“People have the right to express their opinions…”

December 10, 2018

(Please read and share the attached Norwich Bulletin editorial, then tell me what you think.  Email me at Heather.Somers@cga.ct.gov and include your name and town.  Thank you!)

NECCOG should reverse course

(Norwich Bulletin Editorial) 

In mid-October a former employee of the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments levied a wide range of accusations against the regional group, from ignoring workplace harassment complaints to animal cruelty.

Melissa Frink, who worked for NECCOG’s animal services department for seven years at the Putnam Pike headquarters in Dayville, wrote that the agency is a “dictatorship that has no accountability for their actions.”

A few weeks later, three more former employees of NECCOG filed complaints against the organization that mirror Frink’s: a work environment rife with inappropriate sexual comments and an animal shelter where rules were ignored, among other claims.

Most criticized how NECCOG’s Executive Director John Filchak has run the organization.

One worker said: “It’s a terrible environment where if you were not liked you were treated like garbage.”

Officials with NECCOG, which represents 16 member towns, have launched an investigation, but few know where that probe stands and the public was dealt another blow last week at NECCOG’s monthly meeting: no one was allowed during public comment to speak regarding the allegations.

Several residents arrived to the meeting with prepared statements and other documents related to the alleged misconduct and harassment issues, but council Chairman and Brooklyn First Selectman Rick Ives laid out a series of ground rules that essentially stifled discussion.

Ives said that “comments here could be a direct conflict of the investigation,” but his decree, on its face, made little sense considering there is no rule stating council members must respond to comments residents make.

In other cases in which towns have investigated similar allegations, no such prohibition on comments has been levied.

None of the several town leaders and representatives that comprise the NECCOG board objected to Ives’ decision – a misstep that sends a message to residents that their voices don’t matter amid a series of complaints that also included pornographic images being on NECCOG computers to derogatory sexual terms being freely tossed around.

We don’t buy Ives’ excuse that there was a need to maintain privacy, and we hope State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton – who has called for an independent investigation into the allegations – and other state legislators who attended the meeting, call for a reversal of Ives’ decision, hold another meeting and allow public comment.

NECCOG officials owe it to the residents in the towns they serve to allow them to speak.

A main component of serving the public is listening to concerns. 

Hayes and company had no right to throw that away in a public setting.

People have the right to express their opinions without curtailing their speech or submitted comments, even if the subject matter may be difficult to hear.