Mysterious Town Hall images spark fight
GREENWICH — Greenwich Democrats are outraged after what appear to be photos of a phone banking session at Town Hall were posted online by one of the town’s most vocal Republicans.
The photos show nothing more than a typical phone campaigning session during the 2017 election season, but the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee wants to know where they came from and why they were in the possession of Ed Dadakis, a town resident and a member of the state Republican Party. Though the images are more than a year old, both the head of the DTC and party member Joanna Swomley, who is clearly seen in the photos, said they were not aware of them before Dadakis posted them onto his personal Twitter account last weekend.
“These images give the impression that we are being surveilled,” Swomley said. “These pictures are deeply troubling and we want to get to the bottom of things.”
Dadakis said he did not remember where he got the images, but had been told they were part of an ongoing state Elections Enforcement Committee investigation into a complaint filed by J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. Romano accused Indivisible Greenwich, which Swomley co-founded, of operating as a political action committee without registering as one.
Dadakis said he did not consider his posting of the photos “a major political issue or any issue at all.”
However, Swomley said the images are not of Indivisible but rather private campaign work conducted by the DTC. Both Swomley and Tony Turner, chair of the DTC, have made Freedom of Information Act filings with the town to try to get to the bottom of what happened. The filings were made independently.
In his FOI, Turner said the DTC had used several rooms at Town Hall during the summer and fall of 2017 as part of the campaign work. He said it appeared a town-owned or operated recording device may have been used to “record and surveil” residents in those rooms and “video and perhaps audio footage was disseminated to at least one third party without the consent of the individuals or groups depicted in the recording.”
Turner requested “any and all” materials and information regarding recording equipment in any Town Hall room reserved by the DTC. He also requested information concerning the disclosure of any of that material and the identities and positions of everyone who had access to recording equipment at Town Hall.
Swomley requested similar information including the identities and positions of anyone with access to the recording equipment.
The four photos that were posted by Dadakis show the main hallway at Town Hall with a sign directing people to the Mazza Room, which is on the first floor, for the phone banking. The outside of the Mazza Room also is shown along with two photos that show work being conducted inside a room, though it is unclear if it is the Mazza Room.
Swomley said the angle of one of the images was so high it had to have come from a video camera in the room.
“It looks as if the equipment in there was being used to record a private meeting in Town Hall and a private citizen was given access to either photos or a video of it,” Swomley said.
Turner said on Wednesday that he wanted First Selectman Peter Tesei to get information about what happened.
“One of the photos appears to be from a video of unauthorized surveillance of non-governmental meetings at Town Hall, specifically Democratic Party scheduled campaign events, and maybe others,” Turner said. “It has the appearance of a number of possible violations, including public trust. We have no choice, on behalf of the people, but to demand that the first selectman, as CEO of the town, have a full forensic investigation on the matter and report back to the people on a timely basis. The people need to know the number of occurrences, what happened, when, by whom and how, at a minimum.”
Tesei said there are security cameras in the hallways at Town Hall but none in the meeting rooms. There are cameras inside the main Town Hall Meeting Room and the second floor Cone Room to record and broadcast meetings for town boards and commissions. Those cameras are secured and can only be accessed by a few volunteers working with GCTV Channel 79, he said.
The cameras for Channel 79 have to be turned on and are not left running. They are only used to record public meetings.
The image of Swomley that was posted online shows a smart board in the background. The only meeting room in Town Hall that has a smart board is the Mazza Room, which does not have a video camera in it. Swomley said the other photo of her, one taken from a higher angle, appears to be from the Cone Room.
Swomley said she did not recall anyone in the group of campaign workers taking photos or video of the phone banking work. There has been speculation that the photo of Swomley apparently in the Mazza Room could have been taken from the hallway through a window.
The images were posted online on Jan. 13 as part of a debate on Twitter between Dadakis and town resident Lucy von Brachel, a member of Indivisible Greenwich. Von Brachel had sent a tweet to Tesei’s personal account objecting to the use of Town Hall by former Trump administration official Carl Higbie and his private group for an upcoming event.
Tesei defended the use of the room and called it a free speech issue while telling von Brachel that she should “embrace diversity in all forms including opinions.” Dadakis weighed in, saying Indivisible used Town Hall “all the time” so it was fine for Higbie to do it too “on something that is clearly of community interest.”
“Indivisible is just afraid to be confronted with the truth and facts,” Dadakis said in a tweet.
When another Twitter user claimed the organization had never used Town Hall for a meeting, Dadakis posted the images claiming they were proof it had. Swomley insisted, though, that the phone campaign sessions were conducted by the DTC, not Indivisible.
Swomley had a personal connection to that campaign as she is married to Sandy Litvack, who was running that year for first selectman as a Democrat and was ultimately elected as selectman. On Wednesday, Litvack said he would support an investigation.
“We should look into it,” Litvack said. “This is an area for the Board of Selectmen, not just the first selectman, acting as the governing body of the town. The board should investigate and report what we find.”
Tesei, however, said the FOI process that was already set in motion is the proper process to follow to get information.
“I don’t think the Board of Selectmen has the authority and I don’t think they even need to do it because it’s already being done,” Tesei said.