DEI Struggles With Role, Priorities

Jon Anders Wiken/Adobe Stock

On October 23, the Town’s DEI committee (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) met in a follow-up to its controversial off-the-books meeting of October 19.

It is now clear that, legally, neither meeting should have been held. Neither had a quorum. By rule, both should have adjourned without further discussion. Continuing under the fiction that “this really hasn’t taken place” puts the chair and members at risk of state penalties. This committee’s adherence to open government rules has been noticeably deficient throughout the year.

As it happens, adjournment on the 23rd might have been advantageous for the committee, since the meeting may have only served to provide ammunition to those who oppose DEI to begin with, alienate erstwhile supporters by appearing indifferent to antisemitism, and increase suspicion that its priority is political and retributive.

By the time committee chair Melissa Conner called the meeting to order, the agenda had been revised. There would be no public comment about statements allegedly made by First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor in an “observed” conversation. That was deferred to a meeting set for Monday evening, October 30.

The meeting

Instead, the audience heard about Ms. Conner’s inspection of titles in the Hurlbutt PTO’s book fair, where she found that Black and Brown volumes needed to be better integrated into the general mix, something she said is “worth keeping an eye on” and will “keep on my radar.”

She then acknowledged that the committee needs to “reset,” get guidance from the Selectmen, and advise them on matters such as the “Israel-Hamas conflict.”

The town “did a great job” with things like “beautiful vigils at the synagogues,” she said, but regretted that DEI wasn’t in the loop.

“Having DEI as a part of that effort in real time I think is really important, as kind of like a crisis action adviser to make sure all the language that’s going out feels right and balanced and accurate.”

By this time, lawn signs largely seen as antisemitic were appearing in town. “It’s satire, it’s a joke,” said Ms. Conner, without explanation.

Since then, signs expressing support for Israel have been defaced with bloody handprints. The Weston Police, apparently not taking them as satire or a joke, are investigating. A gathering is set for Wednesday evening at 5:30 on the Town Green to show solidarity against antisemitism.

Meanwhile, agenda item number one for Monday evening’s DEI meeting is “allegations against First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor/Vanessa Richards Resignation.”

A recruiting opportunity?

In the October 23 meeting, Ms. Conner discussed the need to bring on new members, saying the committee is “down to a group of two,” herself and Wendy Ramos, a fairly recent addition. Ms. Ramos serves as secretary, and has corrected the committee’s yearlong practice of neglecting to file meeting minutes as required by law.

But there actually are four members of the DEI committee.

One of them contacted Ms. Conner, apparently having first learned a DEI meeting had been scheduled when we reported on it three days after it was held. She said she had not been notified for some time about meeting schedules and agendas, and asked for Ms. Conner’s telephone number to discuss it. Ms. Conner replied that notices had been posted on the Town website (obviously not always) and refused to provide her telephone number.

In the meeting, Ms. Conner said a large volume of “emails and feedback” she had received in the past two weeks indicated a passion in the community for DEI and was a recruiting opportunity. Ms. Ramos, on the other hand, said a recruitment notice posted at the library for months had produced no result.

So we cannot yet explain the sudden surge of passion Ms. Conner described. It could be coincidence that, about two weeks before, the accusatory resignation letter arrived, Ms. Nestor immediately made it public and told Selectman Martin Mohabeer it wasn’t true, and Selectwoman Amy Jenner — the Board’s unofficial liaison to DEI — called for an investigation.

As we previously reported, three people were engaged in the private conversation “observed” on the Town Green where Ms. Nestor allegedly said mean things about Mr. Mohabeer. Ms. Nestor has already stated in public, twice, that she had not said those things. The other two people — one a teacher — also told us those remarks had not been made.

The teacher contacted Ms. Conner after our story broke, identified herself, and said she wanted to make clear to DEI members that the comments had not been made.

Ms. Conner replied by asking the teacher to “hold off speaking to any members of the board” about the matter.

Related Stories:

October 29, 2023:  Signs Defaced, Police Request Assistance

October 24, 2023:  A Letter to the Community

October 22, 2023:  A Clash on the Board as Terms Near End

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