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Hired consultant steps away from Waterford's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts

Waterford — Three months after holding its first meeting, the town's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee is at risk of falling apart.

Elizabeth McGee, the founder of Leap Consulting who was hired by the town to facilitate the development of the committee, now wants out.

In a statement shared via email to the members of the DEI committee Sept. 4, McGee said she was no longer associated with the group as she had not received confirmation from First Selectman Rob Brule and his executive assistant, Cindy Dupointe, about her continued work with the town.

"The last communication I received from them was over a month ago and at that time I was told to stop my work with the group until further notice. I only received piecemeal communication thereafter. So given their lack of communication (and some potential clashing over values), I am choosing to end my relationship with Waterford," she said.

McGee added that if the group is to be disbanded that it be communicated with members. She described feeling "powerless" in the situation.

McGee declined further comment to The Day.

Selectwoman Beth Sabilia addressed McGee's email in a Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. Brule and Selectwoman Jody Nazarchyk said they had not seen it.

Sabilia and Nazarchyk said they had attended meetings and described them as lacking focus.

According to Brule, the town recieved a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation. Town Attorney Robert Aveena said he would look over the town's contract with McGee and see what funds they had left from the grant.

Brule said he did not get as involved with the meetings to not make it about him, and added it might have been a mistake to not have allowed such a committee to form organically.

"As a leader, I take full responsibility," said Brule. "It just didn't work out."

Brule instead said he was going to focus on what he could control moving forward as chief executive officer such as working on the professional development and training of town staff. He added that residents could continue to approach him directly with any issues.

Last April, an email sent on behalf of McGee to community members interested in joining the DEI workgroup stated the initiative was "looking for a dedicated and diverse group of individuals to elevate (and work to address) the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion topics they feel are critical to ensuring that all individuals, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, education, or physical/cognitive capabilities, thrive within the Waterford community."

The email also said the efforts were at the time being sponsored by "the town of Waterford's Department of Youth and Family Services and the First Selectman's office."

Attending the meetings when she could, Cathy Barnard said until last month or so, the committee was meeting with McGee every other week via Zoom.

Barnard said she got involved as a concern citizen because apart from issues raised out of the Black Lives Matter movement, she has gay family members and as a woman in the workplace she seeks equality.

She added the meetings were laying the foundations but McGee and the members were hoping for more guidance from town officials. They didn't know whether the meetings were considered official town meetings and needed to be recorded with agendas. They didn't know who to report to or whether they had a budget.

Barnard said half a dozen of them were planning to continue the work.

"We would like for it to be backed by town hall. If they have more pressing issues to take care of, it's fine," she said. "We're determined to make a go at it."

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