‘Cancel Culture’ is Coming to the Bridgeport School Board


President Harry Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Bridgeport School Board President John Weldon has rewritten that adage.

By removing board member Joe Sokolovic from all committee assignments, based on what Weldon called “very unprofessional emails,” Weldon appears to believe that “if you turn up the heat, I’ll throw you out of the kitchen”.

Connecticut Post reporter Richard Chumney in a front-page story exposes the latest “storm in a teapot” surrounding Bridgeport Board of Education meetings. It seems that the public square of Bridgeport has become a reign of incivility, disrespect and abuse of power. This combination is not only deadly for those engaged in the struggle, but for those of us who witness these acts of disorder and chaos.

According to Chumney’s report, Sokolovic sent a series of emails, in all caps, scolding and berating the president. These emails were not a model of tact, propriety or civility. In fact, they seem sarcastic, mean, angry and condescending with contempt. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sokolovic’s tone and tenor were calculated to at least irritate Weldon and announce to the rest of the board, “Look how smart I am.”

No one can fault Weldon for being annoyed and offended by Sokolovic’s thinly veiled personal attack, based on an admitted disregard for the letter of the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently, Weldon is fed up with Sokolovic’s arrogance and defiance. He does not take lightly being reminded that public agency meetings must abide by freedom of information laws, especially from someone who is determined to let him know, as well as ‘to all others, that he is fully aware of the law.

Where Weldon can be blamed, however, is for compounding the acrimony in his response, allowing Sokolovic, the original aggressor, to play the victim.

And all that because of emails? How banal.

Weldon seems to fear what he cannot control or manipulate. Instead of issuing a measured response or attempting to open a dialogue among board members, Weldon opted to employ the cancel culture approach and unilaterally removed Sokolovic from all assignments at the committee.

“It’s something I have the discretion to do as president, and something I’ve done in the past when I felt the circumstances warranted it,” he said.

Oh good?

Recourse to the authority inherent in the role of President provides a classic and clear example of a violation of the test for abuse of discretion. This signals the need for the president to use the power of office, instead of the powers of persuasion and reason to manage conflicts and disputes among council members.

French philosopher Voltaire is credited with saying, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it with my life.”

Unfortunately, here in Bridgeport, the guiding principle is “if I don’t like what you say, I’ll shut you up”.

Because this is Bridgeport, Weldon is not alone in his disdain for open and robust debate, or his unwillingness to tolerate hateful ideas and dissent.

The new cult of cancel culture has also found willing followers in Bridgeport City Council, as well as the mayor’s office. Let’s not forget that Mayor Ganim has a media policy that prohibits officials and employees from speaking to the press without first obtaining clearance from his media consultants.

Weldon’s reaction to Sokolovic’s barrage of emails is consistent with an evolving cancel culture, with safe spaces, fragile sensibilities and a willingness to dismiss as ‘hate speech’ any ideas that offend orthodoxy. awake. This cancel culture has spread from college campuses and has unfortunately found a receptive host in the Bridgeport Board of Education. Perhaps canceling culture, as applied to board members, is someone’s idea of ​​college prep.

I remind those who believe that Sokolovic got what he deserved that nullification of culture may be invoked in the future, in a manner entirely consistent with that precedent, which is perhaps not not so appealing to Sokolovic’s critics.

Democracy can only thrive when citizens and elected officials are free to speak and act without fear of being gagged or overruled. Today’s majority can become tomorrow’s minority.

The test for public officials should be whether all views can be tolerated in a civil manner, without incurring personal retaliation from officials. Moreover, the public square must be imbued with a sense of respect so that a healthy exchange of ideas can take place. Insults, intimidation, and personal attacks are inconsistent with this goal and serve to distract and distract from the real public policy issues that should occupy government.

Unfortunately, in the city of Bridgeport, those given the power to rule by the people have too often failed the test.

A more serious victim of this type of behavior is that it discourages public-minded people from contributing to their community. Who wants to participate in a food fight disguised as a public meeting?

Carmen L. Lopez is a retired Superior Court judge.


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