May 15, 2021

Resolution on Racism Raised Again in Old Lyme BOS; No Progress Made, ‘Nothing to Discuss’ (Selectman Kerr)

Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold (File photo)

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OLD LYME — The subject of the Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis was again raised at the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen’s (BOS) meeting held this past Monday, April 5.

It came up first in Public Comment when George Clough of Old Lyme called in and said, “I want to ask the board of selectmen why the Resolution on Racism has not been acted upon.”

First Selectman Timothy Griswold (R) responded, saying, “I don’t subscribe to the idea that we have a public health crisis in Old Lyme.” He added that he felt the Resolution was written in a very negative way and “that it characterizes the townspeople” and “I just don’t buy it.”

Clough challenged Griswold’s response, noting other municipalities had already approved the Resolution and then asking, “So you don’t feel the problem of the systemic nature of racism is evident in Old Lyme at all?”

Griswold replied, “I don’t justify what other towns do. I’m just giving you my opinion.”

He invited the other two members of the board to give their opinions. Selectman Christopher Kerr (R) said, “I have no comment,” while Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal (D) noted she planned to speak to the issue in Other Business.

Clough continued, “As one resident, I’m not going to let this go unchallenged … We do have issues in this town and we need to address them.”

He added, “I would say that if we don’t, we’ll end up with a Planning Commission sending a letter to legislators saying that we want to keep the character of the town as it is and don’t support changes in zoning regulations regarding Affordable Housing.”

Clough stated firmly that he found the Old Lyme Planning Commission’s recent letter, “Offensive,” and told Griswold and the board, “If it’s your opinion that it’s not offensive, you’re not fully understanding the nature of the problem.”

He offered to sit down and discuss the issue on a one-to-one basis noting it was inappropriate to “tie up the phone line” during the meeting, but concluded by saying again, “This issue has not been brought to a vote and I’m asking why.”

Old Lyme Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal (File photo)

The board then moved to Other Business and Nosal followed up immediately with further comments on the Racism Resolution, expressing thanks to Clough for his support and reminding her fellow board members, “We’ve had many people calling in their support. People have come in [to do so] and a petition has been sent in.”

She noted that since August 2020, when she first mentioned the Resolution, she has been, “Requesting the board of selectmen to engage in a discussion to support the Resolution,” adding, “I’ve provided various versions [of the resolution] and lots of reading materials.”

Emphasizing that, “I have been sensitive to your concerns,” while mentioning that Griswold had, in fact, spoken at last year’s Black Lives Matter rally in Old Lyme, she said, “I hope we can have an open dialogue on it.”

Nosal noted, “CCM (Connecticut Conference of Municipalities) supports it. More than 21 towns have signed onto it. Our legislature is looking at it,” and then urged Griswold and Kerr to remember, “We don’t have to wait for a mandate.”

Saying, “We can show Old Lyme resolves to doing the work with the first step being to admit racism keeps people from enjoying the quality of life in Old Lyme,” she continued, “We should show a commitment to this goal by signing the Resolution and putting in place the time, effort and people to move forward.”

Noting that “So many people support this and are ready to help,” she said, “I’m asking the board to bring it up for a vote,’ adding that, as has been widely learned during the time of COVID, “We are all in this together.”

She invited Kerr and Griswold to discuss the matter.

Kerr responded, “I have nothing to discuss.”

Nosal said, “It’s really disappointing,” pointing out to her fellow board members that over the past eight months or so since she first brought attention to the matter, “Mostly I’ve talked … and you’ve ignored me. You haven’t been open to discussion,” commenting, “We can’t negotiate because we haven’t had a discussion.”

Stressing that she has been regularly raising the Resolution issue since last August, she concluded, “It’s been a long time. I will keep bringing it up, I will keep talking about it because by not signing it, we are on the wrong side of history.”

Editor’s Note: i) Nosal first raised the request at the Aug. 8, 2020 BOS meeting. It was not on the agenda at the Aug. 17 BOS meeting, but was discussed at the Sept. 8 BOS meeting and then again at the Sept. 22 BOS meeting.  Nosal raised the matter once more at both the Dec. 21 BOS meeting and the Jan. 4 BOS meeting.

ii) A draft of the Resolution is printed below for reference.

WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks;

WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; 

WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources; 

WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; 

WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; 

WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; 

WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; 

WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and 

WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of TOWN depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: 

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the TOWN Board of Selectmen

(1) Assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut; 

(2) Work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;

(3) Promote equity through all policies approved by the Board of Selectmen and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;

(4) Improve the quality of the data our town collects and the analysis of that data—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;

(5) Continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;

(6) Further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;

(7) Support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and

(8) Identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Board of Selectmen, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.

Comments

  1. Maureen Haseley-Jones says

    Approve this now and get it done. Griswold needs to step up to the plate and stop hiding his head in the sand in the hope that this issue will go away. It will not, the people of Old Lyme, will continue to push for this resolution and vote for a Democratic selectperson.

    • Betsy Groth says

      Brava, Maureen.
      And , as always, thank you Mary Jo Nosal, for your thoughtful attention to the matter.
      And Mr Griswold and Mr Kerr, you look very bad, and you make me ashamed to live in Old Lyme.

  2. Mary Waldron says

    I really don’t understand how we think we are smarter on this public health issue than 21 other Connecticut towns. If we are smarter, are we able to say how or why… instead of some town leaders just repeating their statement as their “personal opinion,” as if that were the resolution to the problem for everyone in town?

  3. Jim Alonso says

    The town of Old Lyme deserves sincere and heartfelt congratulations on being free from raceism.

    Congratulations to Tim Griswold and Chris Kerr for having the courage to stand up and clearly state that the town of Old Lyme has never been, and will never be, raceist or woke. They are extremely right not to care about or act on this resolution.

    All this attention on race is a fad, and when it passes, the character of Old Lyme will remain unchanged.

  4. Christina J. & Thomas D. Gotowka says

    We have commented on this topic before; and we remain troubled that some members of our BOS are still uncomfortable even discussing the issue; although Mr. Kerr did go out on a limb and say “I have nothing to discuss”.
    Old Lyme is increasingly in the minority of Americans who disregard this issue. Last November, the American Medical Association, the largest organization of physicians in the United States, took action to explicitly recognize racism as a public health threat and drafted a plan to mitigate its effects on health and healthcare. As noted, Selectwoman Nosal reported that more than twenty-one CT towns have already recognized the Resolution.
    Now, even the most modest of public actions by the BOS – i.e., just acknowledging the problem, would be a step in the right direction.
    Like Mr. Clough, we do not want to let our elected officials “off the hook”, and allow them to continue stonewalling the discussion that began last August, when Ms. Nosal raised the Resolution on Racism, for the first of many times since.
    Perhaps the First Selectman would be more comfortable with the Resolution if we added a short “preamble” that states something like “Old Lyme recognizes that the United States has a systemic racism problem, but Old Lyme will continue its efforts to ensure that all members of our community enjoy the same opportunities afforded by the town”. You need to think of this as a values statement, and not a condemnation of the town, or any of its residents.
    Finally, given the composition of the BOS, we wonder whether this has become a partisan issue, or something else, altogether.

  5. Mona Colwell says

    As Selectman Griswold, I don’t believe this resolution is in the best interest of the town. I don’t believe we are inherently racist, why should we call ourselves racist? What is the benefit? Bullying people is wrong, we teach that to our children, yet think it’s ok to bully adults? The resolution and pressuring people to sign it when it serves no benefit other than to declare racists are racist even if they’re not racist is in itself why Selectman Griswold’s stance to NOT sign is in the best interest of the town of Old Lyme.

    The town, to the best of my knowledge, does not currently have any laws that restrict the liberties of individuals based on their gender, race or ethnicity. This resolution has zero affect on any existing laws and it would do nothing to change the hearts of those who are racist. Selectman Griswold, in my opinion, has clearly taken a stance by not succumbing to pressure to sign a declaration of racism which is not a legitimate use of our town’s government.

    If families believe they personally have race issues within their own families, perhaps they can adopt these philosophies above for their own families.
    Perhaps they can volunteer through our local churches, schools and organizations to teach people proven ways that guide communities like the Golden Rule from the Bible, and God creating all men equal. Perhaps they can pray together for any hearts that are racist to turn; prayers for healing are far more helpful than adopting a condemning statement for a town.

    My family and I are thankful that Selectman Griswold has in fact responded that he does not believe this resolution is appropriate for our town government. We agree with his leadership and pray we can continue to protect our town from unbeneficial “doctrines” that serve no purpose other than to label and divide, that we can focus on the benefits of the town and that God will continue to bless us all. Thank you, Selectman Griswold!

  6. Katy Klarnet says

    I just want to add my voice to those in support of Mary Jo Nosal’s continuing and determined attempts to persuade the BOS to act on this resolution It is such a small step and the resistance of some of our residents and (sadly, our leaders) is clear evidence of how unwilling some people are to acknowledge the privileges we enjoy in our little community and their reluctance to consider any steps that might lead to sharing those privileges with those who have long been systematically deprived of the same advantages. Shame on them – and thanks to those who simply ask us to acknowledge what is obvious to any honest observor and to residents in 21 other towns. I guess we deserve the reputation this sort of thing is going to get us.

  7. David Bourne says

    This town is not racist. Every year it becomes increasingly diverse. Just open your eyes and look around. I don’t see anybody burning crosses or throwing around hate speech. If a family wants to become part of a wonderful community, then move here. Tim Griswold is doing a great job.

  8. Emerson Colwell says

    George Clough, you must think we have a problem with racism? Are you calling the people of Old Lyme / Lyme racist? Isn’t that racism?

    Feeding your narrative of hatred is the same as calling everyone in this town and you racist, which is NOT true. We have diversity in this town, stop and look around, and stop using your political narrative to call people racist!

    As a the would President say “Come on, MAN!”

    • Thomas D. Gotowka says

      Emerson: There was nothing in Mr. Clough’s statement, as included in Ms. Logan’ article, to suggest that he had a “narrative of hatred” or was pushing a “political narrative”. Perhaps you should have ended your comment with a “…but what am I?” Remember that old 7th grade insult?
      Come on, Man!