Bobby Simmons, a member of the Board of Education who’s not seeking reelection this year, claims in a commentary published in the Connecticut Post that Bridgeport’s city government “exhibits a plantation mentality.” He submitted the editorial, he writes, to place in context his recent “provocative” remarks quoted in a Post story “so their true meaning can be properly understood.” Simmons, a Democrat, is part of an outnumbered voting bloc on the school board with members of the Connecticut Working Families Party opposed to Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. Democrats control a thin 5-4 majority on most contentious issues. Several school board members on both sides of the Vallas battle haven’t exactly displayed diplomacy in their respective talking points, be it Simmons or school board President Ken Moales, both African Americans.
Early this year Simmons was suspended as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, accused of an unauthorized attempt to remove the names of two officers as signatories of the local Bridgeport branch account at People’s United Bank, according to a letter issued by Benjamin Todd Jealous, the national president of the civil rights organization. Simmons has denied the allegations. For background, see here. Was that decision, as well, part of a plantation mentality?
Simmons, echoing a recent editorial by retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who brought the lawsuit challenging Vallas’ certification, is outraged Vallas is not covering his own legal fees in connection with the case. If Simmons is so outraged why not file another lawsuit challenging that issue?
Is Simmons’ “plantation mentality” remarks regarding city government demagoguery? Or are they on target? His commentary follows:
I wish to thank the Connecticut Post editorial board for its recent editorial highlighting the outrageous allegations leveled against your newspaper and a highly regarded reporter, Daniel Tepfer, by the chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education and former campaign treasurer of Mayor Bill Finch.
However, I am compelled to place my remarks, which were accurately quoted in the editorial, in context, so their true meaning can be properly understood.
I concede that any reference to “slavery” and “plantations” will evoke strong emotions, particularly among African Americans, and may be viewed as provocative. However, although the terms may be unpleasant, they are all too accurate when describing the attitude of our city officials towards those who serve as members of the Board of Education and the people who elected us.
At the July 23, 2013, meeting, board member Tom Mulligan made a motion to approve the payment of Paul Vallas’ legal fees. Within moments of making the motion, Mulligan asked to substitute his motion for a resolution prepared by Bridgeport City Attorney Mark Anastasi.
Anastasi’s resolution, a 62-page package of documents in support of approving legal expenses incurred by Vallas, was then distributed to members of the board. Of course, we had never seen this document, let alone had an opportunity to read and digest it.
Included in the 62-page resolution was a retainer letter signed by Anastasi and attorney Steven Ecker on July 19, 2013. This letter was signed three days before the board was asked to rubber-stamp the decision and nine days after Ecker had already appeared in Superior Court on behalf of Vallas.
It is also significant that this letter was signed after Ecker had already filed papers with the state Supreme Court seeking an expedited appeal of Judge Barbara Bellis’ ruling.
Clearly, Ecker relied on the fact that “the fix was in” and that the five-member majority of the board would do what they were ordered to do.
I am outraged that the schoolchildren of Bridgeport will be denied resources because we have been forced to pay the legal expenses for Vallas in a lawsuit brought against him in his individual capacity. Neither the Bridgeport Board of Education nor the city of Bridgeport is a party to this case, and no money damages are being sought in the lawsuit.
The fact that Paul Vallas was unable to secure the proper credentials to serve as Bridgeport superintendent of schools is his problem, and he should not be permitted to foist it on the taxpayers.
I was raised in the pre-Civil Rights South and attended segregated schools. The education that I received permitted me to go on to college and later to earn professional certification as a certified public accountant. I earned my CPA through hard work and study, not through political connections.
Is it unreasonable to ask why Paul Vallas should not do likewise?
I was taught in the Jim Crow South that democracy demands that we ask questions of those in authority, and insist upon answers. Before making a decision, I know that it is fashionable today, from the Congress to the City Council, to believe that you have to pass a law before reading it. But that is not how I was raised, and it is not how representative democracy is supposed to work.
Bridgeport’s city government, unfortunately, exhibits a plantation mentality, as hard as it may be to hear that truth.
Legitimate questions and sincere dissent are confused with obstructionism and subversion. Those who dare speak out are punished with the rhetorical lash of disapproval administered by the mayor and his compliant Board of Education chairman, who has made it clear he will not tolerate any dissent or disagreement.
On a plantation, order was imposed from the top down.
This superintendent of schools was imposed on the city of Bridgeport by the state power structure. Abraham Lincoln once famously said that whenever he heard a man arguing for slavery, he had a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
Would the members of the state Board of Education who live in Trumbull or Shelton ever employ Paul Vallas as their superintendent of schools, or agree to pay his legal fees if he could not meet the qualifications?
I think we all know the answer to that question.
When legitimate questions and public input are stifled, we all lose.
The race of the overseer does not alter the reality of plantation life in Bridgeport.
I still believe that through perseverance and dedication, and a belief that our young people are as capable of learning as those of any other town in Connecticut, we the people of Bridgeport shall one day overcome this plantation mentality.