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Online posts draw scrutiny

September 18, 2018

GREEENWICH — Appointments to town boards and commissions usually pass without much comment or controversy. This week saw an exception as Jeffrey Medina sought approval for a new term on the Board of Human Services.

Medina, who currently serves as the board’s secretary, had come under heavy criticism for sharply worded posts on Facebook and other sites that blasted Democrats and the left. The Representative Town Meeting on Monday heard from town officials from both sides of the political aisle, most of whom supported Medina, and approved his nomination by a vote of 135 to 47 with nine abstentions.

“There is a greater community that can be served by this moment and it is my distinct hope and my sincere, deepest desire that Mr. Medina from this moment on will think about what comes out of his mouth, whether it’s in a private conversation or on a public forum like Facebook,” said RTM District 1 member Anthony Lopez. “I think he deserves a chance and we need to hold him accountable.”

Appearing before the body on Monday night, Medina, who has been on the Human Services board since 2016, apologized for the posts and said he would use the criticism as a learning experience and try to be more diplomatic and cognizant of the words he uses in the future.

“I take responsibility for the comments on social media,” Medina said. “I’m very passionate about the things that I believe in but I understand the words I used in this instance were insensitive and offended some people. For that I apologize.”

At issue were several posts online in which Medina criticized the recent decision by Greenwich Green and Clean to no longer fund holiday lights on Greenwich Avenue. He wrote on Facebook that “liberals” were responsible for the lights not being funded and were responsible for “everything bad happening in the state.”

“God d—n liberals (are) destroying tradition,” Medina wrote.

Screenshots of posts also show him writing about his “disdain” for liberals and saying “they’re destroying this state and this country.”

The online comments were brought to the RTM’s attention by District 8 member Laura Kostin, a Democrat who is running for state representative in the 151st District. Kostin did not call for the RTM to vote down the nomination, but did ask for better vetting in the future.

“Obviously we are all entitled to free speech. There is no doubt,” Kostin said. “But we should expect to be held accountable for our words. … If you’re going to be serving the neediest in our community, you should strive to create an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion, regardless of political affiliation. If you’re going to represent our town, you would do well to avoid alienating the public and refrain from needlessly divisive commentary on public forums.”

Under the current vetting process, a candidate is interviewed by the Board of Selectmen and, if approved by the board, is then interviewed by relevant RTM committees before the full RTM votes on the nomination.

RTM member Dawn Fortunato, from District 3, told the membership she saw posts from Medina last year in which he tried to determine who among a large new crop of candidates running for the RTM, which is a non-partisan body, were Democrats. He told his online followers not to vote for any of them, she said.

In an interview Saturday, Board of Human Services Chair Barbara Nolan called Medina’s posts “bigoted.” She said she believes the charge applies in this situation given the language Medina used and because he was “striking out against a whole segment of people that don’t agree with him.”

“If you’re so prejudiced against a group of people, what does that make you?” Nolan asked.

On Tuesday, Nolan said she felt all involved, including herself, would be able to work with Medina.

“We have to go forward,” Nolan said.

At Monday’s meeting, Medina said he was committed to continuing his work on the board.

“My comments, while insensitive, are not an accurate representation of who I am as a person,” Medina said. “Nor do they prevent me from making decisions that will better the lives of all people, regardless of their political persuasion.”

Several speakers spoke on behalf of Medina including First Selectman Peter Tesei, a Republican, and Selectman Sandy Litvack, a Democrat. The Board of Selectmen had nominated Medina to a new term and said they stood by it.

“We all agree this is something that is a teachable moment,” Tesei said. “We recognize that people make mistakes but it doesn’t take away from the overall body of work of who that person is and what they’ve done. … We want to create a culture in Greenwich that’s different from the rest of America and the rest of the state. We should set our own standards on how we want to go about conducting our business.”

Litvack said he and Medina, 34, had engaged in a long phone conversation prior to the meeting. The tone and substance of Medina’s comments were difficult for him to take, Litvack said, but he felt he should remain on the board.

“I think everyone is entitled to a second chance,” Litvack said. “He’s a young man. He’s done a lot of good and he’s made what I consider to be one mistake.”

Medina’s time on the board has not come under criticism. Nolan praised him over the weekend for his work as board secretary, where he is responsible for the minutes, and said he’d never shown any indication of his online behavior before.

In votes that were taken before the social media posts were brought to their attention, the RTM’s Appointments and Health and Human Services committees had unanimously supported a new term for Mdina. Health and Human Services Chair Alexis Voulgaris said his summary of the board’s work was “probably the most comprehensive and detailed we had received in years” except for only the department’s commissioner.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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