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Is Mayor Passero hiding a million-dollar problem on Crystal Avenue?

September 27, 2018

New London Mayor Michael Passero, in refusing a request this week by The Day for two proposals that have been submitted by parties interested in the 12-acre site of the defunct subsidized housing towers on Crystal Avenue, cited a specific provision of state Freedom of Information law pertaining to bids or requests for proposals.

I would suggest that the provision cited by the mayor does not apply, since the submissions were solicited as “expressions of interest,” not specific bids or requests for proposals as cited in the FOI law.

But even if the FOI provision cited by the mayor does apply, that law specifically says the chief executive officer of the public agency, i.e. the mayor himself, must decide whether “the public interest in disclosure” outweighs “public interest in confidentiality.”

Clearly, there is a public interest in disclosure, and shame on the mayor for not being transparent about it.

There seems to be political expediency in the mayor hiding some uncomfortable truths about pitfalls in his dogged pursuit of this property by the city and ambitious plans for it to begin generating tax revenue.

It’s a widely circulating rumor in town that one of the two expressions of interest in the property, which the mayor is hiding, comes from the state, a proposal to add the Crystal Avenue property to the nearby State Pier shipping terminal.

The first proposal, despite the mayor’s attempt to hide it, is already public, provided to The Day by the trash services company, Connecticut Waste Processing Materials LLC, that submitted it.

Perhaps the mayor wanted to keep this proposal secret because it undermines his premise that the city buying the property from the New London Housing Authority for 1 million cost of remediating the apartment towers and tearing them down.

A problem with that scenario arises with the first proposal, submitted by CWPM, a company that does remediation and demolition, because the company estimates that the demolition of the buildings will cost more like 800,000 toward the cost of remediation and demolition, making the city’s total investment, along with the purchase, close to $1 million.

You’d have to collect a lot of tax revenue over many years to get a return on that kind of investment.

Maybe CWPM is wrong, but the city is not sharing any proposals for any other companies that came forward with a more lucrative offer or lower estimates for demolition and remediation.

If the second letter of interest the mayor is hiding is indeed from the state, as the lawyer for CWPM publicly has suggested, that, too, seems to present its own perils for the city.

Does the city want to host any more state-owned, nontaxpaying properties? The payment in lieu of taxes for such state property is insufficient for a small city with too much untaxed property.

Is it possible the state has offered to demolish the buildings and lease the property for fees generous to the city? If so, why isn’t the mayor sharing that offer?

So far, this is looking like a failed process. Instead of asking for specific bids, which would be clearly protected from disclosure by FOI, the city is asking for expressions of interest and then suggesting it might rip those up and go for new ones.

Worst of all, this boondoggle is unfolding behind closed doors.

If the state has an interest in acquiring or using this city property, both city and state voters are entitled to some transparency about what is happening. And while we are on the subject of transparency, politicians in state government need to step up to the plate, too.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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