Letter: Town Council chairman explains vote against school board appointment

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To the Editor:

On October 11, 2022, I voted against the nomination of Chrissy Fensore Martinez because of two financial conflicts of interest that I found to be incompatible with the public trust bestowed upon elected officials when elected officials spend taxpayer dollars.

The first conflict of interest involved Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s employer, Aspire Living & Learning, Inc. Aspire Living and Learning, Inc. provides “treatment and support for people with disabilities, allowing them to live more fully and more independently in their communities.”

Mrs. Fensore Martinez works as Senior Director of School Partnerships. In that role, she works with public school administrators to decide appropriate programming for students with special education requirements.

Aspire is a current vendor for the Board of Education and has been since at least 2013. Over those years, the Monroe school district has paid Aspire nearly $3,400,000 for services provided. In calendar year 2022, so far, the school district paid approximately $123,000 for services rendered by Aspire. All payments for these services must be approved by the Board of Education.

During Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s interview, she admitted that she was aware of the fact that Monroe students were receiving services from Aspire. Further, she stated that she would recuse herself from any vote regarding her employer.

The second conflict is related to Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s husband’s employment. Mr. Martinez works as an Educational Administrator for Counseling and Social Services for Norwalk Public Schools. As an administrator, and confirmed by Mrs. Fensore Martinez, he is a member of the administrators’ collective bargaining unit.

The Monroe Board of Education negotiates with a corresponding bargaining unit for its school administrators. When asked if she would recuse herself from voting on future administrators’ collectively bargained contracts, she refused. Mrs. Fensore Martinez stated that she did not see a reason to recuse herself because she was not a member of that bargaining unit.

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether conflicts of interest are present with Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s nomination. I believe that the cumulative effect of these conflicts would significantly undermine public confidence in the Board of Education’s use of taxpayer dollars if Mrs. Fensore Martinez served on the Board of Education while those conflicts exist.

Although Mrs. Fensore Martinez stated that she would recuse herself from directly voting on invoices produced by her employer, the fact that Apsire has such a significant financial relationship with the Board of Education creates too many questions as to the use and amount of funds paid to that company.

A neutral observer could think that something was amiss when they heard that the employer of one of the board members has billed millions of dollars to the board of education for services. This potential doubt undermines public confidence.

I have no doubt that Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s desire to be a member of the Monroe Board of Education is directly related to her care and concern for Monroe’s students. I do not believe Mrs. Fensore Martinez sought to be a member of the Board of Education in pursuit of any financial gain for herself, her family, or the entity she works for.

The motivation for my vote was solely related to upholding public confidence in how taxpayer dollars are spent.

I believe that everyone in Monroe deserves an opportunity to be a voice for themselves and this community. In this instance, I believe Mrs. Fensore Martinez possessed too many conflicts for public trust to be maintained with regard to the use of taxpayer funds.  This does not mean that other elected opportunities are foreclosed to Mrs. Fensore Martinez.  I do not believe these conflicts would exist if she were to serve on the Town Council, Board of Finance, the Planning and Zoning Commission, or other elected positions outside of the Board of Education.

If the voters disagree with my assessment of the conflicts, and Mrs. Fensore Martinez chooses to run for the Board of Education and the voters elect her, the voters will have made their voices heard and I will respect their choice.  I hope Mrs. Fensore Martinez will continue to serve Monroe and be a voice for those she deeply cares about.

Jonathan Formichella

Town Council chairman

Editor’s Note: During Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, Councilman Jason Maur said Chrissy Fensore Martinez agreed to recuse herself from negotiations with the administrators union if there was a conflict, though she disagreed that there was.

3 thoughts on “Letter: Town Council chairman explains vote against school board appointment

  1. Mr. Formichella’s statements here are no less invalid and misleading than they were Monday night. The facts are this:

    1) The company that Mrs. Fensore Martinez works for makes up 0.0077% of the budget. She said she would not vote on any vote dealing with her company. There is nothing in our charter precluding a member of the Board from working for a contractor with the town.

    2) Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s employment has no bearing on her eligibility for this role. The same way his role had no bearing on her husband’s ability to serve on the Board of Education when they Board voted unanimously on his approval to fill a vacancy years ago, despite the fact that he was in the same exact role. In fact, the Charter is very explicit that the only conflict is if the candidate works for the Monroe School System.

    3) Mr. Formichella says the voters can have their say and that his vote was to uphold public confidence. Well, first off, the voters did have their say. Mrs. Fensore Martinez was the next highest voter tally in the last election. Further, not a single member of the public spoke up in concern of Mrs. Fensore Martinez’s candidacy.

    Mrs. Fensore Martinez was more than qualified for this role. She removed any potential conflict by agreeing not to vote on the single line item of the entire budget (remember less than one-tenth of a percent) that involves her company. She was held to a standard that has never been imposed in the history of our town. Mrs. Fensore Martinez should have been approved by the Council.

  2. What is the plan to fill the vacancy if the town council denied Mrs Martinez who was voted in by the citizens of Monroe? I was not aware that the town council could deny a candidate taking a position after our vote. Who is filling this role now and will this vacancy be voted on by the citizens of Monroe on Nov 8. From a voter point of view either put Mrs. Martinez in the role as voted or put it back on the ballot for a vote on Nov 8.

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