This article has been updated to include a statement from Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo.
Original story, Sunday, June 11: In the aftermath of the incident involving the anonymous “Groomers” signs under the Pride flag outside Greenwich Town Hall, reactions have included condemnation, finger pointing, denials, demands for apologies and accusations of both defamation and libel.
The signs appeared Monday morning after Sunday’s well attended Pride event. The Pride event was significant amid continued anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rampant hate across the country. A theme was the importance of coming together to celebrate and support the local LGBTQ+ community.
On Monday the “Groomers” signs were removed quickly, but like other signs previously erected at town hall, their image on the internet is indelible.
On Friday, Lieutenant Lynden Latiak shared a statement from Greenwich Police:
“On June 5, 2023, the Greenwich Police Department received a report of offensive signs being placed in front of Town Hall at 101 Field Point Rd.
The signs were discovered just after 8am on Monday morning and were placed there sometime following a Pride Celebration and flag raising the previous afternoon. Upon arrival, responding units located 27 white lawn signs situated on the front lawn of Town Hall. Each sign had the word “Groomers” printed on it in black block lettering and included an arrow; the arrows appeared to be oriented toward the flag pole where the Pride flag was still raised.
The Greenwich Police Department supports and protects the 1st Amendment, but also places a high priority on investigating and resolving incidents involving bias and prejudice. This incident is currently being investigated by our Community Impact Section.“
Throughout the week, elected officials condemned the signs, including the members of the Greenwich delegation and the Board of Selectmen who said, “…we condemn hate speech in all its forms. It has no place in Greenwich.”
At Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Republican First Selectman Fred Camillo, who also serves as the Police Commissioner, said his office had received many calls about the signs.
“I would caution people about posting things online accusing people, because we’ve seen in the past that people can put up signs and make it look like someone else did it, and we find out later that it was a set-up,” Camillo said. “I’m not saying that happened here, but just be very careful.”
Camillo said, and repeated in both his Friday Community Connections e-blast and WGCH radio show, that there was no crime committed, and that the signs were protected by the First Amendment, however distasteful and cowardly.
Camillo explained that while the the police were still investigating the origins of the signs, they were “slightly out of range” from town surveillance cameras.
“There was no crime to prosecute other than just to know who did it,” he said. “This one is proving a little harder to find out who did it.”
State Rep Steve Meskers shared a statement on Sunday morning, saying he was disappointed in Camillo.
“My surprise was receiving Fred’s Community Connections this Friday, with a walk-back of his condemnation and his caution about free-speech. And I don’t want to point fingers but, if you’ve been in town for the last three years and seen the show put on by the new RTC and the the Greenwich Patriots we see regularly on social media posts, their virulent accusations at our of Board Of Ed meetings, one of the Board Of Ed members proudly does interviews on Newsmax, that tells you how low we have gone.”
“In any case, I would have hoped to see our First Selectman maintain a backbone for at least a week,” Meskers added. “Instead, he walks back his statement, muddies the water and gives comfort to bigots. It’s not a profile in courage. It’s a profile in cowardice and I am embarrassed for my town.”
Since the incident on Monday, comments on social media have been prolific.
Comments on GFP Facebook were incredulous that the plaza right in front of town hall would be a blind spot for surveillance cameras. Comments also compared the efforts this week to find out who was responsible for the “Groomers” signs with the efforts to find the source of the Trump/Camillo signs in 2019.
Back in 2019, the “Trump/Camillo” signs appeared in Greenwich, including on town hall property, about a week before the municipal election.
Someone working on Mr. Camillo’s 2019 campaign pursued the identity of the author of the signs, hiring an Austin, Texas man through an online jobs platform for $450 to go to the sign vendor and say a copy of the invoice was required by the campaign for their records. The ruse worked. The invoice was to Mark Kordick, a Greenwich Police Dept Captain, who when confronted by a Greenwich Police Deputy Chief admitted responsibility for the signs. He was put on leave and ultimately fired. Detail on the effort to find out who was responsible for the signs came to light during the discovery phase of Kordick’s lawsuit Kordick v. Town of Greenwich, et al. (Plaintiff’s exhibit 34, page 335.)
The lawsuit drags on.
A jury was selected for a trial set to begin last month, but it has been postponed.
An item on the Representative Town meeting call for June 12 is a request to appropriate $375,000 for the town legal department for “Professional Services – Attorneys,” for efforts including Kordick v Town of Greenwich, et al. and an investigation into the Board of Education’s hiring practices stemming from the incident with a former assistant principal in Greenwich Schools.
The latter effort stems from the town investigation that Mr. Camillo called for after Project Veritas released a video of assistant principal Jeremy Boland describing his hiring biases against Catholics and people over 30. The town investigation is one among five: Greenwich Schools, Attorney General’s office, CHRO and the State of CT Education Department.
The request is for litigation expenses totaling $152,000+ for litigation expenses in March and April 2023 and for $107,093 for expenses to date related to the investigation of the BOE’s hiring practices.
On Monday morning Greenwich First Selectmen sent the following statement in response to State Rep Meskers:
“It is amazing how a man who is in public office, who loves to post things late at night on his computer, and then issues statements calling people cowards, and accusing them of being without a backbone and yet when he’s next to the person in public, all you get are crickets.
Where was Meskers’ outrage with public statements about his party trying to destroy local zoning, year after year after year? Because his party is in the majority, and they had some room to let people vote a certain way to protect them in their own district, that’s not enough. We needed him to take his strong public stand and stand up for the people he represents, and not be timid and silent.
As for his particular focus on this issue, I have put out statement after statement, calling out the cowardly act of placing the signs on public property without attribution. Apparently, it’s not enough for Meskers, and quite frankly, I don’t care what he thinks. I care about with the people of this town, my hometown, think, and doing the right thing, not trying to score political points.
That is what leaders do. They don’t not runoff at the mouth, issuing statements, or posting things online about how a political party hates kids. Yes, he actually posted that online. He was speaking of parents who are educators, policeman, firemen, lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, etc. Can you imagine a public official doing that? Well, he did.
After what happened to me in 2019 when my identity was stolen and the person who did it cowardly hid in the shadows until he was caught, is enough to remind us that we should never accuse people without facts. If you remember, there were a few people in the DTC who claimed that I put the signs up, and we have not heard an apology, nor any type of explanation for those accusations back in 2019.
My public statements stand, and I will continue to lead the town in a fair and balanced way. Our residents deserve that and we will continue to provide that.
Leaders lead, and do the right thing, not run to the nearest microphone calling attention to them selves.”