If volunteering and contributing to the community means getting criticized, then one Board of Education candidate is willing to be criticized publicly — although it makes her sad when it happens in such an uncivil way, and during a school-related event as well.
That’s what Board of Education candidate Nicola Davies is saying after an audible insult calling her an “[expletive] do-gooder” was directed her way during a Zoom forum hosted Wednesday, Oct 13, by the Wilton High School PTSA to hear from candidates for the Board of Education.
Davies said the insult was very clearly heard following her answer to the first question asking the candidates to introduce themselves and explain why they’re running. As part of her introduction, Davies was telling the listeners about what she’s done over the last decade to volunteer in the school district and the wider community.
“I was just talking about me, my family, and the history of what I’ve done in the district and organizations in town I’ve been involved with. I don’t work and I’m lucky enough to have a choice about how I spend my time and I spend my time a lot with the schools or with education and other stuff — the Humane Society, Minks to Sinks, Wilton Go Green, ABC. I was just riffing on all the things I could remember just to highlight that I’m a community member. People had been muted as they entered the Zoom meeting, but somehow someone was un-muted and could be heard calling me an ‘effing do-gooder,'” she said.
Aside from the candidates and the school and PTSA officials, there were a handful of other people on the Zoom, Davies explained, presumably parents and members of the high school community. The PSTA official running the call quickly silenced the few listeners who were not muted, but the remark was something very clearly heard by many people on the call, and it shocked almost everyone.
“It’s just like whiplash. I couldn’t really process the incivility of it,” Davies recalled. “In the moment it was like, did that really just happen? Yeah. For everybody. Everyone was being polite, like you’re all in the lift and someone makes a noise — you just pretend it didn’t happen.”
As a first-time candidate, she was saddened that the occassion was marred by the remark.
“It left me with a deep sense of disappointment that the lack of civility we see on planes, politics and social media has trickled down to a small town election for an essentially non-partisan Board,” Davies said.
She tried to put it in perspective the next day — and asked herself a rhetorical question: ‘What’s so bad about being a do-gooder?’
“I think I live my life thinking, ‘How can I make someone else’s day better?’ I want to solve people’s problems or make them feel a bit happier in the day — that’s who I am. And it’s not a bad thing. I will own that — I am a do-gooder. I am a proud volunteer and contributor to our schools and if that makes me a do gooder, then so be it.”
Davies is also not taking it personally.
“It’s where politics has got into this — that person doesn’t like me, but that person doesn’t know me. Maybe I got caught up in a national political moment. They don’t know me, but I embrace the term.”
School District Response
One of the key people on the call was Dr. Robert O’Donnell, WHS principal.
“My reaction to it was, I heard it, I heard it very clearly and I just thought right away, it’s entirely inappropriate to say that at all, or certainly in the context of this forum where the Board of Education candidates were all having an opportunity to answer the questions so that the zoom attendees could hear people’s views who ultimately could be in a position to support the high school and the schools,” O’Donnell said.
He reiterated that he was definitely not pleased.
“We have a civility policy for good reason in place in the schools. And we expect everybody to abide by the civility policy — it applies to staff, students, parents, anybody who’s interacting with the school. So, again, I found it very inappropriate.”
It was not impossible for school officials to narrow down who the responsible party was who made the offensive remark. O’Donnell said he and other officials addressed it directly with the person.
“[Wilton School Superintendent] Dr. Kevin Smith, [PTSA President] Lorien Sommier and I, we were able to identify who the individual was even as early as [Wednesday] night. I felt that it was important to address it directly with the individual involved, which we did Thursday and expressed our expectations around civil interactions between, as I said, any members of the school community, and I got that point across,” O’Donnell said, adding that there’s is also a code of conduct at the PTSA level. “We felt it was just very important to address it, address it directly with the individual.”
O’Donnell said when they spoke, the person who made the remark “was contrite” and acknowledged that it should not have been said. “The person did not intend to be mean-spirited and the individual is not proud of the comment. It was a mistake and the person should not have said it. So we would not expect to hear anything like that again,” he told GMW.
It was clear O’Donnell was frustrated at what occurred, and he hopes it’s something the community will take seriously moving forward.
“I would like to hope that this is going to be an isolated incident. But not much surprises me these days. I think it’s an opportunity to remind people again that this civility policy — we live it, we try to breathe it, and it is important to, because we don’t want to be offensive to anybody. So it’s an opportunity to reiterate that, and going forward, it’s got to be a civil experience and everybody should have the opportunity to express their views from their hearts and what they believe without being subject to any type of commentaries like that,” he said, adding how critical it is for the adults to be the role models for those at the heart of the school district’s mission — the students.
“That’s what we need to do and make sure that happens. So yes, I am hopeful.”
Davies, too, is hopeful about taking a negative event and making something good come out of it, and she’d be gracious about accepting an apology if offered one.
“If that person reached out and [apologized] I’d say, thank you very much, and would you like to meet up and learn more about me or just connect — I’d always try and reach out and make a connection.’ But I embraced the title. I’m going to campaign on it for now: ‘Vote for me, the do-gooder'” she said, smiling.
Editor’s Note: We’ve gone out of our way not to identify political party in this instance. To us, what’s important to emphasize is not party vs. party, but what Davies and O’Donnell pointed out about incivility creep — the increase in uncivil behavior in places it doesn’t belong (or at all). In this case it happened at a school related event, so GMW focused on the response from the district (we reached out to the PTSA also but didn’t hear back at press time) as well as the person at whom the remark was directed.
We did extend the opportunity for comment to the two political town committees, because the events did involve candidates running for election. The Democratic Town Committee allowed the remarks from their candidate Davies to represent their position on what occurred.
A Republican Town Committee spokesman sent a statement: “We were informed about a mean comment spoken about a candidate at a public forum. Comments like this have no place in public meetings or in civil discourse. The RTC and all Row B candidates were disheartened, just as we have been at the continued meanspirited, unneighborly rhetoric directed publicly toward Row B candidates in recent months. We would like to state again that campaigns and elections often bring out the worst in people, but this isn’t necessary, and we won’t contribute to divisiveness in our great town – no one should. The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” We agree and will encourage everyone to do the same. We are neighbors before this election and will be after. Wilton is such a special place with special people — let’s all treat it that way.”