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Cornish must get off RCDA

September 27, 2018

It’s past time for the mayor and others responsible for development in New London to stop giving Bill Cornish a pass. And while they are dealing with the conflict of interest Cornish created by purchasing property in the area under the purview of a board he sits on, they also need to review what the city expects from that board, the Renaissance City Development Association, and whether it is getting that.

Day columnist David Collins reported this week that Cornish, known for buying buildings in key locations and letting them languish, bought property in the heart of the Fort Trumbull peninsula in July 2017. Perhaps because RCDA goes months without much progress to show, its staff and board members have gotten slow, too. There seems to have been no official reaction to the fact that 95 Trumbull St. now belongs to a member of the group charged with carrying out the Municipal Development Plan.

While Cornish remains on the RCDA, he could be in the room during privy conversations about negotiations with developers, legal advice and prices — all proprietary matters that a simple property owner would not have access to under the Freedom of Information laws. He is not a member of either the executive or the real estate committee, but he does eventually have a vote, as do all members.

The conflict of interest is indisputable and would no doubt strike an interested developer as a bad sign for working with New London. The mayor should request that Cornish step down immediately — or take steps to remove him.

The Collins column reported Mayor Michael Passero as saying that the “stick” approach hasn’t worked well with Cornish in the past and that partnering with him might be more productive. But Passero and his able new director of economic and community development, Felix Reyes, said the same thing months ago. Reyes told The Day that Cornish has been more cooperative in general. We are all for cooperation, but that doesn’t address conflict of interest.

Cornish’s property ownership on Trumbull Street exposes the dealings of the RCDA to challenges by others who might want to develop the peninsula as the city has for so long sought to do.

Last winter Passero told The Day that the city had reached a moment in which “a window has opened up,” a moment of opportunity to be grasped soon or lost for good.

That was January. The window still seems to be open, but once the city realizes it’s closing the investors will have already figured that out and moved on. RCDA needs to get cracking — without Bill Cornish.

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