There is a controversy in Colchester after the town's new first selectman reversed a proclamation enacted in 2020 declaring racism to be a public health crisis.
The reversal was one of the first actions by the town's new leader on his first day in office.
First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos, a Republican, wrote in a new proclamation that the old proclamation insinuated the town was a racist community. Bisbikos said there were no facts or data to backup any assertion to that effect.
NBC Connecticut reached out to Bisbikos for a statement on the change.
"The new proclamation issued yesterday is sufficient in its explanation," Bisbikos wrote in an e-mail to NBC Connecticut.
The original declaration asserted "that racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut."
Bisbikos' decision is getting a mixed response.
"I read it and I was just a little saddened," said Colchester Board of Selectman Member Denise Turner about the change. "My family has been here for over 80 years, I grew up in this town, there are stories I can tell."
Turner, a Democrat, said the goal of the original proclamation was to assert there was no room for racism in Colchester, not to categorize the town as racist.
"I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings and people will hopefully step back and try to understand exactly what is going on," Turner said.
Census data estimates that more than nine out of 10 people in Colchester are white.
The change has created a great deal of conversation in the community.
"This is a small town and even if we did have some discrimination I think we could talk about it and get it worked out," said David Pear.
"I’m a registered republican. What’s right is right. And we need to do what’s right and we need to put politics aside and start listening to each other," Krista Kardys told NBC Connecticut.
Bisbikos said in the latest proclamation that any proclamations "intended to label and divide" will be condemned.
He asserted that racism has no place in town and said his administration will support a number of diversity and inclusion efforts.
The new proclamation issued November 15 reads as:
Removal of the Racism Public Health Crisis issued on July 16th, 2020
WHEREAS, on July 16th, 2020 the First Selectman of Colchester issued a proclamation that unfairly and falsely came to "assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our town" without facts or data to back said assertion;
WHEREAS, through proclamation insinuated that the town of Colchester is a racist community or one where racism has been allowed to cultivate to the point where it is deemed a public health crisis - this without facts or data to back said assertion;
WHEREAS, on July 15th, 2021, the Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusion findings were presented to the Board of Selectmen and concluded that institutionalized racism does not exist in Colchester;
WHEREAS, state data on Colchester hate crimes has shown that there have been zero hate crimes in the last five years or as long as the state has cataloged hate crimes;
WHEREAS, proclamations intended to label and divide will be strongly condemned;
WHEREAS, Colchester has a long history of accepting people of all backgrounds including (but not limited to): race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality;
WHEREAS, the newly elected Bisbikos Administration believes racism has no place in Colchester;
WHEREAS, the newly elected Bisbikos Administration will support diversity and inclusion through (but not limited to): a review of HR policies and practices at town hall, reaching out to diverse communities, ensuring that all our employees go through sensitivity training, and meeting our state goals on affordable housing.
WHEREAS, our community lives by the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr. where we "judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character." This quote is extended to all backgrounds including (but not limited to): race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
NOW, THEREFORE, on behalf of the town of Colchester, Colchester be it resolved, I do commit to:
1) Eliminate the Racism Public Health Crisis Proclamation that was officially issued on July 16th, 2020 by the previous administration;
2) Place this Proclamation, issued on November 15th, 2021, in its place.
Dated this 15th day of November.
Andreas Bisbikos, First Selectman
The text of the original proclamation from July 2020 is below.