Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said he has reached out to the Shelton High School student who he had asked to wrap up a presentation during Tuesday night’s aldermanic budget hearing.
“It’s all resolved,” Anglace said on Thursday. “I’ve talked to him. My concern is the boy. I have grandchildren of my own.”
Some audience members felt Anglace had been unfair to Zak Shilleh, who was one of three SHS students to speak at the meeting. They, like most speakers, spoke in favor of providing more money to the Board of Education (BOE).
Zak was talking about the positive impact that Shelton special education teachers had on his education when he was younger.
His academic success enabled him to stop having to take special education classes, he told the aldermen. “If these cuts do go through, how would other kids like me be able to succeed?” Zak said.
After Zak had spoken for awhile, Anglace asked him to focus his comments on the budget. He told Zak he could come to a regular aldermanic meeting at a later date to discuss his general school experiences.
‘I applaud the kid’
On Thursday, Anglace said he thinks most of the criticism being directed at him from the incident is coming from adults who are upset about the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2015-16. “That’s what drove it, not the young man,” Anglace said.
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UPDATE — Anglace issues formal apology to student; click below:
He said the audience was made up of people who favor increased education spending, including BOE employees, and that is a factor in why he is being criticized.
Anglace said he admires people who attend a budget hearing and share their views, including students. “I applaud the kid — I really do,” he said.
Possible bathroom break
Earlier at the budget hearing, Anglace had asked the audience how many more people planned to speak, saying he needed to take a bathroom break if there was going to be a lot more speakers.
Two or three people indicated they still wanted to talk, so the meeting continued without a break, but more people later came forward to offer their views.
Zak was the last speaker. The meeting lasted about 90 minutes, and 18 people spoke during that time period.
“I didn’t cut anyone off until then,” Anglace said. “I had to go to the bathroom.”
The evening’s second speaker had been Adnan Shilleh, a Shelton High junior who is Zak’s twin bother.
Upset audience members
Some audience members were upset at Anglace’s actions.
At the end of the meeting, Lisbeth Olsen Condo walked up to the microphone and told Anglace that Zak was poorly treated by being told to stop while discussing his life experiences.
Diane Turco, in a letter to the Shelton Herald, agreed. “[Board President] Anglace needs to publicly, and very loudly, apologize to this young man that he embarrassed and humiliated in a public forum,” Turco wrote.
Mary Jane Paris, in another letter to the Herald, echoed that sentiment. “It took a lot of courage for this high school student to come to the podium and he deserves a visible public apology from Mr. Anglace,” Paris wrote.
“Mr. Anglace displayed was a textbook example of how leaders should not behave,” Paris added.
Anglace, a Republican, represents the Third Ward. He has served as an aldermen since the early 1990s.
Time given to speakers
Some of those upset with Anglace compared the amount of time given to Zak Shilleh at the hearing to that given to Ron Pavluvcik, who was the eighth speaker.
Pavluvcik, the only person to speak against increasing the BOE budget, spoke for an extended period — as did some BOE proponents, such as BOE Chairman Mark Holden and School Supt. Freeman Burr.
During his remarks, Pavluvcik criticized the school system for its results and also praised economic development progress in Shelton under Mayor Mark Lauretti. He pointed to the new Chipotle Mexican Grill being built on Bridgeport Avenue as a symbol of that success.
“He spoke for at least 20 minutes,” Diane Turco wrote of Pavluvcik in her letter. “While he had some data to support his argument, he would occasionally go off on a tangent. At one point, we learned that Chipotle is his favorite restaurant, and that McDonald’s regrets selling them off 10 years ago.”
“If we had to listen to the older gentleman educate us on all things Chipotle, then this young man deserved his moment in the spotlight to tell us about his struggles in school,” Turco wrote.
Anglace said he has tried to be even-handed in how he treats speakers who drift off the subject at hand. Last year, Anglace said, he had told Pavluvcik at a similar hearing to keep his comments focused on the budget and not the performance of the BOE.
“He was chastised last year,” Anglace said of Pavluvcik.
Lauretti weighs in
Lauretti said he doesn’t think Zak Shilleh was treated differently than most speakers at Shelton public meetings in recent decades.
“Something wasn’t said to [Zak] that hasn’t been said to others in the last 20 years — to try to get someone focused,” he said. “This happens at public meetings.”
Lauretti said he has watched portions of a video recording of the budget hearing. He, like Anglace, is a Republican. The two are close political allies.
The mayor said when someone speaks at a public hearing, including a high school student, they should understand this may bring attention. Lauretti said this is part of the real-world, “mainstream” environment, which involves “the good, bad and indifferent.”
Lauretti, like Anglace, said much of the criticism of Anglace is being driven by adults who want more money spent on education.