In today’s election coverage, we published an article that 1) features video interview clips with all Board of Education candidates, side by side, for each question, so voters can compare how candidates answered on each issue; and 2) includes information we discovered in reporting on the candidates. The Republican Town Committee is taking issue with that reporting.
The Wilton Republican Town Committee issued a statement, which we added to the article and have published below this message.
We also heard from one GMW advertiser who was contacted by someone who said he was a member of the RTC and who suggested they reconsider their relationship with GMW. (For the record, that advertiser has offered their continued support and approval of our work.) We’d be happy to have a conversation with any advertiser, subscriber or reader about any concerns. (We’ve also reached out to the RTC for comment.)
We wanted to learn where each candidate stood on several issues that are a focus of discussion and interest around the school district: response to the COVID pandemic, including mask wearing and vaccines; diversity/equity and CRT; and curriculum oversight. Residents and voters with a wide range of beliefs are highly interested in these issues. As journalists, we want to provide voters with as much information as possible to help them find candidates most closely aligned with their beliefs.
We asked all the candidates about those topics. In addition, as is standard journalistic practice, we requested from the school district and from the Town any correspondence between the candidates and officials regarding those topics, under the Freedom of Information Act. The FOIA request is a critical reporting tool to find out information that isn’t subject to spin, obfuscation, or diversion — it helps uncover data and facts we believe voters and residents and readers are entitled to have as a principle of public interest, transparency, truth and freedom of information.
The campaign argues these emails were sent by private citizens. But those emails sent to the district and the town become public information. When someone becomes a candidate, if that correspondence is related to issues of public interest, Freedom of Information laws exist so the public may know about it.
The candidates are seeking seats on a board with important oversight and influence, asking voters for profound responsibility over Wilton schools — something even the candidates have said is the prime attraction to Wilton, with the critical mission of educating our children.
Yes, they are volunteering to serve the wider community. That doesn’t change how important it is for voters to know as much as possible about the candidates and where they stand in order to cast informed votes. That’s the role of a free press — to help the public learn and make an educated choice, as is their right.
The RTC brought to our attention that one of the documents provided under the FOIA law was not redacted completely by the school district before they sent it to GMW. It contained the name of one candidate’s child and other personal information. As soon as we were notified, we removed the document from the article, and performed our own additional redaction before putting the documents back on the article. Anything personal that remains in the documents are details the candidates have already spoken about widely themselves during the campaign.
GMW stands by its reporting. We are grateful to anyone who steps forward to volunteer for public service. But public service comes with responsibility to be open and truthful about what’s in the public’s interest. Making sure that information is open, truthful and known by the public is the job of the press, and we will continue on that path.
Monday, we’ll have a similar article featuring side-by-side comparisons of answers from the Board of Selectmen andBoard of Finance candidates.
As always, thank you for reading and taking part in the process.
Heather Borden Herve
Our town relies on numerous volunteers for elected and unelected boards and commissions and to run youth sports and other organizations. We applaud all volunteers and teachers in our town, whose work too often goes unrecognized. Few of them have political ambition, and no parent expects private correspondence with the school district to be broadcast and politicized.
Today, four days before Election Day, GMW decided to publish a series of emails between our Board of Ed candidates and the school and town. These were not political. They were emails by parents concerned about issues affecting their kids. Whatever anyone thinks of that fact, GMW went even further, violating the legitimate privacy interests of children of these candidates by publishing one or more of their names, as well as emails making plain which children, on an individual basis, were being discussed. One or more private emails of at least one Wilton teacher was likewise published. Publishing these was a grotesque misjudgment, and our candidates — all candidates, volunteers and teachers in our town — deserve an apology from GMW.
While we appreciate that GMW removed the subject posts, and our candidates wish to move forward, there is no room for disagreement that GMW should apologize for this very disappointing and grievous error in judgment. No parent wants to see their private correspondence over school concerns broadcast like this, and GMW should have known better. For their part, our candidates will continue to focus on what’s most important: You, the voters, and your input on how our town can move forward.
Chair, Wilton Republican Town Committee
Editor’s note: Any teacher’s email referred to in the statement and sent from a teacher’s Wilton Public School email address is not private communication. It is the property of the district, and was released to GMW by the district for publication.