October 4, 2019
At the end of this past Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, there were some inaccurate statements and several false allegations regarding the communications consultant hired by the Town this past summer. It is unfortunate that these statements were made without any background or research. I would like to take this opportunity to provide residents with background and circumstances regarding this hiring.
Let’s look at the facts:
In early August, I was notified of a possible arrest of a town employee. I realized this would be a traumatic experience for our Town and our residents would have significant concerns along with a number of questions. It would be important to fully explain the facts and circumstances of the situation. The Town does not have a communications department and I felt professional expertise was required to address this properly and expeditiously. It was and always has been my intent to provide complete and accurate information to our residents.
Hiring a communications professional in this type of situation is following best practices. To that end, I reached out to Christopher Gidez who has a background in crisis communication as well as considerable experience in managing communications on complex environmental issues. We agreed on a $3,000 retainer. It was not anticipated that there would be an extended need for Mr. Gidez’s services.
However, on the same day that two Town employees were arrested, the Health Department was notified that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was coming to Gould Manor Park to test for contaminants. In order to be prepared to address any public health or safety concerns, the Town immediately hired a Licensed Environmental Professional, Tighe & Bond. Additionally, since the testing performed at Gould Manor by DEEP was a result of concerns over the use of fill from the aggregate pile at the reclamation yard, I asked our Health Department to search for any additional Town sites where the aggregate fill may have been used.
Due to the seriousness and complexity of the testing of various Town sites, I asked the communications consultant to stay on to ensure that the Town provided communication that was factual, transparent, coordinated and timely during this time of anxiety and uncertainty over the health and safety of our residents.
Over the last two months, the Town has put in place an extensive communications plan. We set up a webpage, www.fairfieldct.org/filluseissues, that includes complete test results, a video from the State Department of Public Health, a “scorecard” so residents can track the status of all parks and fields and a list of third party resources to help residents better understand the relative risk of the materials identified by the testing. We have provided frequent email updates. We also set up a special email address so residents can direct specific questions and concerns to the Health Department. All the communications have been to ensure our residents have access to complete and accurate information.
My three priorities continue to be Public Safety, Accountability and Transparency/Communications.
Our message is clear and consistent. I am proud of how our Town employees have risen to this challenge, and I am grateful for the input we have received from Town residents by way of questions, suggestions and concerns. This has guided our communications.
It is inappropriate for anyone to mischaracterize these communications as anything other than factual and public safety oriented. It is my responsibility, and the Town’s responsibility, to communicate fully and regularly as the facts have unfolded over the past two months. Mr. Gidez has been an excellent and very professional resource to the Town.
It is time to stop playing politics. It is time to stop trying to scare our residents. It is the obligation of every Town employee, elected official and volunteer appointee to focus on doing what is best for our residents and for our Town.