By JESSICA BRANDAU | Wilton
The following letter was handed out at the Village of Wilton board meeting on Monday night. Upon reading it, I noticed that large portions of the “factual information” were skewed and/or missing altogether. I have filled in the gaps of information as appropriate (editor’s note: Brandau’s additions appear in bold). I hope this provides some insight to the Village of Wilton residents, and I encourage them to take into account the lack of ethics that have been displayed before heading to their local polls in the future.
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The following statement by the Village Board of Wilton to provide the community with factual information as it relates to the pool closure and swim lesson cancellation:
On Tuesday, July 19, 2022, two Village employees saw and read a letter at the pool house that was left out in public view. This letter was signed by five lifeguards and stated they would “ALL LEAVE” if the board did not change their minds on the restrictions placed on another employee (and start listening to the safety concerns of the lifeguards and pool patrons who had witnessed neglectful behavior of the pool manager while on duty).
The employees who had seen the letter on the table informed Village President Timothy Welch and Village Clerk Leigha Barton of what it said. (The board stated at the 8/15/22 meeting that these employees had also taken photos of the letter at this time and given these photos to the president and clerk.)
The President and Clerk then went to the pool house and asked if there was in fact a letter and who had signed it. (The guards have stated that the president and clerk did not “ask”; rather, they intimidated and demanded the letter be removed from the backpack of the guard that was on duty and handed over. The clerk stated that she needed to know who she needed to replace.) This information was needed for scheduling purposes. It was admitted that there was a letter and the two lifeguards on duty handed it to the President and Clerk (the clerk then read the letter in front of the guards, stated that it was “childish,” rolled her eyes, and left the pool area) and it was then forwarded to all board members.
After reviewing the letter, the Board assumed the lifeguards were quitting which they are free to do as “at will” employees, as the Board had no intentions of meeting their demands. (Jamie Evans was the only board member that replied to my text messages with this comment. Many of the others said that my texts, sent July 19, 2022, at 7:15 p.m., were the first they had heard of the situation, and they had been given a different version of the story, and that the lifeguards should continue to work as scheduled since no one had been let go or quit.) The Village Clerk Leigha Barton then messaged all guards who signed the letter asking them to return their keys to the Village office.
(At the end of the 7/19 shift, the clerk and president went to the pool and demanded that the keys be handed over from the two guards who were on duty. It was stated by the president that “he would not be blackmailed by the lifeguards.”)
On Wednesday, July 20, 2022, the Village President noticed a guard working at the pool who was assumed to have quit since she had already turned in her key (had her key taken from her). At this point he referred to the Monroe County Sheriff to inform them of the situation, seeking advice on how to proceed and making them aware he was going down to talk to the guard. (Other lifeguards witnessed the president corner the guard by her car, firmly put his hands on her, and tell her he needed it to be clear that she was suspended and not allowed to return to work.)
The Sheriff’s department was called down to the pool due to the high emotions involved and to help prevent any altercations from ensuing. (Having personally witnessed this, I can assure you that the only person acting erratically at this point was the village president. The girls had asked why they were being suspended for speaking up when they saw something wrong. The president had refused to answer the question, stating it was “an internal employee matter,” and he could not address it in front of the pool patrons who were leaving the pool area. The girls asked if he would answer their questions after the patrons had left and were again told no. The girls stated that nothing about the situation seemed fair or like it was being handled well. The response from the president was to have two police officers dispatched.)
It was at this point, due to the confusion on their employment, the village president suspended the employees who had signed the letter until the board could meet.
On Friday, July 22, 2022, the Board met with the lifeguards and their parents. In the meeting the guards claimed the clerk, Leigha Barton, had fired them and that she did not have the authority to do so. The lifeguards at this point were informed it was assumed they quit and that if that was not their intention they needed to state otherwise. (The meeting circled around questions regarding the mishandling of the situation and questions as to why safety concerns at the pool hadn’t seemed to have been taken seriously. The board largely disagreed with the lifeguards, and most of the meeting was spent talking in circles. However, by the end of the meeting, the president and most of the board members stated that they agreed that it hadn’t been handled appropriately. Tim Welch apologized to the girls who he had been in direct contact with. The guards requested to take a couple of days to decide what they wanted to do, and the board approved, agreeing to meet with the guards on Sunday afternoon.)
(At the Sunday meeting, two of the guards stated that they would be willing to continue working full time, and three of them stated that they would be willing to finish the swimming lesson season, but were uncomfortable being there when no adults were present given the recent behavior of the president and clerk.)
Since that time, multiple opportunities (one opportunity — Wilton Fest weekend) have been given to these employees to return to work.
It was offered to them with the same increase in pay as the others for Wilton Fest weekend and all declined. (On Aug. 4, they were asked, “Do any of you want to work this weekend?” and they respectfully declined, given the circumstances. Pay was never discussed.)
The motion made at the Board meeting regarding the pool closure was it would close “unless anything else arises/changes” meaning, if we can find certified lifeguards to staff the pool, we will open as we can.
The Village Board of Wilton is an elected body tasked with the governance of various municipal matters, including the pool. Actions are taken based upon what is believed to be necessary and in the overall best interests of the Village and its taxpayers. The circumstances that occurred that led to the closing of the pool and cancellation of swim lessons were unfortunate. However, rest assured reasonable efforts (with the exception of thinking and behaving logically and rationally) were made to try to keep the pool open and lessons continuing.
Our Village has unfortunately experienced a lot of divisiveness over the last several years. We are blessed with passionate individuals with varying personalities and opinions. All must be respected, but all must be respectful (this includes the board not talking to citizens that attend the board meetings in a demeaning manner or talking over them entirely). The Village board is committed to doing its best moving forward in serving the needs of the community. We further ask for your patience as we continue to navigate through changes in leadership and staff.
Jamie Evans, Village of Wilton President