Left, Ms. Jenner. Right, Ms. Nestor. Weston Today photo
Long simmering tension on the Board of Selectmen came to full boil on October 19 as Selectwoman Amy Jenner tried to revive an allegation that First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor, months ago, said mean things about Selectman Martin Mohabeer.
Ms. Nestor has now unequivocally and publicly denied the allegation in two Board sessions.
As it turns out, earlier in the day Ms. Jenner maneuvered to bring the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee into the fray. A meeting was held without public notice or a published agenda, and a subsequent meeting was scheduled with an agenda that could be seen as intended to conceal its intent.
Scroll down to that part of the story if you like. But here is the backstory.
In the Board’s October 5 session, the First Selectwoman included in the meeting’s information package a resignation letter from Vanessa Richards, a former DEI committee member who moved away from Weston.
In the letter, Ms. Richards wrote that, at a town event, she “was saddened to observe” a conversation Ms. Nestor had with a teacher. In the conversation, according to the letter, Ms. Nestor made “casual allegations that Martin [Mohabeer] is a misogynist and anti-Semite.”
In the meeting, Ms. Nestor addressed the allegation directly to Mr. Mohabeer, saying she wanted to make clear in public that, “whatever she [Ms. Richards] believes she observed me saying, I did not say it.” She went on to praise the work done for the community by Ms. Richards in her time on DEI.
Mr. Mohabeer commented briefly and said the meeting was not the proper forum to discuss the allegation. He had previously suggested omitting the letter from the posted meeting materials.
Ms. Jenner said the accusation was “deeply concerning,” declared her admiration of Mr. Mohabeer’s character, and said the matter should be referred to the Board of Ethics.
We looked into it. Here is what we found.
The conversation in question took place at the Pride Flag raising on June 5. Ms. Nestor was conversing with two other people, one being the teacher, neither being Ms. Richards.
The teacher told us she doesn’t know who Ms. Richards is and that the comments allegedly made by Ms. Nestor had not, in fact, been made. The other person in the conversation, to whom we spoke separately, also told us Ms. Nestor had not said those things.
At the end of the October 19 Selectmen meeting, Ms. Jenner moved to have another discussion of the resignation and the alleged conversation. The First Selectwoman seemed perplexed, as discussion had already occurred and the resignation accepted two weeks prior.
Ms. Jenner said the letter contained “serious allegations,” and suggested an “independent investigation into this issue.” This brought derisive laughter from members of the public in attendance.
Ms. Nestor repeated her assurance that she had never made the comments attributed to her, and said, “I’m not sure, other than this being political, the purpose of this conversation.” She added, “I get that you don’t trust me.”
“I do trust a special prosecutor,” said Ms. Jenner, to more laughter.
“Why is everyone finding this comical?” Ms. Jenner demanded. In the din, it was hard to make out individual replies among the many. A few discerned by this reporter include: “It’s a dead horse and you’re beating it.” “It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” and, “we know who’s behind this.”
Ms. Nestor restored order and said to Ms. Jenner, “this does not seem genuine.” Ms. Jenner scolded the audience for their laughter.
In all probability, no one in the room, except Ms. Jenner, knew that Ms. Jenner had already pondered, earlier in the day with DEI members, whether and how to revive the topic that night at the Selectmen meeting.
The next step
Before we tell you about the DEI meeting that took place last Thursday, here is information about the next one, set for Monday October 23 (tomorrow, at press time), because unless you are among a select few, you wouldn’t know the topic.
The topic — at least the one members gave themselves “latitude” to discuss, for reasons you will see below — is to consider demanding an “independent investigation” of the comments you have just read about.
You wouldn’t know the topic because the agenda, written and submitted by Ms. Jenner, contains only three items: old business, new business, and adjournment. You will see why.
The meeting takes place on Zoom, here.
Meeting ID: 881 1592 7783
By phone: (646) 558-8656
What time? The Town calendar says 7:30 pm. Ms. Jenner’s agenda says 9:00 am. In last Thursday’s DEI meeting, they seem to have decided on the 9:00 start.
An illegal meeting?
After hearing that an unnoticed DEI meeting may have occurred, on Friday we asked for information.
Since then, we have been told three times by committee members that the meeting did not take place. In fairness, we note that the members may be new to a role in town government and may not be fully up to speed on disclosure requirements.
The meeting took place. Here is what was discussed.
It began with its chair, Melissa Conner, wondering if the meeting should occur at all, since public notice was not given and an agenda not published. These are requirements in Connecticut’s open government statutes.
At that point, only Ms. Conner and Ms. Jenner were on the call. Ms. Jenner replied that it was all right to meet unless Wendy Ramos (apparently the only other active member of the committee) joins the call, in which case there would be a quorum.
Ms. Jenner said that given the topic to be discussed, “I’m concerned that somebody would make a fuss about the fact that it was an illegal meeting.”
It is clear that Ms. Conner knew the topic to be discussed, though it is not at all clear how. Ms. Conner said, “I do think we need to respond in some way” to the allegations associated with the resignation, and notes that “there is no Board of Ethics.”
There actually is a Board of Ethics. Two members were recently appointed. It is not clear how alleged comments in a private conversation would fall into the scope of any official body, including the Board of Ethics, or for that matter the role of the DEI committee, an advisory panel created to advise the Selectmen on promoting diversity initiatives.
“It’s not a Board of Ethics issue,” said Ms. Jenner, “because Samantha is not benefitting financially. One can say she’s benefitting politically … that would be a stretch. And I think with two people on the board [of Ethics] we’d have a split vote.” (Ms. Jenner’s interpretation that Ethics Code violations require financial benefit is incorrect, but one she has tried to argue in her own cases.)
The basis of Ms. Jenner’s prediction of how Ethics Board members would vote is unclear. She recused when the Selectmen interviewed candidates for that board, presumably because of the two outstanding ethics complaints against her. (She did not recuse from the unanimous vote to appoint them.)
Ms. Jenner went on to say, “for us to render an advisory opinion or whatever, we would call for an independent investigation.”
The meeting goes on
The word “us” is interesting. Ms. Jenner is not a member of the DEI committee, although its actual members appear to think she is. Selectmen are not permitted to be on committees. She has served, informally it appears, as the First Selectwoman’s ex officio, non-voting delegate, a role intended to foster two-way communication and advise committees, especially on operating transparently. Not to set their agendas and priorities.
At about this time, Ms. Ramos joined the call. Ms. Conner said, “I don’t know if we’re allowed to still talk.” Ms. Jenner said, “let’s get her up to speed … because we’re not coming to a decision.”
The meeting continues, with a decision about the committee’s next meeting, the one set for Monday, October 23.
Ms. Jenner offered to make sure the meeting is put on the Town website and create the agenda. She said she will “simply make the agenda old business, new business, adjournment. That’s all. That gives us latitude in which to speak.”
The Town Attorney (whom Ms. Jenner takes a swipe at in the meeting) has previously advised the Selectmen that “old business, new business” agenda items are bad practice because, while they may (or may not) technically meet public notice requirements, they do so without actually telling the public what will be done.
Members of the public — and the press — who follow Town Hall events and consult meeting agendas would have had no idea about the topic or topics of DEI’s Monday meeting.
Friends and supporters of Ms. Jenner’s cause would have.
Ms. Jenner said she would make sure that certain people knew of the plan, and members named others who would be contacted.
When Ms. Ramos said she knew little about the issue, Ms. Jenner said, “you can see it on Facebook” and referred her to a publication this reporter had never heard of, one supposedly specializing in investigative reporting. Ms. Jenner said the article “winds up with interviewing me.”
She suggested that the members read the article and leave anonymous comments, or just their initials, “which is also helpful.”
We asked Ms. Nestor, who otherwise declined to comment for this article, if the outlet had contacted her. She said it had not.
Earlier in the meeting, the matter of transparency had come up.
Ms. Ramos said she was not yet fully aware of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements and asked, “for a meeting like this, so now, this really hasn’t taken place. So what do we need to file?”
“Nothing,” said Ms. Jenner. “People violate FOIA all the time on these meetings,” but added that she is “being super super cautious.”
Ms. Jenner was aware the meeting was recorded.
As we understand it, the Town cannot post the recording of the October 19 DEI meeting because no public notice was given. We can.
We have deleted several minutes of dead air at the beginning and roughly 2½ minutes at the end, a casual conversation with no relevance to Town business.