair Harold Bailey Jr. — have served longer than the charter allows.

He demands that 9 members be advised that they are no longer eligible to serve; that “all prior action of the Committee is to be considered void,” and that the 5 remaining members cannot conduct business in the absence of a quorum.

If Marino’s concerns are not addressed by Friday, he says his clients are “prepared to seek a writ of mandamus” (judicial remedy).

Members of TEAM Westport — the acronym stands for Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism — “live and work in Westport or Weston,” its website says. Members are appointed by the first selectman.

The committee was created in 2003, by Democratic 1st Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell. “Westport’s traditional ties with neighboring Weston quickly added volunteers from Weston with the sponsorship of Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss,” the website notes.

In 2005, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted to name TEAM Westport an official municipal committee. Democrat Gordon Joseloff and Republicans Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker have continued their support of the group.

Tooker’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

(Full disclosure: I was a member of TEAM Westport at its inception in 2003. I resigned when I began the “06880” blog.)

Anonymous Website Responds To TEAM Westport Statement

A few minutes ago, I received an email from the obviously fake account of “Wes Porter.” 

It read:

If you have any journalistic integrity you will publish this response in full, which is now circulating. You cannot publish a story, give one side a full opportunity to respond and then silence the other side. 

In fact, I first gave voice to the anonymous “Westport Parents 06880” post objecting to TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Contest on Friday. A number of readers objected — you don’t allow anonymous comments on your blog, they said, so why do you allow an entire anonymous post?

My answer was that it was circulating in town, people were talking about it, and I wanted to open up my “Comments” section to readers for an important debate.

A number of comments in support of the anonymous statement came from fake email accounts, or used false names. That’s against “0688o” policy. I did my best to remove them.

Meanwhile, I had asked Harold Bailey, TEAM Westport chair, to respond. He sent a statement last night; I posted it this morning.

Normally, that would be the end of things. I don’t want “06880” to become a place for hurling back and forth statements, with the expectation I’ll highlight every one. Both sides have had their say.

Furthermore, “journalistic integrity” also includes knowing the source of what one prints. Woodward and Bernstein knew who Deep Throat was. They kept it quiet, as I would with the anonymous “Westport Parents” site. I believe it is legit, and run by Westport parents, but I can’t even be sure of that.

However — in the interest of furthering this discussion, and because it offers a different take on the essay prompt — I will post the anonymous response here. I will then allow TEAM Westport to respond if they wish, giving each side 2 stories. And that will be it.

I reiterate too: “06880” policy is that all commenters use full, real names. That has not changed. If you have something to say, you must stand by it publicly, with your full, real name. And I reserve the right to require proof that you are who you claim to be.

Here is the statement from “Wes Porter”:

We appreciate Mr. Bailey’s response to our concerns, although he put forth a series of misrepresentations about our statement in order to distract the community from and avoid confronting the most important point we are making. There was absolutely nothing in our statement to suggest we sought to stop any child in Westport from expressing his or her point of view on any topic.

Screenshot of the “Westport Parents 06880” home page.

We are passionate supporters of first amendment rights and free expression. It is misleading for Mr. Bailey to suggest that all criticism against his group is anonymous, as many individuals in town have been outspoken on areas of disagreement, and many others have lent their names to the ideas we have presented by sending emails to elected officials and making supportive statements on social media. We did not at all criticize the basic premise of an essay contest on racial themes, and we explicitly lent support to the idea of a town body that celebrated diversity.

There is of course nothing wrong with or unconstitutional about any American sharing his or her experiences or opinions on racial topics. Rather, our statement was narrowly focused on the chosen essay topic because of its ideological slant. This year’s essay contest steers students to accept and lend support to a particular political ideology with regard to racial matters, namely “antiracism.”

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

As we explained with reference to Ibram X. Kendi, antiracism is a philosophy that calls for the proactive use of racially conscious discrimination by government to remedy perceived inequities in the distribution of goods and services along racial lines. We view this philosophy of antiracism as fundamentally unconstitutional or perhaps, more precisely, “anti-constitutional.”

Antiracism (which actually now has its own page on our Town’s website) is the guiding philosophy of the “equity” movement to which our Town government now appears to be fully committed, thanks in no small part to TEAM’s pressure/coercion on this subject. With the forthcoming equity study recommendations, it is possible that antiracism will become the guiding philosophy of our schools.

Thus, it is urgent that our community take a very hard look at what antiracism is really all about. Recent examples of antiracism in action include policies enacted by hospital systems in various states to prioritize non-white patients in the delivery of life-saving COVID treatments. These policies, which are flagrantly unconstitutional and will likely be defeated in the courts, lack any basis in medical science. They are instead driven by the politics of “equity” that has ascended just in the past few years, in Westport and across the country.

Antiracism is, by design, difficult to criticize. Any religion or belief system that vilifies those who disagree with it should be inherently suspect, but antiracism takes it to a new level by defining itself in negative terms. For isn’t an anti-antiracist a racist? While our anonymous approach appears to be infuriating to many (“how can we destroy them personally for disagreeing with us if we don’t know who they are?”), it is necessary for that very reason for us to have this philosophical debate. TEAM has already personally attacked residents of this town by pushing for the official censure of someone who was willing to challenge their ideas and actions.

John McWhorter

We are anti-antiracists, but we are not racists. We object to antiracism for many of the same reasons African-American intellectuals from John McWhorter to Ian Rowe to Glenn Loury object to it. We object to antiracism and the resulting politics of equity because we believe they promote an unconstitutional and illegitimate public purpose: the creation of laws and policies designed to achieve an “equitable” distribution of goods and services along arbitrarily defined racial categories. “To each according to his membership within a government defined racial identity category” cannot become the 21st century interpretation of “all men are created equal.”

We continue to believe this year’s essay contest topic tends to promote an ideology, in violation of Westport Board of Education policy, which means Westport schools must not participate in any way with this essay contest. The ideology being promoted is antiracism. A possible solution to this problem would be to reword the essay contest in a way that is ideologically neutral. We propose the following language:

In 1,000 words or fewer describe the challenges people in your community face speaking about race, including the risk of harsh accusations if their views do not conform to certain expectations. Should instances of systemic racism be addressed through the implementation of more systemic racism? What are the advantages and pitfalls of abandoning the colorblind approach to issues that we have relied upon since the Civil Rights movement?

TEAM Westport Responds To Diversity Essay Controversy

In response to the uproar that followed announcement of TEAM Westport’s 9th annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest, Harold Bailey — chair of the town’s multiculutral organization — issued this statement:

In TEAM Westport’s 19-year history, there is no initiative of which we are more proud than the annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest.

Over the past 8 years, it is also the initiative which has garnered the greatest acclaim and respect for the town of Westport. From school systems regionally, statewide, and nationally to CNN, the stature of the town has been raised and the town has responded to the insights of its youth with a combination of respect, pride and (often) awe.

In general, the awe has been due to the breath-taking courage and talent required of winning essayists to deliver their searing insights with genuinely brilliant language. Those insights have included first-hand accounts of the impact of “othering” written by White, Black, Asian-American, Latinx, etc. students providing their voices on aspects of race, religion, ethnicity and LGBTQ-IA+ (TEAM Westport’s focus areas by charter).  We invite you to read all 25 winning essays at www.westportct.gov/essays.

Now, through a combination of website and emails, anonymous source(s) have declared that

  • Insights from African-American, Asian-American, Latinx and White students about the toxicity of racial micro-aggressions on their lives and their peers were racist.
  • A White student’s exposition of her marginalization due to the “dumb blonde” stereotypes was unconstitutional.
  • The frank discussion of the marginalization faced by an LGBTQ-IA+ student after coming out was un-American.

Essentially, these anonymous source(s) contend that the Town of Westport should be outraged that these voices were ever heard and ensure that no others are heard in the future.

Last year’s TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest finalists (from left): Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, Jaden Mello.

That contention is patently absurd and diametrically opposed to the town of Westport’s “Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” ratified by the Board of Selectmen (including our current first aelectwoman) on October 13.

It is one thing to criticize adults with a viciousness including accusations of Nazi-ism, but far more troubling to dismiss the insights of our children as ideology trolling for dollars while bullying future participants and their parents.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

The TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest was created to give teens in our community an opportunity to reflect on, express, and open up constructive conversations about race and identity based on each teen’s lived experience. If you support the Teen Diversity Essay Contest and its continuation, there are two ways you can help:

  1. Say so. Send an email addressed to the RTM (RTM-DL@westportct.gov), Board of Selectmen (selectman@westportct.gov), Board of Education (boe@westportps.org) and Superintendent of Schools (tscarice@westportps.org).
  2. Contribute. TEAM Westport receives no funding from the town of Westport. All contest prizes are funded via independent contributions. Tax deductible contributions may be made via to TEAM Westport, c/o Department of Finance, Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.
  3. TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank 2016 essay contest winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

Website Slams TEAM Westport Diversity Essay Contest

TEAM Westport announced its 9th annual Teen Diversity Essay topic.

“Westport Parents 06880” are not pleased.

The prompt — “describe what you would like to explain to people in your community who avoid or struggle with talking about race, or acknowledging systemic racism, or who apply a ‘color blind’ approach to issues” — prompted the anonymous website formed out of “concerns about the increasing focus on assertions of racism in our community,” and which fights “political activism and moralizing intrusions in the classroom” to issue a lengthy statement opposing the contest.

It begins: “The contest is explicitly targeting ‘students attending high school in Westport,’ which of course means Staples High School, one of three high schools in Westport alongside the two much smaller private schools.” (In fact, previous essay winners have come from Choate and Hopkins, as well as Greens Farms Academy.)

The statement continues:

The essay prompt is unsurprising given this organization’s ongoing efforts to impose its neoracist ideology (to borrow a term used by the African-American Columbia linguistics professor John McWhorter) on nearly every part of our town.

This year’s topic — essentially asking our children to deconstruct a “colorblind” approach to race — only represents an escalation of its campaign to discredit basic Constitutional principles that have defined and united Americans from our founding. What TEAM is doing here is not only morally wrong, it is a blatant violation of adopted Westport Board of Education policy on essay contests which prohibits contests “that tend to promote or advertise a product or an ideology.” We call upon Town leaders and the Board of Education in particular to take immediate action.

Formed with the seemingly benign mission of “achieving and celebrating ‘a more welcoming, multicultural community’,” TEAM now fluidly operates as a sort of amorphous auxiliary unit within Westport municipal government. TEAM is formally housed within the Selectman’s office but is composed of numerous elected officials, ordinary townsfolk and even residents of Weston. For reasons one can only speculate upon, TEAM seems to have carte blanche to intervene in our schools and numerous other areas of Town government. TEAM’s unelected leadership appears to be accountable to no one, while playing a role in nearly every facet of Westport civic life, from our schools to the library to the police force to the art work that appears in Town Hall.

Screenshot of the “Westport Parents 06880” home page.

The parents in the group “do not object in the least to TEAM’s mission of celebrating diversity or the existence of a properly regulated body that would pursue such a straightforward mission,” they say.

They do object, however, to

how TEAM’s philosophy has evolved into a sort of militant “wokeness,” aggressively pushing a single (and in our view toxic) narrative around racial issues. This ideology has manifested itself through the concept of ‘equity’ that has been pushed across Town government. As we await the Superintendent’s recommendations following the equity study conducted by the NYU Metro Center, equity is perhaps weeks away from becoming the official dogma of our public schools.

The choice to target a “colorblind” approach cuts to the heart of the ideological cliff over which TEAM seeks to push our wonderful diverse community. As anyone with a basic understanding of anti-discrimination law understands, because of our country’s dark history with segregation, we have wide-ranging prohibitions against consideration of race or skin color. The new “woke” mentality, which has clearly been embraced by TEAM, is to reinsert consideration of race or skin color into everyday life, as a form of “good” segregation.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

After quoting Ibram X. Kendi — the National Book Award for Nonfiction who was the 2018 Martin Luther King Day keynote speaker here, and has since worked on anti-racism training in Westport — the website says:

TEAM’s new mission appears to be a revival of racial discrimination in Westport. Presumably, it will fall upon the unelected leadership of TEAM to decide how and when such racial discrimination takes place to achieve the antiracist equitable outcomes they desire.

Westport as a community, and its elected leadership in particular, must stand against this paradigm shift in racial understanding which so plainly disrespects the principle of equality embedded in our Constitution and so many of our laws.

The statement concludes:

When they were inaugurated, every single one of Westport’s elected officials swore an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. We ask them all to live up to that oath and denounce TEAM’s relentless efforts to undermine the principle of racial equality and equal treatment under the law. We ask the Board of Education in particular to enforce its own policies and take immediate action to sever any link between Staples High School and the new TEAM essay contest.

We urge parents of high school students in Westport to discourage their children from participating in this odious attempt to use financial incentives to impress a severely defective ideology upon them.

NOTE: It is an “06880” rule that all commenters must use full, real names. Last night, I removed several comments from a previous story about TEAM Westport. The comments — all condemning the committee and its essay contest — were posted using fake names and false email addresses. If you have an opinion, we’d love to hear it. But we must know who stands behind it. Thank you for abiding by “06880” rules.