Silence from Republicans on BOE Member’s Vulgar Remark Caught on Zoom Hot Mic

March 2, 2021. The following article has been updated to clarify language used by attorney Cassone representing Mr. Sherr in Stamford Superior Court in 2017. Attorney Tom Cassone argued in court that even if defendants’ conduct could be considered “obnoxious,” as alleged by plaintiff, it was protected free speech under the First Amendment. An attorney for Mr. Cassone said at no point did Mr. Cassone assert that defendants’ conduct was obnoxious, nor does he believe that today.

Original story: Thursday’s Board of Education meeting included a presentation by Marc D’Amico and Jennifer Lau about Linkit!, a platform that stores assessment technology, content and related services for the PreK-12 industry.

Jennifer Lau guided the board through the parent portal where parents can organize their students’ records and test data by course subjects, year, by data type (attendance level, grades, NGSS, PSAT, STAR, and SBA scores).

Alexandra Michaelson (formerly Ms. Bartholomew) principal at New Lebanon School and Jen Bencivengo, principal at Old Greenwich School, shared how they are using Linkit! as an instructional tool.

On Friday the link to the meeting on YouTube was posted to the Greenwich Schools website.

At the 2:42:27 mark board member Peter Sherr begins to question Mr. D’Amico and Ms Lau.

About 12 minutes later, at 2:53:56, BOE Peter Bernstein tells Mr. Sherr that other board members were waiting to ask questions.

Mr. Sherr replies that the topic should be on an upcoming agenda.

At 2:54:21 Bernstein says it is on an upcoming retreat agenda in March.

At 2:54:21 Mr. Sherr, whose microphone was live, says “f__ing douche bag.”

“You might want to turn your microphone off, Mr. Sherr, when you ramble on about people,” Bernstein replies.

By policy, Mr. Bernstein, as chair, is “responsible for the orderly conduct of all Board meetings.” Mr. Bernstein has repeatedly reminded Mr. Sherr about exercising decorum. During the Aug 31 BOE meeting, Mr. Sherr motioned with his hands as if holding a gun to his head.

During the Aug 31, 2020 BOE meeting, Peter Sherr motioned with fingers to his head while Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones was speaking. Screenshot.

The two men have a history of clashes which stem back to 2016.

In 2016 the BOE tried and failed several times to elect a chair. To successfully do so requires 5 votes out of the 8 board members. Tie votes, or votes of 4 to 3 with one abstention, do not satisfy the requirement. (One 2016 vote was 4-3-1, with Peter Sherr abstaining. A subsequent ballot again resulted in a vote of 4-3-1, with Peter Sherr again abstaining.)

After the BOE failed to agree on a chair, the Board of Selectmen appointed Mr. Sherr as chair in a vote of 2-1, with Democrat Drew Marzullo voting against.

While Mr. Sherr was chair of the board and seeking another term, the RTC endorsed him, but not Mr. Bernstein. Instead they endorsed Jason Auerbach.

Sherr and Auerbach made educational charter change their signature issue during their election campaigns. The change, if made, might have resulted in one party having a majority of 5 on the board, which is comprised of 8 members, whereas the board has for decades been split between four Democrats and four Republicans.

Mr. Bernstein, who was vocally opposed to charter change, petitioned to get his name on the ballot. It involved circulating through town and talking to voters in person.

That was 2017.

The campaign season was unpleasant. Women, outraged at then RTM district 8 chair Chris Von Keyserling’s arrest for sexual assault, ran for RTM in large numbers. A blogger told his readers not to vote for “screaming banshees.” Civility was a hot button issue.

As Mr. Bernstein went around town gathering signatures, he clashed with Mr. Sherr and Mr. Auerbach, who frequently campaigned together at the same time and place as Bernstein. Incidents at the beach, the dump, and train station resulted in alleged attempts to distract and interrupt Bernstein’s petition campaign.

In July Bernstein took Auerbach and Sherr to Stamford Superior Court, claiming that they interfered with his efforts to gather signatures to earn a place on the ballot.

During testimony in Stamford Superior Court, Sherr and Auerbach’s attorney Tom Cassone said that even if his clients’ behavior could be considered “obnoxious,” as alleged by plaintiff, it was protected free speech under the First Amendment.

Bernstein may have lost on the letter of the law, but in what was considered a referendum on charter change, he was the top vote getter on Nov 7, with 9,065 votes.

Mr. Sherr, with 7,063 votes, held onto his seat on the board, but Mr. Auerbach, with just 5,790 votes, did not win a seat.

In fact, Bernstein, Kathleen Stowe (8,082 votes), and Meghan Olsson (8,244 votes), all firm opponents of charter change, were the top 3 vote getters.

After the 2017 election, Bernstein replaced Mr. Sherr as Chair of the BOE. All but Mr. Sherr voted in favor of Mr. Bernstein. Mr. Sherr abstained.

On the night of the 2018 election, defeated candidate for State Rep, Laura Kostin (D), who had challenged incumbent Fred Camillo (R) referred to State Rep Mike Bocchino (R), who had lost his bid for another term, as a “douche,” which set off a firestorm of complaints from Republicans.

Then First Selectman Tesei called for an apology, noting that it had been Kostin who had excoriated a nominee for the Board of Human Services for inappropriate Facebook comments.

A group of 12 mostly Republican women wrote a letter saying “we are deeply troubled by the disparaging comment.” They described Kostin’s behavior as “reprehensible” and demanded she resign her seat in the 230 member Representative Town Meeting.

Then State Rep Camillo called Kostin’s remark “classless.”

Kostin apologized in a statement.

That apparently wasn’t good enough and people demanded an in person apology but Ms Kostin said Mr. Bocchino was unreachable.

Fast forward to this Thursday, and an unmuted Mr. Sherr’s “f__ing douche bag” comment.

Neither the RTC chair Dan Quigley, nor First Selectman Fred Camillo, nor former State Rep Mike Bocchino, responded for a request for comment.

Laura Kostin did offer a comment.

“If Peter Bernstein had said it, Mr. Sherr would have demanded he lose his chair position,” Kostin said. “I would like to know if these women – Louise T. Bavis, Jackie Budkins, Jill Capalbo, Julia Chiappetta, Christine Colasurdo, Patti DeFelice, Irene Dietrich, Debra Hess, Christine Marullo, Linda Moshier, Joan Pellegrino, Jodi Pellegrino, Lauren Rabin, Sophia Scarpelli, Lisa Seglem and Caren Vizzo St. Philip – will be demanding that Mr. Sherr resign? Or does he get a free pass because he is a member of their party?”

In addition to the others, Mr. Sherr did not respond for a request for comment.

Mr. Bernstein responded to a request for comment.

“This is certainly not the behavior we expect from our elected officials, especially those that are responsible for educating our children. Having civil discourse and treating fellow Board members and our staff with respect are important in creating a collaborative culture,” he said.

“I clearly pointed out that his microphone was still on and rather than apologize he choose to go silent,” he continued. “I haven’t heard from him and frankly don’t expect to. Given that this was a public meeting with many community members, parents and children (including my own son) watching who clearly heard his comment, I think he owes the public a sincere apology for his behavior.”

See also:

Greenwich Election 2017: Tesei Wins 6th Term, Bernstein Vindicated, Richman Wins Tax Collector, Von Keyserling Out

BOE Incumbent, Bernstein Pounds Pavement with Petition to Run for 2nd Term

BOE Opines on Charter Change Proposal: They Don’t Like it