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.
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.