Babcock Tells O’Brien Not To Criticize Leaders

Pages 8 and 9 of July’s issue of the Wolcott Community News has three letters pertaining to the library, and another three involving or written by George Babcock. While the responses to the library stem from anonymous letters in June’s edition, the articles surrounding Democratic Mayoral candidate George Babcock are quite interesting.

First, Steve Hicock gives his opinion on Babcock’s softball coaching style. Below this, the five members of the Farmingbury Hills Golf Course Commission respond to rumors Babcock published as an advertisement on June’s edition. In response, Chairman Robert Larson, et all… writes that the five man bipartisian commission has done its job in being fiscally wise and “has been headed by both Democrats and Republicans. The Commission follows the Town Charter in reporting to the Mayor and Town Council and they have worked with Babcock himself when he was Council Chairman.”

To Babcock’s criticisisms that the Commission does not have an immediate use for land adjacent to the course approved by voters a few years ago, Larson responds:

“NOT TRUE! The Commission would be more than happy to move this project along. However we are very much aware of the current economic conditions facing this town and the country. We have not come before the Mayor and Board of Finance with any proposal until we feel that the economic climate has improved sufficiently to warrant the expense of this project.”

In the lower right corner of page 8 is a letter by George Babcock towards Town Councilman Chris O’Brien. “Mr. O’Brien shows his lack of knowledge and experience in attacking Mr. Pape, Mrs. Najarian and Mr. Gugliotti of the Wolcott Board of Education. Combined they have over 50 years of experience on the Board. His continued request of the Board to ask the teachers for a pay freeze further verifies his lack of knowledge in this area.” – Wolcott Community News, page 8; July 2009.

Let me provide some context: First, O’Brien only requested that the BOE request pay freezes from their bargaining units to match the pay freezes agreed to by other town employees. He stopped asking when the budget was approved on June 2nd. It was a dead issue after that. Secondly, it should be noted that during the 2008 budget process, Mrs. Najarian herself thanked Mr. O’Brien publicly during a Council meeting for the questions and extra research he did at the time.

Throughout his letter, Babcock praises the Education Department with profusely adoring adjectives on every other line:

“Kudos … absolutely fantastic… admirable… marvelous… remarkable…”

He then describes Councilman O’Brien’s efforts to keep the mill rate down and prevent 8.6 teachers from losing their jobs:

“baffling… lack of knowledge… absurd remark… politic(al)”

While Mr. Babcock noted the disagreement between Mr. O’Brien and three members of the Board of Education after O’Brien wrote an e-mail suggesting ways to make the budget leaner during the economic downturn, Babcock’s criticism is misplaced. Mr. Babcock’s comments are entirely selective where he ignored remarks by O’Brien and other Councilman when they praised the Board of Education for reducing a potential $1.1 million increase in their budget to a $191,000 increase. He neglected to mention that O’Brien and the Council unanimously approved the Education Department’s budget.

It’s curious though that after the Board got exactly the monetary allocation they requested, they then directed the Board of Education’s attorney to continue the political debate by demanding O’Brien remove a copy of his e-mail from his Facebook account. They threatened O’Brien with a lawsuit for suggesting ways to reduce the budget and for repeating Board members’ opinions. That lawsuit was threatened by using YOUR tax dollars.

Before writing his letter, Mr. Babcock could have pointed out to these members that taking this action was a gross violation of Wolcott’s Code of Ethics. In early August, all candidates for office are required to sign a statement that they have read Town Ordinance #91, the Code of Ethics. Apparently Babcock skipped Section 4. Sections B and C of that section read:

Section 4 – Gifts and Favors
(B) Use of Town Property

No Public Official or Public Employee shall request or permit the use of town-owned vehicles, equipment, materials or property for personal convenience or profit, except when such services are availaable to the public generally or are provided as municipal policy for the use of such Public Official or Public Employee in the conduct of official business.

(C) All Citizens To be Treated Equal No Public Official or Public Employee shall grant any special consideration, treatment, or advantage to any citizen beyond that which is available to every other citizen.

A town funded lawyer should be treated the same as a taxpayer bought dump truck, leased police cruiser, fax machine, open land, or other resource. You wouldn’t as the tax collector to do your income taxes on town time, right? These items cannot be used for presonal business, and certainly not to improve one’s political status.

Mr. O’Brien engaged in political speech, attempted to convey information and guide a public discussion. The members of the BOE that Babcock mentions accused O’Brien of defamation of their character by misquoting them. You can only defame an individual person, not an entire Board of Education. Similarly, a citizen cannot defame a town, Congress, the state legislature, or any other governmental body. If we were unable to criticize our government or elected leaders, our free speech rights would be severely repressed. It is no wonder that some in town have expressed fear of backlash if they criticize certain leaders in town.

Only through criticism and constructive debate can our sytem of government become more responsive and efficient. Yes, there should be fairness in making sure we accurately portray someone else’s opinion. This is why I apologized to Anthony Gugliotti for quoting him through hearsay. I also made a good-faith effort to correct James Pape’s quote to its exact wording even though he didn’t change the meaning. Hopefully with time Pat Najarian and I can work things out. But, I take exception to Babcock’s assertion that I shouldn’t “attack” elected officials because “(c)ombined they have over 50 years of experience”. Those members had reasons why they held their opinions. Their reasons were well thought and I respected them even though I disagreed. But, God help us if an elected leader is never questioned, particularly because they have served so long!

I wish Mr. Babcock luck for his upcoming mayoral campaign. I hope he will focus his efforts on the future of Wolcott, instead of digging up issues from months ago. If he is elected mayor, I hope he will be more forthcoming in promoting good and honest debate and being respectful to those who disagree. If he needs assistance or information I can give to him, I will assist him just as I would any other resident. Hopefully lawyers and misuse of town resources will not occur as had in this instance when I aired my questions. Sometimes giving the full truth is more helpful than hearing just one side of an issue. We can agree to disagree, and then know that we are not shutting out potentially better ideas that we might all embrace. And always looking forward, we will work for the future of the Town and citizens of Wolcott.

Source: Wolcott Community News, July 2009 edition; Published by Wolcott Community News LLC


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