Memorial Day weekend with lots of picnic discussion: State Supreme Court orders unsealing of documents relating to sexual abuse cases the Diocese of Bridgeport spent millions to settle, Gov. Jodi Rell says she will veto the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty, local land-use attorney challenges the city’s plan of conservation and development.
Bridgeport’s two state senators Ed Gomes and Anthony Musto voted for death penalty repeal. The legislature does not have the two-thirds votes necessary to override Rell’s expected veto. The diocese had an interesting response, in part, to the Supremes’ decision: blame the media. Yes, those dastardly anti-Catholic snoops from the Hartford Courant, The New York Times, etc. caused this.
I have lots of reading material for you, so in between your baby-back ribs, burgers, beer, gin and tonic or beverage of your choice lots of stuff to review.
Before we get started, the Connecticut Post reports that State Rep. Chris Caruso is in the hospital with a leg infection. Let’s hope the big man recovers soon. Anna would have no one to pick on, except maybe Yahooy. Speedy recovery.
Tim Herbst is an attorney who knows something about land use. He is chairman of Trumbull’s Planning & Zoning Commission. He’s also the Republican candidate for first selectman in Trumbull. Herbst asserts, in a letter delivered to Mayor Bill Finch the other day, that the fact that the Bridgeport City Council did not vote on the city’s plan of conservation and development will open up a can of worms for the city to legal challenges of an inoperative document over zone changes. Herbst sent Finch the memo in the context of potential challenges on behalf of clients.
In his letter Herbst writes:
… The Planning & Zoning Department advised me that the Bridgeport Plan of Conservation and Development went into effect on March 17, 2008. I was also advised this week by Planning & Zoning Department staff that the City was and is of the position that this plan did not need to go before the Bridgeport City Council. Further investigation has determined that this same plan was never formally endorsed or rejected by the Bridgeport City Council. Connecticut General Statutes Section 8-23 provides the procedural edifices to properly adopt a plan of conservation and development.
I sent Herbst’s letter to a couple of OIB friends including City Council members for their take. Here’s what Bob Troll Walsh had to say:
The fact that the city of Bridgeport runs free and loose with the Planning and Zoning Commission? It happens all of the time.
The fact that the city of Bridgeport ignores state laws regarding land use issues? Again the city does this all of the time. I have uncovered it myself when doing research.
The fact that the city attorney’s office is always more supportive of the administration than they are of the law, that is why I was calling for more privatization of their work efforts to create real separation of work and not these legal opinions that are biased and slanted and not worth the paper that they are printed upon.
This is why the City Council had been trying to hire their own legal counsel for years and the city attorney (Mark Anastasi) says he will supply members of his staff and if we don’t like it too bad because his interpretation of the charter says that he is the only person in the city who can hire outside attorneys.
The city’s former Director of Economic Development Nancy Hadley, who served under John Fabrizi and briefly under Finch, reviewed the letter with a different take:
Every single hair on my head hurts after reading Mr. Herbst’s letter on my blackberry. Where was he during the very public two-year plus process that produced Bridgeport’s new Master Plan? I put Mike Nidoh, City Planning Director, and Lynn Haig, Senior Planner in charge of the most comprehensive overhaul of Bridgeport’s land use policies in the City’s history.
Why? Because in 2005, the Urban Land Institute’s report basically said Bridgeport’s land use policies sucked big time and the procedures and processes did not inure confidence to those that needed to invest in Bridgeport’s future. The policies needed to be drastically overhauled and grounded in sound economic analyses so that Bridgeport had a shot at growing its tax base and reducing its burdensome mil rate. Bridgeport also needed new technologies; an enterprise-wide geographic information system, fiscal impact modeling, and automated permit management system in order to provide the development community and Bridgeport residents transparency, accountability, and fairness.
Lynn and Mike had firm and constant legal counsel from the City Attorney’s Office. The process was led by a 15-member Advisory board under the superb leadership of Pat Fardy and Stu Sachs. Two members of the City Council were on that Advisory committee as liaisons to the City Council. All, I repeat, all legal requirements were met. The City Council was afforded the time required by statute to review and comment.
Now, it is true that the continuity to finish the job was broken due to the election of Mayor Finch. I was terminated on superbowl weekend 2008. Pat Fardy and several PZC commissioners are no longer there to finish the job they started. The adoption of the new Zoning map and regs are stuck in the mud in my opinion. The new automated permitting process is stuck in neutral even though hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended. The professional in charge of the GIS system was just transferred out of the Planning Department leaving the accountability of that critical technology as a planning and economic development tool in limbo. I am not sure what happened to the critical fiscal impact modeling. Certain new PZC members appear to be conflicted. Downtown businesses are suffering due to all this limbo and delay. Despite the economy being in the crapper, Bridgeport must finish the overhaul of land use policies and processes to be ready to soar with eagles as the economy recovers.
It is my opinion that the City staff that managed the development of the new Master Plan, Mike Nidoh and Lynn Haig, are the best professionals in the field. The City is honored to have them serve so ably. The Zoning Administrator, Mr. Buckley and LUCR Director, Mr. Minor were invited to attend each and every meeting held to develop the new land use policies. However, they were mired in the day -o-day zoning petitions for both the PZC and ZBA. They were NOT managing the process that produced the new Master Plan, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, Zoning Map and Regs. I am confident that Mr. Herbst did not check with Mike or Lynn before writing his letter. I stand by the process that was implemented. during my tenure and I am positive that Mike and Lynn followed the letter of the law.
I also shared the letter with City Council candidate Andy Fardy aka Town Committee whose wife Pat sat on the zoning board for several years. Andy’s initial review of the letter disagrees with Herbst, but I’ll let Andy share his point of view. See full text of Herbst’s letter to Finch below:
Hon. William Finch, Mayor
City of Bridgeport, City Hall Annex
999 Broad Street
Bridgeport, CT 06604
Re: Bridgeport Plan of Conservation and Development
Dear Mayor Finch:
Over the course of the last several weeks I have begun an inquiry into the process by which Bridgeport’s Plan of Conservation and Development was adopted. I have taken the time to meet with representatives of your Planning & Zoning Department, as well as review legislative action by the Bridgeport City Council. I have also reviewed relevant sections of the Connecticut General Statutes as they relate to the preparation and adoption of a municipal plan of conservation and development. I have come to the conclusion that the Bridgeport Plan of Conservation and Development was not properly adopted by the City of Bridgeport. As the City moves forward with land use decisions based upon this plan, it is imperative that remedial action be taken to cure any procedural deficiencies in the adoption of this plan.
Earlier this week, the Planning & Zoning Department advised me that the Bridgeport Plan of Conservation and Development went into effect on March 17, 2008. I was also advised this week by Planning & Zoning Department staff that the City was and is of the position that this plan did not need to go before the Bridgeport City Council. Further investigation has determined that this same plan was never formally endorsed or rejected by the Bridgeport City Council. Connecticut General Statutes Section 8-23 provides the procedural edifices to properly adopt a plan of conservation and development. The conduct referenced hereinabove demonstrates that the procedural requirements to properly adopt a legal plan of conservation and development were not met. Specifically, I would call your attention to Connecticut General Statutes 8-23 (f)(2), which reads in pertinent part:
“At least sixty-five days prior to the public hearing on adoption, the commission shall submit a copy of such plan or part thereof or amendment thereto for review and comment to the legislative body or, in the case of a municipality for which the legislative body of the municipality is a town meeting or representative town meeting, to the board of selectmen. The legislative body or board of selectmen, as the case may be, may hold one or more public hearings on the plan and shall endorse or reject such entire plan or part thereof or amendment and may submit comments and recommended changes to the commission. The commission may render a decision on the plan without the report of such body or board.” (Emphasis added).
While the Bridgeport Planning & Zoning Commission can render a final decision on the plan without a report from the Bridgeport City Council, the Bridgeport City Council still must either take the formal act of endorsing or rejecting the plan. Use of the word “shall” as referenced hereinabove cannot be interpreted as discretionary language. “Shall” is defined as “[h]as a duty to; more broadly, is required to . . . [t]his is the mandatory sense that drafters typically intend and that courts typically uphold.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition (2004) (Emphasis added).
The fact that legislative action is required by the Bridgeport City Council is further amplified by Connecticut General Statutes 8-23(g)(2), which states that “[a]ny plan, section of a plan or recommendation in the plan that is not endorsed in the report of the legislative body or, in the case of a municipality for which the legislative body is a town meeting or representative town meeting, by the board of selectmen, of the municipality may only be adopted by the commission by a vote of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the commission.” I enclose the relevant sections of the Connecticut General Statutes for your review.
Clearly, the intent of the statute demonstrates a desire to seek legislative review and approval of a plan of conservation and development by the legislative body of the municipality. The statute would have never been written to require a two-thirds vote of the Planning & Zoning Commission to override a recommendation of the City Council if action by the City Council was deemed to be discretionary, rather than mandatory.
By way of personal perspective, I went through this process three years ago as the Chairman of the Trumbull Planning & Zoning Commission. I was advised by Trumbull’s Town Attorneys that we were required to bring the proposed Trumbull Plan of Conservation and Development before the Trumbull Town Council. We did so. The plan was rejected by the Trumbull Town Council. The Planning & Zoning Commission then overturned the Town Council’s recommendations by a vote of 5-0. It is imperative that every procedural requirement be met to properly adopt a plan of conservation and development.
I bring this to your attention out of concern as to how this could affect the long term land use plan for the City of Bridgeport. Hypothetically speaking, let us assume that an applicant petitions the Bridgeport Planning & Zoning Commission for a change of zone in a particular area of the City. The applicant uses as their justification the 2008 Plan of Conservation and Development which calls for a particular new zoning classification for a certain area of the City. An individual opposed to the zone change could raise the argument that the plan was improperly or illegally adopted. Irrespective of how the commission rules, it could result in a legal challenge to the agency’s decision.
In the interests of public policy that is adopted in accordance with the Connecticut General Statutes and in the interests of the City’s long term land use plan not being compromised by procedural deficiencies, the undersigned respectfully requests that this issue be addressed immediately by your office. Should you wish to discuss the foregoing, I may be reached at the number above.
Very truly yours,
Timothy M. Herbst
Max Fires Back
See, told ya you’d have lots of reading material. And more to come. Board of Education President Max Medina fired a literary bullet at Finch on Friday, following a letter from the mayor poking the BOE and Max for not coughing up enough dough to close the city’s budget deficit.
This is what you call an old-fashioned neighborly battle. Max lives around the corner from the mayor. See full text of Medina’s letter below:
Dear Mayor Finch:
I acknowledge receipt of your correspondence dated May 20, 2009 which is replete with inaccuracies and misstatements.
First, let’s begin with the facts. The children of the Bridgeport Public School System are not bankers for the City of Bridgeport. This is not Washington where the City can seek to overcome its failings by asking for a bailout from the children.
Second, at no point has the Board of Education, its Finance Committee or myself agreed to set aside $7,000,000.00 to bail out the City of Bridgeport. In fact, you have been repeatedly (and publicly) told that such figure was (a) unreasonable and (b) unattainable in the absence of major concessions from the BCAS and BEA, which as you know, were not forthcoming.
Third, your letter seeks to mislead its readers by implying that the surplus projected to exist for the Board of Education’s operations as of June 30, 2009 are attributable to the negotiations your administration had with collective bargaining agreements. We both know that is a gross overstatement. The projected surplus is largely attributable to two factors, one lawful and one unlawful. The lawful (but lamentable) manner in which this projected surplus has been created has been by the superintendent’s administration forgoing the expenditure of sums critically needed by the school system, all in an attempt to honor the Board’s request that we do what is prudently possible to help the City in this difficult year.
However, the second, quite troubling and in my view outright unlawful way that this surplus has been created, has been through your refusal to allow valid vacancies in the Board of Education’s employee ranks to be filled despite the fact that funds were available to do so. Connecticut law is quite clear that neither you nor your administration has any right to prevent Board of Education expenditures that are within its appropriated budget. I speak specifically of the several (approximately 10) custodial positions that remained vacant for many months. This is not the first time you have been addressed on this issue. I refer you to the September 19 and December 19, 2008 memoranda from Mr. Jacobs, Personnel Director of Bridgeport Civil Service Commission (enclosed). The bottom line is that thousands of children in Bridgeport attended schools that could have been cleaner but for your actions and that you prevented ten individuals from obtaining a good job.
On page 2 of your letter you reference an “understanding”. The Board of Education cannot know what “understandings” you reached with the collective bargaining units with which you negotiated. What is clear however is that you reached no such understanding with either me or our Board.
I honestly do not know what you think you gain by mischaracterizing months of conversations, almost all of which occurred in public view. For example, why in the world would you describe your administration’s attempt to extract $7,000,000.00 from the Board of Education’s current year of operations as a “joint goal” when the record is absolutely clear that the Board never adopted such figure as its goal? That type of dishonest discourse is beneath the dignity of the office of the Mayor of the City of Bridgeport.
Let us not forget the underlying reality. The Board of Education has run its operation within its means and has not exceeded its budgets. The City has run up a $20,000,000.00 deficit. The City asked for help from the Board. The Board said yes. The Board never said yes to $7,000,000.00 worth of help. I never said yes to $7,000,000.00 worth of help. In light of your administration’s decision to provide the Board of Education with a zero increase for 2009-2010 the Board has an obligation to protect the children of the public school system by using the projected surplus this year to soften the blow the District will suffer next year.
Your correspondence reads like a public relations release rather than an accurate description of where we are and how we got here. If you are interested in a real dialogue free of political posturing, call me.
Very truly yours,
Maximino Medina, Jr.
President, Bridgeport Board of Education
News release from Auden Grogins
Regionalism Bill Brings Property Tax relief for Towns
Representative Kim Fawcett (D-Fairfield, Westport) and Representative Auden Grogins (D-Bridgeport) announced passage of House Bill 6585, An Act Concerning Regionalism that will put in place the necessary structure to bring long awaited property tax relief to cities and towns.
The measure, that makes its way to the State Senate next week, gives municipal governments the option of grouping together to form regional economic development districts. Through those districts, local governments can access federal economic development funding, share property tax revenue for major development projects and collect part of the sales tax generated in their region.
Through their development districts towns will also find increased savings through efficiency projects for member communities in areas of purchasing, contract negotiating, educational programming and services. Rep. Fawcett and Rep. Grogins said the bill provides the opportunity to elevate an urban/suburban partnership between their communities in the Bridgeport region.
“The regionalism bill is an opportunity for our communities to work and plan together and in the process receive federal economic development dollars to help keep local property taxes in check. This is a win-win for everyone; we should have done this for our local taxpayers years ago,” Rep. Fawcett said.
These additional sources of revenue, that until now cities and towns have not been able to access, would be distributed via formula to regional district members.
“My priority has always focused on bringing property tax relief for Bridgeport residents. This bill couples incentives for government to find efficiencies in spending while providing revenue incentives to cities and towns which will target reducing property taxes. It will help my district and strengthen our region,” Rep. Grogins said.
The two legislators partnered this week to educate their colleagues in the General Assembly on the importance of the legislation for all of the state’s cities and towns.
The regionalism bill is the cornerstone of a year-long effort by a legislative working group to address Connecticut’s rising property tax rates through Smart Growth policies and priorities. Rep. Fawcett was a member of the working group that met throughout last summer and fall studying smart growth policies to apply them in Connecticut in order to bring tax relief.
“The Smart Growth Working Group included the legislature’s most strategic thinkers; our common goal was implementing policy to bring property tax relief and more responsible use of open space. The policy options we are presenting give choices to towns through incentives but do not mandate implementation. We think this is the best approach for our state,” Fawcett added.
Sweetport update from Couger Rodgerson. Maybe Anna can translate.
Québécois artist Keith Lorrain is curating an exhibition of 20 “indoor outside” art pieces oriented around the new “Avant Garden” artspace AT 144 Golden Hill with a performance of his deafeningly loud “Piece for Neodymium Magnets and Guitar” within the space at 10:00pm on Saturday the 30th after the Sweetport festival.
Lorrain is also curating a sound installation with composer Loy Fankbonner aka Edgar Restaurant of the Chinese Restaurants that day between 2-9pm as part of the “DADACACADUDU” Baldwin Plaza event otherwise known as “Faire des Echecs: Amplified Chess Fair, Keith Lorrain (Erotic Magnetism/Chance Cacaphony), Films du Duchamp.”
Lorrain will be amplifying a large tin foil chess set open to the public and improvising with amplified supermagnets and televisions. 50 televisions will play various Marcel Duchamp related chess clips the while Lorrain improvises with magnetic fields visually and aurally. Lorrain asks that to prevent damage people not bring credit cards, lap tops or cell phones within 10 feet of Baldwin Plaza or to the Avant Garden opening afterward.
Chess players can sign up at the Baldwin Plaza film tent before 2pm. Participants are required to sign a liability waiver.
More Sweetport stuff:
MAY 31, 3-6 p.m.
KEYS and City Lights
Fundraiser and Concert
SWEETPORT 2009 BEGINS!!!
Join us as we kick off our summer long Sweetport 2009 Festival celebrating the music, art and heritage of Bridgeport. We are happy to welcome K.E.Y.S. music program to the Sweetport line up of events. Instructors and selected students will be performing on Sunday, 4 p.m., May 31 at the Playhouse on the Green along with a brief special guest appearance by Jazz Great saxophonist, Bennie Wallace of Back Country Jazz. Rob Silvan , K.E.Y.S. music director has put together a program of Beethoven to Gershwin.This concert is free and open to the public.Across the street from the theatre there will be a 3 p.m. pre-show reception and fundraiser at City Lights Gallery where patrons will have an opportunity to view the art on exhibit and hear Bennie play and talk about Back Country Jazz. and his intention to collaborate with other nonprofit arts organizations in Bridgeport. Ticket price $35, to purchase tickets contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
City Lights Gallery, 37 Markle Court Bridgeport