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Herbst to Thornton: Stick to the Issues

Thornton says the democrats have presented facts, negative or not, while the first selectman says his campaign has been record, not character-based.

Trumbull's first selectman candidates sparred over a gamut of issues at Thursday night's debate at , but it was the final question that garnered a lot of the applause.

The question had incumbent Republican Tim Herbst and Democrat Mary Beth Thornton address whether she uses negative campaign tactics and whether Herbst intimidates people.

Thornton answered first. "I don't think the two topics are related," she said, citing a January 2010 letter Herbst wrote to a PTA president in which he allegedly made threats regarding notes on the person's Facebook page. "[The] campaign mailers contain facts."

In Thornton's latest mailer she accused Herbst of losing 49.4 acres when the state redrew the border of Bridgeport and Trumbull to build the Fairchild Memorial Magnet School. Bridgeport got the school and Trumbull lost seats and fees it would have collected over the next 10 years, she said.

"If that's negative, I'm sorry that it's negative. It's a fact," she said.

Herbst questioned the timing of the threatening charge, saying the PTA president ran with Thornton and donated to her campaign. The person, who was not named, "frequently engages in cyberbullying on blogs," he said.

"Why are we finding out about [this] now two weeks before an election?" he asked. "It is easier to not talk about issues." He said Thornton has a record of raising taxes and has not dealt with the problems stemming from allegedly defective sewer work, among other things.

"It's easier to engage in a campaign about character," he said. "I've only questioned her record."

Herbst also charged Thornton with superimposing his head on someone else's body and misrepresenting him on issues in democratic mailers.

"Let's start talking about issues," he said.

Each candidate was applauded during the exchange.

The Issues

The candidates also covered questions of taxes, spending, education and all-day kindergarten, moderated by retired veteran journalist and former Connecticut Post Editor James Smith. It was sponsored by the Trumbull Taxpayers Association.

Thornton's theme was delivering services for less, while Herbst defended his record of handling issues such as the magnet school, sewer defects, bonding and road paving. He said under his administration, taxes increases were lower, the town saved money, the town pension was better funded and the tax rate was stable.

Here are some of their specific answers.

  • Senior Tax Relief:
    • Thornton said seniors told her they couldn't afford their medications and taxes. She helped increase real estate tax relief to the state's allowable limit. She also tried to create a sliding scale program that was not enacted.
    • Herbst said average annual tax increases before he came in were six percent, or about $500 a year. He said that was a major factor in his election.
  • Significant Accomplishments: 
    • Herbst cited 1.9 percent tax increases two years in a row, while maintaining town services and funding education. He said he turned a $3 million budget deficit into a $1.6 million surplus in his first year in office.
    • Thornton said the last tax increase before Herbst was 0.88 percent. She added that Herbst's budgets don't reflect bonded costs.
  • Full-Day Kindergarten:
    • Thornton said all-day kindergarten actually costs about $795,000. "We couldn't bring back freshman sports [without asking for more money]. We could not put para-professionals in computer labs." She asked if there was enough space and if schools would be reconfigured as a result.
    • Herbst said the superintendent's report on all-day kindergarten put the final cost at $296,000, less than one percent of the district's total budget. "I would rather spend $296,000 on full-day kindergarten than $7 million on a [Trumbull High School] swimming pool," he said. (Thornton has said a pool would have cost $3 to $5 million.)
  • On Herbst's Budget Cuts in His First Term:
    • Herbst said he found $1 million in savings through cutting free health care for 39 employees, consolidating positions, reining in town cell phone and credit card costs and reducing the town's debt service costs. He said he took a paycut and froze his staff's salaries. "That set an example in a difficult time.
    • Thornton said Herbst reduced his office costs by 22 percent by opting out of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. She added that the town never went out to bid on the swimming pool so it doesn't count as cost savings.
  • Bonding:
    • Thornton said road paving should not be bonded. "It adds up," she said.
    • Herbst asked why Thornton voted to bond road and tennis court resurfacing and school computers with useful lives of less than 20 years. Bonding increased 92 percent in the last six years, he said.
  • "Contentious" Budget Process:
    • Herbst said budget processes have been contentious all over. It's "an ability to pay crisis," he said, noting that seniors haven't had Social Security increases in two years and the Board of Education asked for a 5.38 percent increase (it was granted a 2.75 percent increase).
    • Thornton asked where the republican leadership was during this time, citing the deadlock of the Board of Finance, the resignation of Chairman Mark Smith and the election of a republican apointee as his replacement. The Town Council also voted to take school board money that it later returned. "I've never seen such a contentious budget season in this town," she said.
  • Sewers:
    • Thornton said she would not and cannot re-open sewer assessments in the Jog Hill Road sewer project. She added that Tighe & Bond, which is overseeing the ongoing north Nichols sewer project, is costing $1.8 million so far, more expensive than hiring new town engineers who could familiarize themselves with the system.
    • Herbst said past projects approved before 2009 had insufficient oversight and that Tighe & Bond has found $1 million in savings. He also cited $2.6 million in cost overruns on past projects "from poorly constructed bids."
  • Tax Increases:
    • Thornton asked Herbst why he raised taxes if he felt past tax increases were too high. In her rebuttal, she said past tax increases resulted from building new schools and adding 800 students to the district. "Our town grew. Trumbull is not the same size it was 10 years ago," she said.
    • Herbst said he had to cover the costs raised during past administrations, such as increased contributions to the pension fund and debt service. He said it was "better than proposing an 11.6 percent property tax increase," referring to one of former First Selectman Ray Baldwin Jr.'s tax proposals.
  • The Magnet School:
    • She said Trumbull lost control of the magnet school in Fairchild Memorial Park and would try to negotiate more seats for Trumbull and mend fences with Bridgeport. The state shifted boundaries to put the school in Bridgeport rather than Trumbull. She wanted to show "we do value this school." Trumbull is now left with negotiating for 20 acres of deed restricted land, she said.
    • Herbst asked why no one else is being criticized, such as state Sen. Anthony Musto, and reps. T.R. Rowe and Tony Hwang, as well the governor and the other representatives and senators who approved the deal. He added that although Trumbull would have been entitled to fees from Bridgeport, which could not have lived up to its financial obligations.
  • Charter Revision:
    • Herbst said Charter revisions will empower the voters and that the $15 million threshold for referendums on capital projects is important. It should have been used when the renovation project was approved, he said. Voters should also be able to elect all seven members of the school board, he added.
    • Thornton said Herbst asked to reopen the charter to make five changes and 150 were made. The Charter Revision Commission favored republicans with a 4-2 makeup, she added. She noted she favors the capital bonding referendum threshold. The revisions are on the Nov. 8 election ballot.
  • How Should the First Selectman and Schools Chief Relate?
    • Thornton said both should be "hand-in-hand, working toward the same goal." She added, "If you become contentious, things will fall apart. The superintendent and the first selectman should work together." She added that she would hire an outside party to show the district how to reduce its costs.
    • Herbst said the superintendent needs to provide "the best possible education for children" while the first selectman has to balance the school district's priorities with town concerns. The district should also pursue non-education-related cost efficiencies with the town. The Board of Education should not be considered separate from the town because both are funded by taxpayers, Herbst added.

The candidates will meet again for a televised debate on Channel 17 on Nov. 1, moderated by Trumbull Patch and the Trumbull Times.

Archie Bunker October 29, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Mary Beth is nothing more than a political dingbat that plays out the script that is handed to her, while those behind her pump out an entirely different message. I hope she is as sweet and gracious when she loses in November.
Jim Flynn October 29, 2011 at 01:03 AM
Is it really necessary to out posters who you disagree with. Young man, your post is childish.
Jim Flynn October 29, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Very cute use of an expression nobody under age 65 can possibly understand. Funny how you are proud to take the monitor of a racist whose hero was Richard Nixon. Not surprising though when one reads the drivel that you have been continually posting in Patch.
Aaron Leo (Editor) October 29, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Please be civil in your comments. Thank you.
Patty Sheehan October 29, 2011 at 02:04 AM
Kind of surprised to see Mr.Rowe and Mr.Hwang tossed under the bus with regard to the Magnet school.
J Strouse October 29, 2011 at 02:26 AM
And what exactly is that mentality, Joan? Let's talk about Thornton's first negative mailing (I didn't receive the second one; maybe she listened and actually took me off the mailing list). In there, she claimed in big bold letters that Herbst tried to extend his "own" term. That is false. And I've been asking the Democrats, over and over again, to either proove that this is right or demand an apology. What do you think we heard in response? That's right: silence. I guess the Thornton team thinks that fact is the same as fiction, but Trumbull voters know better. Remember, my dear friends, never judge a book by its cover.
Patty Sheehan October 29, 2011 at 02:32 AM
Actually J.Strouse, I believe that one of the Charter changes the FS had recommended was a switch to a 4 year term for FS. I don't believe it was approved/accepted (? appropriate word) by the review commission.
Joan October 29, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Yes, they got burned doing that the last time. I know that Trumbull voters are too smart to let that happen again. Fool me once, shame on you....and all that stuff.
J Strouse October 29, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Actually Patty, do you recall when that proposed change would have taken effect? Look it up, and you'll see very quickly why Thornton's claim was a total lie. A little fib here; a little fib there. You and Joan see a rosy cover to a book filled with promises. I see a lot of blank pages.
Richard W. White October 29, 2011 at 03:22 AM
Are you saying the 2/11 draft of the proposed charters specifies when the change would have taken effect? Are you saying Mr. Herbst's requests to the TC and CRC that his term (the term of First Selectman) specified when the change would have taken effect? 49.4 acres here, 49.4 acres there, I see a smaller Trumbull.
Carol Hudak October 29, 2011 at 04:16 AM
Negative campaigning? Ha!! The truth hurts doesn't it. What else could be said of a 'leader' (hired by some taxpayers, not this one) who shrinks the town?! Gives it away! Makes a swap a non-swap; only an opportunity to buy oil soaked land. This is the truth! And frankly, I am tired of his b.s.!
Tony Silber October 29, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Tim Herbst thinks discussing a politician's record is an attack on a politicians character. If that's the case, then he's way too think-skinned for the game of politics. I remember in 2009 when he said he learned to take a hit pretty well playing high school football. How untrue that's turned out to be. That said, if your record is filled with distortions and mischaracterizations that are designed to deliberately mislead the electorate, then yes, perhaps you'd feel that descriptions of your record were related to character. Tim Herbst has mislead the public: * On the cost of the full-day kindergarten program. * On the so-called $3 million revenue shortfall. * On the phony $1 million in operational savings. * On the scope of the charter revisions. * On the subject of bullying. I'll say it again: The rules for behavior are different when you're the elected official. It's not okay to make threatening calls and letters to citizen-activists. It's not okay to make dark references to retaliation. It's not okay to try to stifle conversation, even when the conversation is heated and directed against you. If Tim acts like Richard Nixon when it comes to this stuff, and not Ronald Reagan, who could neutralize critics with lighthearted and civilized responses, he will not succeed in politics.
Amy Palmer October 29, 2011 at 04:59 PM
I think that goes for everybody, elected official or not but especially as an elected offical ~ it is simply not okay to make threatening calls and letters to citizen-activists, and It's not okay to make dark references to retaliation. Period.
Mark E Smith October 29, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Yes all those people under the Baldwin administration who USED to get Free Health Insurance (okay for a $1) that went on for years and years stopped by Tim Herbst. Yes, the FS and other top officials like the former Treasurer and Town Clerk all got $1 health insurance. It cost the town $19,000 a person for health insurance. What was that? Why did it happen on the Democrats watch? Stopped by Tim Herbst. I guess you missed that one Mr. Silber. Maybe that is why Mr. Deeken beat you by the largest margin of any race last election. Mr. Herbst remembered that there is a bad recession and pushed to NOT put a new Pool in like Ms. Thronton fought for. Herbst understands that 10% of our working taxpayers are out of work. He also know that the Bill for the like new THS is coming due. Ms. Thornton says she will keep taxes low, but she doesn't state how she is going to do that in this economy and $1.5 million in bills due for THS. You forgot that one too....Or, are the "Consultants" that will cost tens of thousands of dollars going to answer that for us.
Patty Sheehan October 29, 2011 at 06:53 PM
How much do the attorneys cost, Mr.Smith? You know, the ones who give their legal opinion on everything. Health care....did you forget to mention that those that lost their "free" health care, such as the school nurses, got a pay raise when they lost their "free" health care? So, either pay for "free" health care or pay them more money. Honestly, sir, we've all been reading the newspaper too.
Kathleen McGannon October 29, 2011 at 08:43 PM
Almost all of those receiving "free" health care were our school nurses. It was part of their employment package.(And it was part of the employment package for those employees who did not have a union to represent them. These were the salary-increase lines always cut in the budget because we could.) Since the nurses did not belong to a bargaining unit and were not eligible for "step" increases, their salaries fell further and further behind. I can recall the department head begging the BOF to increase their pay before she lost her nurses to better paying jobs. Part of the BOF's adjustment was to create some steps to allow those who had worked for many years to be paid more than those just hired. And the other part was a minimal contribution to their health care. And is was NOT a big, dark secret! The late Mr. Crooks and I worked closely with the head of the nursing department to create a package that was acceptable. What bothers me is that Tim issued a huge press release declaring the "dark, dirty secret" --and it was not--of health care. But he failed to issue a press release about the raise he gave these same nurses so that they would make enough money to cover the co-pay he insisted they pay! So to include this number in his "found savings" is improper.
Tony Silber October 30, 2011 at 03:02 AM
I wasn't counting, Mr. Smith, but I guess you were. I thank you for your service to the town--as erratic, mercurial, and ineffective as it was.
jimrockford October 30, 2011 at 03:44 AM
I have a high opinion of someone like Herbst who put an end to crooked nonsense in town like the free healthcare. Take a look some of these posts from the Dems....truly sad. TH is a pretty impressive young guy. I would be proud if my child stood up to nonsense like Tim has. It takes guts. For his efforts he has some older adults going after him. Very sad to see that.
Tom Kelly October 30, 2011 at 10:17 AM
You call giving health insurance without a contribution to school nurses "crooked?" C'mon Jim. If it was crooked, why did Mr. Herbst give them all a $1 hour an hour raise that covered the cost of the contributions they were going to make? Because he knew that their salaries were lower than the prevailing rate, and the health insurance incentive kept them in place. Look at the list of those who were getting health insurance without a contribution, and you'll quickly stop calling it "crooked." And now, instead of health insurance without a contribution, we have a entire group of nurses who had their pay permanently increased, and that increase will also be reflected in higher pension payments for their entire retirement. There is another side of the story, but Mr. Herbst doesn't tell it.
J Strouse October 30, 2011 at 02:38 PM
So who were the others who received free healthcare. Kathleen noted almost all were nurses, but not all. Thanks.
Tom Kelly October 30, 2011 at 03:10 PM
If people want to look at this and discuss it rationally, they have to stop saying things like it was "crooked." That's so sanctimonious and there was nothing "crooked" about it. That's the way it was when Republicans were in those offices as well. There is nothing "crooked" about it. Mr. Herbst now makes those positions pay 11% of the cost of the premium. And he gave the nurses a $1 per hour raise to offset it. Is the $1 per hour crooked, too?
jimrockford October 30, 2011 at 04:34 PM
From Mr. Smith's post above- "Yes all those people under the Baldwin administration who USED to get Free Health Insurance (okay for a $1) that went on for years and years stopped by Tim Herbst. Yes, the FS and other top officials like the former Treasurer and Town Clerk all got $1 health insurance. It cost the town $19,000 a person for health insurance. What was that? Why did it happen on the Democrats watch? Stopped by Tim Herbst." I heard the part time town Treasurer, four part time town attorneys, town clerk, part time registers of voters, FS, others too......someone must have a list. Anyone in the private sector, PT employees of private firms or self employed struggling to make HC premiums knows this was wrong and 'crooked'. Especially egregious was that the premiums for PT employees was made with taxpayer funds.
Kathleen McGannon October 30, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Most of the employees in town hall are represented by a union. Those salaries cannot be touched at budget time, as they have been negotiated and are part of a contract. That leaves the unaffiliated employees--the FS, the elected Treasurer, Town Clerk, Registrars, and I believe the assistant Finance Director and the Finance Director. These are the very people whose salaries are/were frequently reduced at budget time because we were allowed to reduce them. The nurses also. As part of their employment package, health care was offered. It was supposed to compensate for the lack of steps, guaranteed negotiated raises, union benefits, etc.It most certainly was not a secret. AND IT WAS NOT A DEMOCRATIC INITIATIVE. Ken Halaby, Elaine Hammers as Finance Director, the treasurer under Ken, Sue Burr Monaco as Town Clerk, and the Registrars all were offered the same health benefit. Did it need to be changed? As health costs have escalated, I agree it needed to be changed. But if salaries were increased as they were for the nurses, then the benefit is negated. Mr. Smith would like you to believe that this health benefit was put in place duirng the Baldwin administration. He is dead wrong. The Republicans before Ray also had the same benefit.
Tim Ryan November 01, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Thanks to Aaron Leo for a very good summary of the debate. Worth noting is that the crowd of 130+ was very respectful, many politely applauding both candidates' responses. I think the forum was long enough so both candidates could get their message out, and if weren't able to attend, I hope you catch it on the Education Channel.
Thomas Tesoro November 01, 2011 at 07:06 PM
While it seems more like a full time job, let me once again help mr. Smith understand the facts. "Free health care" is yet another straw man put up by those who are uninformed or, worse, using something for politics rather than understanding. In the case of those who received "free heath care", to understand the issue one has to look at the compensation package for the positions. The questions to ask were, do the people receiving it, when looked at from a total comp standpoint, receive more or less than those in similar positions elsewhere. If they do than Free health care is inappropriate. If not, then Free health care as part of an overall comp package could very well be cheaper for the taxpayer. Case in point, the nurses. The vast majority of those who received free health care were nurses. As anyone who paid attention to the BOF hearings overs the years would know, the nurses salaries were below those paid in other communities.However, the "free heath care" afforded these nurses reduced the gap and in fact, helped us recruit quality nurses to our community. Now, when the administration saw an opportunity to score some cheap political points, they had a problem. The problem was the nurses because even the most denser of republicans could see what I said was true. So, how did they handle it? Interestly, they chose to have the nurses make contributions to ther health care ( I believe it was 11% of the premium) BUT more to come......
Thomas Tesoro November 01, 2011 at 07:16 PM
the nurses were given raises in their base pay to offset this increase in contributions. So, while the nurses pay a little bit for heath care each year, the raises they received to offset the cost will now be compounded each and every year by any increases they receive. So, you the taxpayer, over time, will pay more than had "free heath care remained in place. Interesting is is not when you have the facts. One other example, the Town Attorneys. They too I believe received free heath care as part of their comp program. Mr. Herbst, as is his right, changed the way we use Town Attorneys. I have no quarrel with that. However, in setting the fee structure for the new attorneys, the administration used the salaries for the four attorneys, the benefits for the four attorneys and the pension costs for the four attorneys to justify the dollar fighre. For the taxpayer, there was no real savings. So, when the "free health care" canard is thrown about, you have some real facts. The savings to the taxpayers when all is said and done is very small, if at all. Those are the facts. One final fact, Ms. Thornton and a bipartisan group of sensible Council members wanted a real bid on a new pool to compare with the cost of renovating Hillcrest Pool. The Republican majority killed it. So, no one on here, not me, not Mr. Smith or anyone else can tell the taxpayers the comparative cost of new versus renovation. That means we will blindly go forth and renovate the old. Sad...
Thomas Tesoro November 01, 2011 at 07:19 PM
See my post above that (in two parts) deconstructs the false notion of free health care as a burden on the taxpayers. The only way to understand the issue is to understand the underlying reasons for its existence. When you hear the word "crooked" bandied about, please understand that that is both vile and wrong.
1WayElephant November 08, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I was at this deabte and it was a homerun for Herbst. Now that election day is here and he's won we won't have to worry about any cyber bullies because the real bully is back in town!
Mark E Smith November 09, 2011 at 04:53 AM
Congratulations to Tim Herbst and the Republican team for running a positive campaign and winning on the issues that he people in town really care about. It is nice to know that again the power of the electorate makes its own decision and doesn't listen to rhetoric and mean-spirited commentary that comes from the Vocal Minority. It's also nice to know that the Republican stayed the coarse over the past two years, voted their conscience based on what the voters wanted. They have been rewarded with another two years. To my friends who were elected tonight, please remember this night each time you vote on your Board, Council or Commission for its the voters not the Vocal Minority who count and who remember. Congratulations and Good luck.
vincent November 09, 2011 at 06:10 AM
Kathleen McGannon and Tom Tesoro, I have the upmost respect for. Although they may not believe it or know it.We may have completely different beliefs, you folks are good people. As for the Hudaks, kellys, freedmans and flynns of the world.... theres no place in politics for you.

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