During an October 5 meeting of Weston’s Board of Selectman (BOS) members voted to accept the resignation of Vanessa Richards from the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee.
In her resignation letter, Richards noted that she and her family had recently moved out of Weston. However, in the letter, which was addressed to First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor, Richards also said she was “saddened” to observe the selectwoman’s conversation with a Weston teacher during a recent pride event put on by the town.
“On a day dedicated to love and understanding, it was disappointing to hear you essentially gossip about Selectmen (sic) Martin Mohabeer. I was deeply uncomfortable with your casual allegations that Martin is a misogynist and anti-Semite. I have known Martin and his family for several years, and I have never heard him utter an anti-Semitic or misogynistic word. To the contrary, all I have ever witnessed from him is a desire to serve this community.” Richards wrote.
The allegations were a topic of discussion during the October 5 BOS meeting.
Following a motion to accept the resignation, Nestor asked if there was any discussion on the motion before cutting off Selectwoman Amy Jenner’s attempt to speak.
“How about letting me discuss it first, because it’s an accusation against me.”
A member of the audience pointed out Nestor had asked for discussion and was chastised by Nestor as the floor was not open to public comment.
“I have one thing to say about this letter. As I’ve said in the past, people can write resignation letters and they can express their feelings. What I do want to say is that this is not accurate and that didn’t happen. And I want to say again whatever she observed me saying, I did not say that.” Nestor said.
Nestor’s comments were again followed by remarks from the audience, who asked for the resignation letter to be read so they could follow along and who asked Nestor if she was accusing Richards of lying. Nestor again reminded the audience that public comment wasn’t being taken.
“I actually published this and brought it up here because I wanted to say that to your face in public, in the public room.” Nestor continued, addressing Mohabeer.
Jenner began to speak again, stating she had known Richards for some time, and was again cut off by Nestor.
“And Amy, I am not calling Vanessa a liar. I’m saying what she thinks she observed, and she used the word very carefully, observed, what she thinks she might have observed. That actually was not said. And I’m going to be very clear on that. I’m not here to belittle Vanessa. I think she’s done a tremendous amount of effort and been amazing, amazing to our community. And I don’t want the last thing that she contributes to our community to be a discussion about this.” Nestor continued.
“I give her a lot of credit and I think it takes a lot of courage to bring anything to our attention. And it clearly requires strong conviction by Vanessa, no matter what she heard, to bring this to our attention.” Jenner then said. “And I think it’s an indication to the community that we need to be objective and thoughtful about what we say and do and may intimate. I just want to say that the accusations in the letter are deeply disturbing and as a member of the community and a citizen, not as a member of the board of selectman, but having sat alongside of Martin Mohabeer for the last two years is nothing more than a (unintelligible) gentleman, and I believe that this is an issue that should be referred to the Board of Ethics.”
Mohabeer kept his comments on the matter brief.
“I think all I’ll say is that words matter but this is not the proper form to address the inflammatory affects on my character or to address any of these. As you’ve always said, we’re here to do work and I’d definitely prefer to do work.” Mohabeer said. He also complimented Richards’ work on the DEI committee.
A vote to accept Richards’ resignation passed unanimously.
Richard did not respond to a request for comment about the specific comments she allegedly heard Nestor make.
Jenner told CII that after the meeting she reviewed Weston’s Code of Ethics and noted it does not give members jurisdiction to review unethical behavior unless it is tied to personal or financial gain, meaning the incident is likely beyond the scope of the Board of Ethics. Jenner added she may have been too quick to call for the matter to be sent there for review.
“What concerns me is that this is a pattern of behavior. Vanessa Richards is a federal prosecutor, and there is no reason to doubt her words. Many residents have reached out to me and are very concerned about this issue.” Jenner added. “Town leaders need to be model of transparency, integrity and inclusivity. We lack that in current leadership, and this needs to change. Healthy institutions respond, and not by sweeping things under the rug.”
Jenner said she wasn’t sure if that was the end of the matter. She said another way an investigation into Brenner’s allegations could be handled would be to call for an investigation by a special counsel. She added that Roberts Rules might also permit a censure of activity, but that she wouldn’t want to do that without knowing more about the comments Nestor allegedly made.
She also added that there is a clause for ethical behavior in the town charter, and the allegations could potentially fall under that, but there is no consequence for violating the town charter.
All seats on Weston’s Board of Ethics have been vacant since June. As CII has previously reported, the resignations followed a town controversy surrounding the handling of an ethics complaint made against Jenner.
The BOS voted to appoint two new members to the BOE during its October 5 meeting. Rob Lamb will serve on the board until June 30, 2024. Gail Paquin Costello will serve until December 31, 2024. Both appointments passed unanimously.
Under the town’s rules, two members can operate as a quorum, but the risk of a split vote is high.