Selectmen Rebuke Wednesday’s Rampage of U.S. Capitol

During board comment at the end of their meeting tonight, the Board of Selectmen condemned Wednesday’s storming and occupation of the United States Capitol. 

“I don’t think we can leave the table tonight without reflecting on the horror of yesterday,” First Selectman Bob Lessler said. “I think it’s extremely sad and very unfortunate that the sitting president of the United States used language that would essentially cause people to attack the Capitol of the United States.”

All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to remain silent, he said, citing the words of Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner.

“It was a very sad day in the history of the United States and something all Americans who respect the rule of law, who respect the will of the voters, who respect the Constitution, should abhor,” Lessler said.

A mob of Trump-inspired loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building, the internationally recognized symbol of democracy, to disrupt the final electoral count affirming the peaceful transition of power to President-Elect Joe Biden.

After being evacuated during the riot, lawmakers returned once the intruders were removed and worked late into the night, to complete the task. The invasion of the “People’s House” didn’t stop them from reconvening to complete the process and affirm Biden’s victory.

“I agree with Bob in saying the actions of yesterday were appalling,” Selectman Kristi Sogofsky said. “I don’t think anyone who saw it on their TV thought anything like that would ever occur.”

Sogofsky said it’s fortunate that there are systems in place to ensure that the people who stormed the Capitol — whose actions were “awful, surprising and disappointing” — would be dealt with in an appropriate way.

First Selectman Dave Bindelglass said he agreed with the “expressions of horror from people across the political spectrum,” and singled out former President George W. Bush. “He’s certainly not a person of similar political views to myself but I thought what he said was absolutely appropriate,” Bindelglass said.

“I would certainly agree with both of you that it was a horrible incident and hopefully one that will not be repeated in any of our lifetimes, and was perhaps a wakeup call,” Bindelglass said.

Bush was among a number of prominent Republicans who condemned the actions of the pro-Trump mob. Bush wrote in a prepared statement, “I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement.”

Without specifically naming Trump, he went on, “The violent assault on the Capitol — and disruption of a Constitutionally mandated meeting of Congress — was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

Board of Selectmen Meeting of Dec. 17, 2020

For the first time, the members of the board met entirely via Zoom because of the snowstorm and bitter cold temperatures. The board unanimously acted on routine matters by approving the minutes of the Dec. 3 meeting and approving several tax refunds as recommended by the tax collector.

EMS Generator

The board agreed to waive the bidding process for a generator for the EMS building because of the concern that the existing generator may fail at any time based on its recent history. Bids had been received, but all of the bids recommended a Generac product that the director of public works did not feel suited the needs of the town. The town will now solicit quotes on Kohler brand generators and another brand. The town currently has five Kohler brand generators which have served the town very well.

Tax Extension

Governor Lamont has recently issued executive order 9R which would extend the due date for taxes by one month identical to what was done for taxpayers in June with the July 1 tax due date. Towns were given some options at that time. If no action is taken by Dec. 31, the same extension terms selected by the town in June will remain in force for the January tax installment. The board decided not to change the previously approved extension terms. Taxpayers who are interested in these options should contact the tax collector’s office for details.

Covid-19 Status

First Selectman Bindelglass updated the board on Covid 19 matters. The state has listed some details on the vaccine rules which are posted on the state website. The Moderna vaccine, the second Covid-19 vaccine in the pipeline, was approved and should shortly be available. It is easier to use than the Pfizer vaccine as it can be stored at a higher temperature and has a shorter waiting period between the two doses. The town had a few fewer cases in the past two weeks but our numbers are still high. The town may be nearing the point where reduced hours for the library may be necessary to help slow the spread.

5G Wireless Service

One resident spoke during public comment to ask the board to extend the moratorium on installing 5G wireless service in the town. Earlier this year the board adopted the moratorium with an end date of Dec. 31. The board will take up the issue at its first meeting in January. As there are no present plans to install 5G in Easton, the delay should not present an issue.

Holiday Wishes, Thanks to Matt Gacchi

Selectwoman Sogofsky extended holiday good wishes to everyone and urged residents to be safe and smart during the holiday season. First Selectman Bindelglass also wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season. He spoke about a plan to arrange a welcome to Easton event or series of events for new residents and for residents who just want more information about town government, local service organizations and non-profits, and local businesses. More details will follow after the first of the year. He also expanded on his previous remarks thanking Matt Gachi, former Board of Finance member and chair, for his fine service to the town.

Resilience and Unity Mark Easton’s 175th Anniversary

The year 2020 will be memorable for many reasons. It will likely appear in history textbooks with a negative slant due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The town of Easton, however, was determined not to let anything dampen its spirits this year as it celebrated its 175th anniversary.

The Easton 175 Committee, who organized and planned the anniversary events, was the brainchild of Selectman Robert Lessler.

“I just took it upon myself to reach out to as many people as I could think of who had the skills, the interest, the creativity and the desire to help pull something together,” said Lessler.

Lessler originally invited about 25 people to the initial zoom meeting. Those people in turn reached out to people they knew, who would have the passion, ideas, and know-how to make such an undertaking possible in the midst of a historic pandemic.

Easton 175th drive-in movie on the big screen at Samuel Staples Elementary School

“The project took on a life of its own as people wanted to do something to celebrate the town and to make this horrible, no good, terrible year a little better,” Lessler said. “This is what has made being a part of this project so special and has filled me with such pride in the people of this town.”

In June, a contest to create the logo for the 175th pre-empted the events with a design by Brooke Alexander Caprio being chosen as the winner. A logo by Hayden Goldstein won the kids’ submission contest, and Makeda Is Ra El Ali Bey’s logo took first place among young adult submissions.

“I love how the ‘theme’ of Easton depicted by today’s residents is very likely what residents would have felt 175 years ago … trees, water, farming, and community,” said Allison Taylor, who manages the Easton 175 website. “The only standout being the images of a tractor here and there, a modern advance that I’m sure would have been more than welcomed 175 years ago!”  

The festivities kicked off in earnest on July 11 with a drive-in screening of ET at Samuel Staples Elementary School. The following month Easton Park and Recreation organized another drive-in event, a family trivia night at the school on Aug 14.

September featured the most ambitious and impressive event yet: a socially distanced town party hosted by the Ashler-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge No. 142, followed by a fireworks show presented by the Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service.

Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass called the fireworks show his favorite event. “They were just spectacular, and more importantly, the town pulled it off with everyone doing the right thing, staying in their cars, getting in and out safely, and everyone got to enjoy a great show.”

Easton celebrates its 175th anniversary with a town party and fireworks. — Tomas Koeck Photo

Health and safety were of course paramount during these events. The town party had rigorously enforced social distancing guidelines and mandatory masking, whereas the fireworks were yet another drive-in event.

The rest of the fall featured a virtual 5K/10K run, Halloween trivia, a historic tour of the Gilbertown Cemetery, and an Easton photography contest.

Easton’s 175th Anniversary featured more than just events, however. Nanette Dewester, a member of the Easton 175 Committee as well as the Easton Cemetery Committee, came up with the idea of doing oral histories of the town. Fellow Easton 175 Committee member Lynn Zaffino and the Easton Public Library organized the Oral History Project.

“I enthusiastically agreed to pursue the Oral History Project, as it was something that I had always had in the back of my mind to initiate,” said Zaffino. “I eventually handed off the day-to-day details to a committee of three staff members: Ryan Tice, Kevin Krug, and Debby Holland.”

The interviews were conducted primarily by local middle school and high school students, including Penny LaMastro, Iris LaMastro, Lincoln LaMastro, Abby Bonoff and Avery Young. Local radio host Dolly Curtis also conducted interviews for the project, which were edited by Sheila Weaver.

“I think it went well,” said Dewester. “I’m hoping we could expand the idea later to working with students who research the lives of those buried in town, like an Easton Our Town project.”

As a difficult year winds down, it is important to look back on the positives. The Easton 175th Anniversary celebration certainly was one of them. Easton is a special place and its residents came together to overcome challenging obstacles.

“The Easton 175 Committee exemplifies what makes this community so special,” Lessler said. “It is the story of people coming together with friends, acquaintances and people they did not know at all to create something bigger than any one person.”

The new year will not spell the end to the festivities. Easton’s 175th Anniversary celebration will continue through June 30, 2021, marking a full year since the logo contest began.

Dewester called Easton’s story one of resilience. “Easton spun out from a bad divorce from Weston— the town didn’t even get the name it wanted. But it grew over time and trial to the thriving, uniquely preserved pocket of natural resources, prosperous farms, and quiet evergreen beauty that’s an oasis in Fairfield County.”

That resilience is the true nature of Easton. That is why despite all the slings and arrows of the past year, Easton’s 175th Anniversary was one that will not be forgotten any time soon.

Board of Selectmen Business

The Board of Selectmen addressed several topics at its most recent regular meeting, including approval of  the schedule of regular monthly meetings for 2021.  The schedule will be posted on the town Board of Selectmen page.  Meetings are held on the first and third Thursday of the month, but there are exceptions in April and September.

The board approved a motion to appoint the law firm of Berchem Moses to represent the town in regard to the South Park Avenue bridge project and unpaid amounts to the contractor. The decision follows a letter to the town from attorneys representing NJR Construction.  The project started in 2019 but was not completed until earlier this year.

The selectmen decided not to take action on an application for a driveway variance for a Belgium block apron at 40 Bradley Road.  The town zoning enforcement officer advised that the driveway grade does not meet town zoning regulations. The compliance issue was noted in 2017. The zoning enforcement officer suggested requiring the owner to correct the zoning issue as a condition of the variance approval. The selectmen considered such a motion but opted to wait to take action until their next meeting. That will allow time for the town to reach out to the homeowner about the proposed conditions of approval.

Appointments made at the meeting include:

  • Reappointment of A. Reynolds Gordon, Paul Lindoerfer and Ray Longo, and appointment of new member Scott Charmoy, to the Tax Relief for the Elderly Committee
  • Emma Montoya to the Board of Ethics
  • Darrell Harris to the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force

In response to public comment about reestablishing the town Road Commission, Selectman Bob Lessler said the ordinance governing that commission may need to be revisited. The Road Commission ordinance calls for three members and requires all the members to be civil engineers or have experience in the field of road construction. Lessler noted that in the past it was difficult to find qualified people to serve because of those restrictions and that it may warrant a revision.

View video of Board of Selectmen meetings through the town website.

Westport Weston Health District Remains in the Spotlight as Covid Rates Rise

With Covid-19 spiking across Connecticut, Easton has relied on its new partnership with the Westport Weston Health District more than it ever could have expected. The retirements of Polly Edwards, the town’s sanitarian, and Dr. Chris Michos, health director, led the Board of Selectmen to unanimously vote to join the neighboring health district in September.

Easton has lacked a full-time health department because Edwards worked part-time as the town sanitarian. Dr. Michos did not have regular office hours in Easton, and his field of expertise was emergency medicine, not public health.

The part-time nature of the health department meant that the town was already deficient in a number of ways, according to town officials. Changing the way Easton’s public health system worked was a step that needed to be made.

The state of Connecticut recommended that Easton should make one of two decisions: create its own full-time health department, or join the WWHD.

First Selectman Dave Bindelglass and the Board of Selectmen intended to hold a town meeting for taxpayers to vote on the matter, but the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic rendered that intention impossible. The Board of Selectmen ultimately decided to enter a one-year contract with the WWHD as an interim solution until a long-term decision could be made.

“Once it became clear that a change was going to be necessary, we took a closer look at this department,” said Selectman Robert Lessler. “We realized that by joining the WWHD, we could provide much better and more extensive services to the townspeople at about the same cost.”

The trial period allows both parties to assess how the relationship works between the town and the health district. Lessler emphasized that there is no reason the contract could not be renewed if it works out well, but such a decision will not be made until the town has the opportunity to vote on it.

The early returns have been promising, according to Bindelglass. “From my point of view, it’s actually been life-saving. We absolutely could not have handled Covid on our own. The contact tracing that we do has gotten tremendous support from the health district. The policy advice for our superintendent and for me coming out of the health district is just way more involved.”

Additionally, the town is benefitting from the services of a full-time sanitarian. Eren Ceylan spends a significant amount of time working out of the Easton Town Hall, helping to address the town’s sanitation needs. Bindelglass said that Easton is likely getting more time in office from Ceylan than Edwards was able to provide. Furthermore, Mark Cooper, the WWHD health director, works full-time and is a public health expert.

“The health district definitely provides many services that would not be possible with a town-run health department,” said Selectman Kristi Sogofsky. “It is a definite plus on the health side in terms of services for our seniors and everyone in town.”

Despite all this, Easton is a unique town, and there is always concern about the loss of its autonomy. Being a small part of a three-town district raised concerns from some residents that the needs of Easton would take a back seat and that the town’s voice would be ignored. Others supported making the change to join the WWHD.

“Change is always challenging and a cause for discomfort,” Lesser said in response to these concerns. “Obviously, things are not going to be the same.  However, we are receiving the same hours of service with in-town staff as we had under the former arrangement, and we can always call over to the main office in Westport.”

Lessler reiterated that the WWHD provides the town with vastly expanded services for around the same cost and that the town’s needs have far outgrown its former resources. Like much of the country, Easton is going through a transition period. The effects of Covid-19 have slowed down everything and left many in a state of limbo. It remains to be seen if the arrangement with the WWHD will be a temporary or a long-term solution.

“The future of Easton’s involvement in the Westport Weston Health District depends on the results of a town meeting,” said Sogofsky.  “We have to give the people in town the chance to voice their opinion and vote on a long-term commitment.” At this time the Board of Selectmen does not plan to make any long term commitment to the WWHD without a town meeting.

“We will want to hear from as many people as we can who have had direct contact with WWHD over the course of this year,” said Lessler. “That will be one highly significant data point for us to consider in determining whether to ask the town meeting to make this arrangement permanent.”

For more information about the Westport Weston Health District you may call 203-227-9571, email  publichealth@wwhd.com, or visit the website at http://wwhd.org.

Photo at top: Eren Ceylan, a sanitarian with the Westport Weston Health District, spends a significant amount of time working out of the Easton Town Hall, helping to address the town’s sanitation needs. — Janet Haller Photo

Board of Selectmen Meeting of November 19, 2020

Notes from the Board of Easton Selectmen’s Meeting
November 19, 2020

The Board of Selectmen held its second regular meeting in November with all members of the board present in person. The board approved the minutes of the Nov. 5 meeting and approved two tax refunds as recommended by the tax collector. These are routine agenda items.

Public Comment

Three members of the public offered comments. The first speaker asked if there is a town-sponsored welcome committee, whether town board and commission Zoom meetings will soon be posted online and whether they could be put on Channel 79, whether Easton 175 information could be put on Channel 79, pointed out that a change in the membership of Agriculture Commission would require a change in the ordinance, wonders if we know where the Covid 19 increase in town comes from, and finally asks that the town reinstitute the practice of sending postcards to advertise that a town meeting will be held.

The second speaker offered two thoughts. First, she is excited about the formation of the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and applauds the board for forming the body and the members of the body for their service. Second, she thinks the Park and Recreation Department does a top-notch job of maintaining the fields, they are easy to work with, and get the job done on time. Therefore, she urges the town to be very thoughtful before possibly removing the field maintenance function from Park and Rec.

The last speaker said she is happy we established the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force but is sorry it has gotten off to a rocky start. She hopes it will work out.

Agriculture Commission

The board discussed attendance issues on the Agriculture Commission with Jean Steltz-Puchalski, the chair. She suggested a change in the membership structure of the commission. However, this would require a change in the ordinance which, in turn, requires town meeting approval. It was suggested that, perhaps through informal discussions, members and alternates might agree to switch roles and that this might address the problem.

She will pursue that option for the time being since a change in the ordinance cannot occur anytime soon due to the Covid-19 restrictions on holding a town meeting. Steltz-Puchalski also sought the board’s guidance on how to change the farmer who holds the lease on the town farm project on the Morehouse Road property. That farmer is unable to meet the terms of the lease, but the lease still has several years to run. Since there is another farmer ready, willing and able to assume the lease, the board recommended that the assignment or sublease provisions of the current lease could be used to avoid a default or the need to re-bid the lease. This would also allow a new farmer to begin work without disrupting the planting schedule.

Reservoir Diversion

The first selectman presented a letter from Rob Maquat, the chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, recommending that the town retain the services of a Drinking Water and Reservoir Management/Urban Water Management expert to advise and advocate on behalf of the town concerning the plan by Aquarion Water Company to divert water from Easton to lower Fairfield County. The letter also recommends that the board meet with other regional local officials to assess the impact of the Aquarion proposal on all regional partners. The final recommendation is for the board to meet with the Connecticut Water Planning Council to discuss the Aquarion proposal.

Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force

The board accepted the resignations of Vivian Hardison and June Logie from the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and Ray Longo from the Cemetery Committee. The board also discussed the need to have two people who have been voted onto the Board of Ethics be sworn in so the board can tend to some pending business. One of the unsworn members is likely no longer eligible to serve due to an appointment to another town board and so a replacement will be needed. The other unsworn member has not responded, as yet, to efforts by the town to advise him of his status and requests that he contact the town clerk about getting sworn in.

Driveway Permit Problem

The board discussed with Ed Nagy, director of Public Works, a problem he has had with P & S Paving, Inc. which has done business in town without securing driveway permits in advance, without providing proof of insurance, and not constructing driveways in accordance with town requirements. Several suggestions were made and the first selectman will meet with Nagy to draft a letter to be sent to the company and the three impacted property owners.

Covid-19 Update

The first selectman provided an update on Covid-19. Easton, like most of Connecticut, is now in the red zone. Most of Easton’s uptick in cases appears to be driven by younger people and a very small number of group events in town. We are in compliance with all red zone state rules. The first selectman explained that wastewater has been found to be a good predictor of Covid-19 cases. A study of wastewater in Bridgeport suggests there will soon be a more than 30% increase in cases in the area.

The board members expressed their wishes that everyone has a safe, smart Thanksgiving. Let’s work hard to mask up, socially distance and wash hands so the Covid-19 situation does not get even worse than it already has as weather forces everyone indoors where the virus can more readily spread.

‘Light Up Easton’

Selectwoman Sogofsky explained that the Parent Teacher Organization, in conjunction with Easton 175, is sponsoring a program called “Light Up Easton.” The idea is to have everyone decorate their homes, have the houses located on a downloadable map, and then have townspeople visit the homes to see the decorations. Prizes will also be awarded. Selectman Lessler said that long and short sleeve shirt sales with the Easton 175 logo should be available for purchase on the Easton175.com website next week.

Board of Selectmen Meeting of Sept. 17, 2020

The Board of Selectmen met on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, for its regular meeting. In accordance with longstanding practice, the board acted on only pro forma, clearly non-controversial, or time-sensitive matters because Selectperson Kristi Sogofsky was not able to attend.

The board approved the minutes of the Sept. 3 meeting. The board approved several tax refunds as recommended by the tax collector. The board adopted a resolution authorizing the first selectman to take such action as may be necessary in order for the town to participate in the grant program of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

The board awarded the bid for the revaluation to be conducted over the next year to Municipal Valuation Services, LLC which was the low bidder.

The first selectman gave an update on the coronavirus. He is studying two new executive orders by the governor. The first one appears to say that people returning from hot spot states who test negative shortly after returning need not quarantine for 14 days. The second order addresses fines for non-compliance with protective requirements. He reports that our schools are doing reasonably well and they will re-assess the instructional plans on Oct. 2.

There has been a small uptick in Covid-19 cases in town. In the past eight or nine days, there have been six new cases. The town is now officially part of the Westport Weston Health District. A new sanitarian has been hired and will work in Easton for at least two days per week. The Senior Center is offering some outdoor programs.

The board heard public comment from five people. One speaker asked what transpired at a meeting Sept. 17 between Rob Maquat, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and First Selectman Dave Bindelglass regarding the proposed pathway from Flat Rock Road to Silverman’s Farm. The first selectman responded that Justin Giorlando, the land use director, was also at the meeting. They reviewed the state engineering report that indicates the cost of the project may be 50% more than originally anticipated.

This speaker also asked what is happening with the proposed land use ordinance. The first selectman said it was not on the agenda today because one of the members of the board could not be present and this issue always benefits from input from the full board.

A second speaker recited the pledge of allegiance. The speaker also thanked the president and the attorney general for their efforts. The speaker is glad the attorney general is investigating states that are not re-opening after the pandemic shutdowns. There is fear-mongering related to the pandemic, only 6% of “Covid-19” deaths are truly Covid-19, and 94% are related to other conditions, the speaker said. The speaker said Governor Lamont’s “illegal” executive orders 9A&B indicate that Nov. 9 is the release date and not next February.

(Author’s note: So as not to permit inaccurate information to potentially confuse the public, it is noted that no reputable scientists, no reputable health care organizations or entities, no reputable health research organizations, and no reputable news media sources agree that only 6% of the just over 200,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the United States as of today are, in fact, from Covid-19. The figures referenced by the second speaker above come from far right-wing outlets and are a gross mischaracterization of the facts.)

A third speaker observed that she passed kids at a bus stop in Westport being picked up by parents and none were wearing masks and they were huddled close together. There were about 15 people present. The first selectman agreed that reminding people to wear masks at bus stops is a good idea, although Easton buses are much underutilized at present. This speaker also asked why taxpayers contacting town boards or commissions often receive no response. The speaker cited unanswered emails to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Finance.

The first selectman suggested people copy him on such emails. The speaker said the pathway is going to cost $180,000 for a half-mile. She doesn’t think this is a good idea at a time when people are out of work, having a hard time paying bills, and stressed due to the pandemic. She wants to have the promised town meeting decide whether to build the pathway. The first selectman assured the speaker that the issue would be presented to the town meeting.

A fourth speaker asked if the first selectman could say, generally, where the six new Covid-19 cases in Easton came from. The first selectman said they apparently did not come from our schools. While he could not be more specific, he said most of the new cases in Connecticut are coming from colleges and universities.

The fifth and final speaker offered happy New Year greetings to the board. He expressed concern that the chair of P&Z wants to rush the approval of the pathway. He thinks it would harm the quaint look of our town and that there is not majority support for it. He wishes the pathway was narrower because he is concerned that people will drive down an 11-foot wide pathway. He also reports that the wires on the tree he told the board about at a previous meeting have now, finally, been removed.

The first selectman says that we have intervened in the DPUC process regarding the performance of the electric companies during the recent storm. The speaker wonders if the town could charge or tax the water company if it removes water from Easton’s reservoirs as proposed. The first selectman said that while the notion of charging or taxing the water company is not feasible, he, State Rep. Anne Hughes, and Redding First Selectperson Julia Pemberton have met and are planning to seek intervenor status in the administrative proceedings on this matter. Several speakers thanked the first selectman for engaging in a dialogue in response to the various public comments.

Lessler expressed his appreciation and thanks to the Masons and the Easton Volunteer EMS for the town party and fireworks on Sept. 12. First Selectman Bindelglass agreed and also thanked the Fire Department for the 9/11 memorial display on this, the 19th anniversary of the attacks. He also recommended people watch the CBS interview of Eunice Hanson on the Sept. 11 attacks. He also has a link to it on his weekly message for Sept. 18.

Videos of Board of Selectmen meetings may be viewed here.

Board of Selectmen Approve Antiracist Actions

The Easton Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the formation of the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Task Force as proposed by resident Lise Fleuette. The task force will act as an advisory group to investigate and offer recommendations to all town departments, boards and commissions regarding the best options for anti-racist action. 

Fleuette’s idea to recommend this new task force to the Board of Selectmen originated among her peers in the Democratic Town Committee. Following George Floyd’s murder in May, a movement developed in Easton to take action. Floyd’s death unveiled to Fleuette the disproportionate police brutality and systemic oppression that Black Americans face.

“George Floyd’s daughter Gianna says ‘my daddy changed the world,’” Fleuette said. “ It’s an absolute tragedy that she has to embrace this thought as her comfort because her daddy should be there as her comfort. But I want her to know that he did change the world — because he changed me, someone who would never have known him.”

Fleuette said she previously didn’t realize the privileges that she has at the expense of people of color. Until recently, she made excuses for the steady drumbeat of stories of police brutality around the country by refusing to see the pattern.

“After George Floyd, it became crystal clear to me that Black men and women can’t feel safe in their own land,” Fleuette said. “They have legitimate reasons to be afraid of the police. And here as a white person, I was raised to trust and admire the police! I could no longer ignore the fact that people of color have a very different experience of and relationship with the police than I did, and that is not right.”

Fleuette was passionate about creating this task force to strengthen the community by committing to diversity and inclusion efforts.

“While Easton has no history of police brutality, like many affluent and predominantly white towns, Easton needs to step up and say we acknowledge that bias against people of color is a problem in the world around us, that it hurts them in very real ways, and that we want to do something about it,” Fleuette said. “We see this problem. We know it exists, we’re not going to pretend it doesn’t, and we’re going to do what we can to fix it.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force creates a powerful entity to identify and investigate opportunities for improvement within Easton’s current structure. The task force will unearth areas for growth within Easton’s protocols, hiring practices, programming, and everyday biases that have not yet had an opportunity to be exposed. 

“Anytime we as a community can look at ways to improve the situation around us is a good thing,” said Selectwoman Kristi Sogofsky. “We may have issues in town, and there’s no harm in taking an honest look at what’s going on in the community.” 

Selectman Robert Lessler was also proud to support the task force. “It’s a great idea and many communities are doing this in various other ways,” Lessler said. “We need to take steps to make people more aware of the issues of structural racism and bias. It’s hard in a place like Easton because we don’t have many people of color here. It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t see a problem here.’ That’s why we need this task force, where everything seems to be fine.

“We’re not a particularly diverse community, but we certainly have people of color. Their experiences of racism here in Easton, while certainly not as tragic as what happened to George Floyd, are problematic and lead to bigger issues in this community and in this country. We need to make sure we’re doing our part in this community.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force’s investigations and recommendations will hold powerful community attention, considering the increase in conversations around antiracist work in Easton. Another community member, Elaine O’Keefe, proposed a separate anti-racist action for Easton to adopt, independent of Fleuette’s initiative. She proposed that Easton declare racism a public health crisis, joining a statewide movement led by the organization Health Equity Solutions.

O’Keefe said she has been moved by the heightened focus on the issue of racism in Easton following the death of George Floyd, and she found Lila Estime’s most recent article calling on everyone to take action particularly inspiring. Estime grew up in Easton and attended the local schools. During the August 20 Board of Selectmen meeting, O’Keefe encouraged the town to explore ways to “make Easton as welcome and proactive as it can be in terms of addressing implicit bias and issues around fighting racism.”

O’Keefe, who worked as a public health professional for 35 years, said that the resolution aligns with the fundamental mission of public health “to prevent avoidable disease, disability and premature death by assuring conditions that allow everyone to enjoy optimal health.” She noted that tremendous gains have been made to increase life expectancy and achieve better health status for many in the United States.

However, “There are glaring, persistent racial health disparities in our country and Connecticut that are unacceptable and preventable, with ample data showing the particularly disproportionate burden of disease and premature death in communities of color,” she said. “We have to look at the social inequities that are the underlying cause of these disparities, and racism figures at large as a root cause. Until systemic racism and social inequality is addressed, there is little reason for optimism that these health disparities will be eliminated.

“The COVID pandemic has only magnified the severity of the problem with Black and Latinx individuals in Connecticut disproportionately affected. Local resolutions and declarations are a first but important step, acknowledging the problem and committing to work toward positive change.”

Easton is now one of 16 municipalities in Connecticut that has officially declared racism a public health crisis, and it is anticipated that many more will follow. Easton residents who wish to join a discussion about potential state legislative actions to address health inequities can join upcoming listening sessions sponsored by Health Equity Solutions.

Upon the Board of Selectmen’s unanimous acceptance of O’Keefe’s proposal, First Selectman David Bindelglass provided additional commentary on the resolution to answer some lingering questions about what it means that Easton recognizes racism as a public health crisis. Bindelglass mentioned that this signifies Easton’s adoption of a new lens to view these issues. He provided an example of a potential result from this new lens when he stated “malnutrition is a huge part of the inequity in health care, and we are a farm community. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to help in providing better quality foods for some of our neighbors.”

Not all voices from the community supported the Board of Selectmen’s unanimous votes on each of these items. “The reason for our comments at the Aug. 20 BOS meeting was that declaring racism as a public health crisis is, in our opinion, reckless virtue-signaling,” said John and Sherry Harris:

“Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass claims he based his support for this resolution on science and facts. For evidence, he points to racial health disparities, but the resolution passed by our BOS did not declare ‘racial health disparities’ to be a public health crisis. It declared ‘racism’ to be a public health crisis. By what scientific method would one even measure that assertion? The attending implication that our citizens are part of some undefined pattern of racism is disgraceful, divisive, and demonstrably false. Our immediate and extended family is multi-racial, including a Fresh Air son who was with us fulltime for three years and for many summers. We found complete acceptance in our community and surrounding towns and states. People and institutions such as the YMCA, the Discovery Museum, the East Coast Tae Kwon Do Academy, and the Sylvan Learning Center, to name just a few, were kind and generous beyond measure. They are the norm in America. They are everywhere and they live lives and run organizations that are the polar opposite of racist.”

Bindelglass has also drawn from his own experience as a practicing physician to support the scientific evidence from public health studies that for decades have documented racial disparities in health care in the United States. This example of systemic racism, or disparities in the health care system based on race, have prompted local leaders like Bindelglass to urge their communities not only to consider their own important personal or individualized experiences but to also recognize the reliable scientific data that has documented a broader and systemic problem within the health care system:

There is no question that there are very large racial disparities in the health of our population whether nationally or locally. . . . While I am certain this is true from my experience as a physician in this community for 29 years, overseeing the orthopedic clinic at Bridgeport hospital and having a Fairfield private practice, my thoughts are grounded in data. . . . As the briefest of snapshots, the recent pandemic has made this point abundantly clear. In Connecticut, the chances of obtaining Covid-19 for people of color is roughly three times that of white people. (This info is updated daily at ct.gov/coronavirus.) Bridgeport has the largest concentration of the virus in the state. . . .[W]e are 50 miles from America’s second-largest city and are very much tied to its economics, and social fabric through commuting, social and family ties. We are five miles from Bridgeport and greatly affected by that proximity. More importantly, I think we all agree that we enjoy great benefits by being citizens of these United States. I believe that we also own America’s problems and — even when the effects of those problems may not seem to affect us so directly at a particular moment in time — it is short-sighted to believe they never will, or not to prepare for when they might.

According to Lessler, “If we’re going to address issues of racism in this country, each community needs to do its part to gather information and use that data to implement change to make it better for people of color in those communities. If communities across the country can do this, we’ll see real change.”

The first three positions on the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force were appointed during the Sept. 3 Board of Selectmen meeting. There are still two alternate positions and one full-member position available. Interested residents are requested to contact Janet Haller, administrative assistant to the first selectman, at jhaller@eastonct.gov.

Easton Celebrates 175th with Town Party and Fireworks

Spirits were high this past Saturday as residents celebrated Easton’s 175th Anniversary. No amount of social distancing could dampen their enthusiasm.

Founded in 1845 when the town of Weston was split in two and what was the old North Fairfield Parish became a new town, Easton has been a slice of true Americana ever since.

“I’ve lived in several places and traveled the world, but can’t think of a more idyllic community,” said Steve Tramposch, Easton Town Party event organizer.

Two events made up the Sept. 12 festivities: the town party, presented by Ashlar-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge No. 142, and the Easton 175th Anniversary Fireworks Show, hosted by the Easton Volunteer EMS.

Celebrating Easton’s 175th — Tomas Koeck Photo

The town party kicked off the day’s events, featuring live music by local bands The Brotherhood and Hitch & The Giddyup, beer provided by Veracious Brewing Company and food trucks from DrewbaQ and Jim’s Ice Cream Truck. The party had a lively atmosphere despite the rigorous social distancing to ensure the partygoers’ safety.

“We’re just trying to give back to the community, that’s kind of what Masonry is,” said Mark Zuccharella, the worshipful master of the Masonic Lodge. “We want to make sure that everyone is able to do whatever it is they’re inspired to do, and if we can help in any way with the community we will.”

The event was built around a concert atmosphere and when asked why he was having so much fun at the party, a young boy named Alex said, “Because of the music!”

Safety was a top priority as planners worked with state and local health officers to ensure the event was compliant with Covid-19 health guidelines.

“We’ve been excited all along and had high hopes about celebrating Easton’s 175th anniversary,” First Selectman Dave Bindelglass said. “Obviously the pandemic put a little bit of a damper on some of this.”
Ticket sales were limited, and guests were assigned socially distanced areas for their group. Everyone was required to wear a mask upon entering and leaving the party, as well as whenever they left their personal area for food, restrooms or any other reason.

“The lodge really promised that we would maintain social distancing, masking — which everyone is doing a great job of — and it gives us a chance to celebrate for Easton,” Bindelglass said.

A dazzling display of fireworks at Samuel Staples Elementary School and Morehouse Field capped off the celebration. The event, which helped raise funds for a new Easton EMS building, had to be reimagined from a more traditional fireworks show to assure social distancing. The result was a drive-in format that allowed onlookers to enjoy the beautiful presentation from the comfort and safety of their vehicles.

“We developed the idea to allow everyone to attend as though it was an old-school drive-in movie,” said EMS Chief Jonathan Arnold. “Everyone drives in, stays with their car and tunes their FM radio to a pre-designated radio station, listens to a DJ we will have broadcasting, and watches the show.”

In more normal times an event like this would have called for on-site food trucks, picnicking, and plenty of socializing, but the unique circumstances of the times called for a more subdued, but no less exciting, event.

“The 175th Anniversary was an opportunity for Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service to give even more back to our community, ” Arnold said.

“I think the celebration as a whole was a great moment for our town,” said Easton Selectwoman Kristi Sogofsky. “It gave people of all ages something to look forward to and to enjoy while highlighting what makes Easton unique. You couldn’t have asked for more from the fireworks show. It was spectacular! And the turnout was great. My kids really enjoyed it, especially since all the Fourth of July shows were cancelled this year.”

Fireworks celebrating Easton’s 175th Anniversary.–Tomas Koeck Video

The 175th Anniversary of Easton was a long-anticipated event and the organizers were determined to make sure that festivities could be held even in this era of Covid-19.

“I am most proud of two things,” said Selectman Robert Lessler, who chairs the Easton 175th Committee. “Everyone who attended acted in a responsible manner and observed the pandemic precautions. Also, the turnout for each event was terrific. Therefore, we were successful in celebrating this milestone in Easton’s history, secure in the knowledge that so many townspeople were kept safe and had a great time.”

Easton, like the rest of the United States, finds itself in unprecedented times. Despite these unusual circumstances, and indeed partly because of them, these two 175th anniversary celebrations will likely be events that people remember for years to come. And the 175th celebrations continue with more festive events planned through the rest of the year.

Vigil for George Floyd: A Moment or a Movement?

Lila Estime loved seeing her peers, a teacher she knew from Joel Barlow High School, and everyone who turned out for the Vigil for George Floyd. “It was a moving night to remember,” she said.

Estime, a class of 2014 Barlow graduate and one of the speakers, attended all of Easton’s schools and now studies biology at Sacred Heart University. “I like that it was bipartisan,” she said. “We all came together for a good cause. Change is possible with hard work.”

Vigil Sunset — Nancy Doniger Photo

Perfect late spring weather contributed to the serious but friendly small town ambience, the sun streaming onto the field and later bursting into a sunset behind Samuel Staples Elementary School. 

Floyd, 46, an African American man, was brutally killed during a police arrest May 25 in Minneapolis. Protests in response to his horrific death, and to police violence against other black Americans, quickly spread across the United States and internationally, from large cities to small towns, including Easton.

More than 300 people of all ages turned out for the the June 8 vigil on the Morehouse Road playing fields. They wore masks and kept their social distance, in keeping with the rules for the event. Some carried signs while others lit candles as the evening wore on. Some just sat or stood and listened.

Devon Wible, Tara Gottlieb and Sarah Lehberger organized the vigil. Renowned Easton musician Dan Carlucci played guitar.

The lineup of speakers included First Selectman Dave Bindelglass and selectmen Bob Lessler and Kristi Sogofsky, in addition to Police Chief Rich Doyle, state Rep. Anne Hughes, the Rev. Cary Slater of Covenant Church, local Girl Scout Troop 31490, Wiley Mullins, Estime, and others. Lessler read the Declaration of Independence.

Robert LaValle, a former band leader at Helen Keller Middle School and now a columnist for the Easton Courier, read his poem, “I Can’t Breathe” and sang “We Shall Overcome,” urging others to join in.

Robert LaValle sings We Shall Overcome at the Easton Vigil. Dan Carlucci accompanies him on guitar.

“I believe systemic racism is a fact,” Bindelglass said, addressing the large crowd. “I believe inequality of opportunity and of resources dominates our society, and I believe that the vast majority of police officers in this country are very good people. But I believe we continue to put them in a system that leads to the horrible outcomes not just for their victims but for themselves.

“I’m sure that in Easton none of us considers ourselves a racist but if you ask the chief, if there is an Arican American walking down one of our roads the likelihood is high that the police will be called. Occasionally there are calls about suspicious looking white people but it’s not the same. Our police in Easton have a great record, accusations of bias or excessive force largely do not exist, and we should be proud of that. 

“I believe if anything happened in Easton it would be because the officers were put in a bad position, not because they are bad people. That’s why reforming how we police is critical. Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter.”

Doyle recited some of the words in the message he released last week condemning the killing of Floyd at the hands of police officers and said he is happy to meet with anyone who has concerns about police conduct.

“You may ask what I have done since all of this has transpired,” he said. “I’ve asked my officers to remain calm. They may face inquiries about this incident. What I’ve done internally, which you should know about, is last week I pulled out our Code of Ethics and ordered a review of all of our policies. I’ve also ordered our officers to take a class offered by our insurance carrier on bias-based policing.”

Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo Jr., who is chairman of the Easton Police Commission, also released a statement that stated, in part, “The actions of those officers are reprehensible, heart-wrenching, and criminal.  There is nothing to defend.  There is nothing to debate.  I share in the sadness and outrage of those here and across the country.”

Sogofsky said that in the past couple of weeks her kids have seen what’s happened on the news and they’ve asked questions. “This led to all kinds of discussion: A discussion of what happened, a discussion about the reaction and a discussion of why people did what they did. And their response quite simply, as second and third graders, was that doesn’t make any sense. People are people and it shouldn’t matter. 

And while that view is obviously very childish, naive and innocent, it’s also idealistic. I believe my responsibility as a parent is to foster that idealism: To believe that people are people and to better understand the experiences of people who may not look like us. My hope is that as changes move forward that the focus is on the people in the communities and not on all the politics. All the dialogue and the discourse and collective effort are positive steps and need to continue.”

“George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor’s are image bearers of God whose lives are precious,” Slater said. “And yet their lives were casually taken because they are black.” He lamented that the virus of systemic racism has been allowed to grow in the nation and established a foothold in too many churches. “We will not ignore the sin of racism. Black lives matter,” he said. 

Hughes thanked the community for showing up. “I welcome us to stay in the discomfort of this moment because our discomfort is where the work begins. We begin to understand the terror and the fear of our black neighbors, the terror of racism.”

“As your legislators we stand behind those closest to the violence. We are pledging to make policy change and transformation, to pass meaningful legislative reform that directly impacts the violence of this moment. We have a lot of work to do.”

A moment of silence for Floyd was observed for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time the white officer kneeled on the black man’s neck. The names of 21 black people killed by police officers in Connectiut over the past five years was read aloud.

Estime read a poem about empathy and told a story. “I had a wonderful high school experience,” she said. “Joel Barlow is amazing. But since we’re telling stories, I remember one experience sitting at the lunch room table in September when we were just back at school. North West [the daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West] had been born that summer. One girl said, ‘She’s cute, but I think she’s just a little too dark.’”

Easton resident Lila Estime speaks at the Vigil for George Floyd. — Nancy Doniger Photo

“I remember being so devastated but also confused because I’m darker than North West. Afterward she had three or five people come up to me and say she really didn’t mean that. I remember sitting there and thinking I don’t ever want to have a girl and have her enter this world and feel like she’s too dark.

“The people who are the victims of police brutality are not too dark. Their skin color is not a crime. I’m just here to say that the work will be uncomfortable, the work will be hard, some may not like it. But the work has to be done.”

When Mullins moved to Easton after graduate school, he recalled attending town meetings where “people turned out in droves” when the discussion was about affordable housing. The feeling was that “we don’t want those people here,” he said. “It almost meant to me, coming from the background where I came from in Alabama, that ‘we don’t want people to somehow denigrate our community in some fashion.’ I’d like you to think about that. 

“I went to a school board meeting one time with a friend who was on the board and wanted to bring some deserving students from urban communities, Bridgeport perhaps, here to Easton to school. It sort of fell on deaf ears. That was disheartening too. Everyone wants the best for their children and sometimes can’t find a way out.”

He asked people to ask themselves, “How many of you have invited your black friends over to dinner? When was the last time you’ve seen a black person other than the few of us scattered around Easton? Do you know anybody who’s black?”

Easton Resident Cindy Slane shows her sign at the Easton Vigil. — Kelly Wendt Photo

Cindy Slane, who has lived in Easton for 30 years, was among the large group of people who attended the vigil. “This is not a black people’s problem to solve, it’s our problem,” she said “We’re the ones who have benefitted from white privilege.” 

She also spoke of concerns that Easton had not done enough on initiatives such as building affordable housing.

“Easton can be a town that moves things forward, or it can be a town that social distances and quarantines, but not in the way Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx prescribe,” Mullins said. “Is this going to be a moment or a movement? A movement takes hard work, a movement takes sacrifice.”

Kelly Wendt contributed to this article.

Photo at top: Wiley Mullins looks at a sign Karen Thorsen and Doug Dempsey brought to the vigil. — Jane Paley