Tuesday morning’s Central Middle School building committee started with disagreement over item 8 on the agenda, “Discussion and possible vote on the censure of the BET’s rep to the building committee.”
The committee member subject to a possible censure is Nisha Arora, the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s representative to the building committee.
Language of any possible censure motion has not been made public, but during the meeting committee member Greg Piccininno referred to item 8 as “my item.”
A hint of what was to come appeared last week when Ms Arora emailed the entire RTM with the subject line “Central Middle School – project update for RTM members.” In response, Mr. Piccininno, replied to all 230 RTM members with the subject line: “Correcting the false facts presented by BET Member Arora.”
There was also a recent exchange of letters to the editor with one from the Board of Education rep to the committee published first (KOSTIN: Obstruction & Obfuscation – The Plot to Downsize and Delay CMS Dec 11, 2022) , and Ms Arora’s response published the next day, (NISHA ARORA: An Open Letter to the BOE to eschew personal attacks and work together Dec 12, 2022.)
On Tuesday, Mr. Piccininno and ex officio member Michael Spilo disagreed over what types of behavior could be evaluated as grounds for censure. At one point, Piccininno referred to a BET meeting that two building committee members saw live.
The meeting started with the call to order. Then, building committee chair Tony Turner advanced to “Housekeeping” items.
Mr. Piccininno quickly made a motion that none of the items on the agenda be delayed.
“I’m going to rule your motion is out of order,” Mr. Turner said. “We’re dealing with housekeeping issues. The chair has ruled, this is not a housekeeping issue.”
Turner said he would like to reverse item 3 and 4 on the agenda.
“Next, on the possible vote on the censure of the BET rep to the building committee….” Turner started to say.
“Point of order, you said point 8 was not housekeeping, and now you’re addressing item 8 in housekeeping,” Piccininno said. “My motion is that my item be heard. That no item be postponed, given the importance. I’m motioning that we adhere to the agenda. Show me where that’s not a legal motion.”
Turner replied, “What we have been doing since inception is the chair has always controlled the agenda. Second, we have never taken a vote to approve the agenda. If you vote to approve the agenda, to change it requires a 2/3 vote. First, I am changing the agenda, given the authority of the chair. After that if you want to make a motion to make some changes, I’ll entertain those. Right now I am still constructing the agenda, which is what we have always done.”
Mr. Turner explained that he had always been willing to add an agenda item at a member’s request.
“It only takes one. Since the email last Tuesday from our BET rep to the full RTM, not one but three people contacted me about putting this on the agenda. Given the seriousness of the topic, I decided to add it to the agenda,” Turner said.
“The last thing I thought I’d be doing as a building chair, and of all things, is presiding over a motion to censure a fellow member,” Turner said. “And of all things, on a building committee.”
That said, Mr. Turner explained that he anticipated item 8 would be very time consuming.
“There has been a groundswell of additional support to have it on the agenda from committee members,” he said. “But I believe it is going to be a highly emotionally-charged discussion, and as you can see we, have a very full agenda today on our core business, which is to build a 21st century school.”
Turner said he would either schedule item 8 on the agenda of the Jan 31 meeting or schedule it for a special meeting later in the week.
“It will be addressed,” he said.
Mr. Spilo moved to overrule the chair. “I believe item 8 is out of order for a variety of reasons. I think it’s a waste of the committee’s time.”
Lauren Rabin, who represents the Board of Selectmen on the CMS committee, seconded Mr. Spilo’s motion.
“I am not going to entertain the motion,” Turner said. “Here’s why. I have been in extremely close contact with the town attorney’s office on this topic. I have been assured that proceeding is allowable.”
“I understand, but I’m moving to overrule (you the chair),” Spilo said.
“Based on the town attorney’s feedback, I’m not going to do it,” Turner said.
“You cannot refuse an appropriate motion that has been seconded, to overrule your ruling. That’s autocratic,” Spilo said. “What you’re doing is not according to Robert’s Rules and not according to the town charter. You cannot do that. We must take a vote on the motion to overrule. It has been made and seconded.”
“Your objection is so noted,” Turner said.
Ms Rabin said, “I think we need to take this vote.”
Mr. Turner asked Mr. Spilo to defend his motion.
“The motion to censure is out of order. It lacks specificity,” Spilo said. “We don’t even have one before us.”
Further he said, “It relates to behaviors outside this committee, and refers to matters outside of meetings. According to Robert’s Rules, taking up a disciplinary matter requires fact finding and a trial with representation for the people involved.”
“This is a waste of our time and we don’t need to discuss this,” Spilo continued.
“We had misbehavior outside the committee at the RTM by (Chris) von Keyserling, and that was left to authorities outside the committee despite the RTM being a much larger and more established body,” Spilo said. “Taking up the motion is an improper attempt to silence different perspectives. And if people vote yes to overrule this motion we can be done with it in one vote and move on to other matters that are relevant to the committee.”
“Whether the town attorney decides it’s in legal order to start the discussion, it will just escalate out of control pretty quickly,” Spilo added.
Mr. Piccininno disagreed.
“What Mike Spilo cites is not actually accurate for the censure motion, which, when we get to it will be explained. Robert’s Rules says if members are present and witness the activity in question or being censured, then they have first hand knowledge. Mike (Spilo) is alluding to the fact that only two members of the committee saw it live. However, if it’s an official recording of a meeting, and posted, that is the same as being present. That’s federal statute. That has supremacy to Robert’s Rules for any state authority. An official recording which the BET has…that is the same as being present.”
Committee member Clare Kilgallen asked, “This reaffirms that the town attorney ruled the item is in legal order?”
“I didn’t finish,” Piccininno said. “Members can be censured for misconduct at meetings, violating confidentiality, moral misconduct outside meetings, absenteeism, bribery, fraud, lying, disloyalty, working against the organization, conspiracy and violating other values the organization holds dear.”
“A motion to censure a member occurs in two circumstances. First, a member has named the person as a result of that person’s poor behavior, a member can make a motion to censure when a chair asks for a penalty. Second, if members know of another member’s bad behavior and want to bring it to the attention of the assembly in the form of a motion to censure, that can be done under new business and under the part of the agenda called ‘for the good of the order.'”
“Therefore it is acceptable to motion,” Piccininno said. “Furthermore, the letter to the editor, in which some of the allegations against this committee….”
“Point of order, we’re not discussing…” Spilo said.
“No, you brought up the fact we were not present and therefore there needs to be a trial. That’s not true,” Piccininno said.
“When it’s printed in the words of the author in a newspaper, that is first-hand witnessing,” Piccininno said.
“That’s not what I was referring to,” Spilo said.
Mr. Turner objected to committee members interrupting each other.
“You’re totally out of order. You’re interrupting a speaker. Don’t sit there and cherry pick your motions and what you’re going to do as a member of this committee. You’re totally out of order Mr. Spilo. Are we clear?” Turner asked.
Ms Kilgallen asked for confirmation that the town attorney said that the motion was in legal order and could proceed.
“It can proceed,” Turner said. “Yes.”
Mr. Spilo said Mr. Piccininno was not quoting from Robert’s Rules. “I have a section on discipline here, but it doesn’t include the section Mr. Piccininno read.”
“I don’t believe the town attorney opined on Mr. Piccininno’s motion in particular,” Spilo continued. “I think the town attorney opined on whether it is appropriate in general on whether to take up a motion to censure.”
“I haven’t seen a written copy of the motion,” Spilo said. “If there is a written copy of the motion, it should be presented to the committee.”
Spilo restated his motion: “My motion is to overrule the ruling of the chair’s opinion that the motion is in order….My motion is that it’s out of order.”
Ms Arora commented briefly to say the censure would deny her her first amendment rights.
The committee voted on Mr. Spilo’s motion to rule item 8 out of order and not to be discussed further.
Spilo’s motion failed, with 1 yes, 6 no, and 2 abstain.
At the end of the meeting the censure came up again with a motion from Ms Kilgallen to take up item 8 immediately.
“A motion to censure does not require an agenda item,” Piccininno said.
“I am very disappointed to hear this motion. It is 9:45 in the morning, and there is no way anyone in this room can defend voting on a censure, as serious at it is, at this time in the meeting. We spent 30 minutes on this at the beginning of the meeting and now, if it passes, on a censure vote, this is absolutely nutty. I can’t believe we are wearing this kind of hat in the defense of our town. This is not the Greenwich, Connecticut I moved to 32 years ago.”
The committee voted on the motion to take up item 8 immediately. The motion failed with 3 yes, 4 no, 2 abstain.
Mr. Turner again promised the censure item would be scheduled either for the Jan 31 meeting or at a special meeting prior to that.
Tuesday was not the first time Turner expressed his dismay. Back on December 12, 2022, he said the previous tenor of informality would stop.
“We have a lot of rancor and a lot of animosity in our committee. We have very deep divisions. We have misinformation in the community, which is very sad,” Turner said at the time. “We’re not going to have any more getting personal or having personal attacks, no more people feeling harassed or intimidated. No more ad hominem attacks.”
This piece was edited to reflect that it was Clare Kilgallen who motioned at the end of the meeting to take up item 8 immediately.