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Newtown Conservation Coalition Files FOI Complaint Against Town, EDC

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Newtown Conservation Coalition Founder Dave Ackert stated on the coalition’s Facebook page that he filed complaints with the CT Freedom of Information Commission several months ago over a number of issues dealing with possible development at 6 Commerce Road.

The issues include: “The First Selectman’s refusal to share the Town Attorney’s findings and opinions regarding the process that had been used to try to sell 6 Commerce Road over the past few years,” “The First Selectman’s refusal to share the Town Attorney’s findings and opinions regarding the process to try to sell 6 Commerce Road going forward,” “The First Selectman’s refusal to share the appraisal that he ordered on 6 Commerce Road,” and “The [Newtown Economic Development Commission’s] failure to notice the public on their March 19th meeting agenda regarding a conversation they had at that meeting on the process to dispose of 6 Commerce Road.”

Ackert contends that although 18 years ago the Connecticut Department of Economic Development named the EDC as the “development agency,” that designation has expired and Ackert said he was denied requests to see any legal opinions that allowed the first selectman’s office and the EDC to sell the property without following the process outlined in the town charter.

On June 10, Ackert wrote that he received notice that Cohen & Wolfe has been engaged to represent the first selectman and the EDC over these complaints.

“Instead of just providing transparency, which wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime,” stated Ackert. “They are doing so at a time when the town is already [approximately] $60,000 over budget on legal fees. The CT FOI Commission Ombudsman who’s been appointed to help resolve these matters made it clear that attorneys are not needed for something like this, so I hope the value of whatever continues to hide from public view is worth his continued waste of town resources.”

In a June 12 interview with The Newtown Bee, Capeci noted that both he and the Town of Newtown “rely on the advice” of the town attorney.

“He proposes options,” said Capeci. “We will respond to the FOI complaints. I feel we are on pretty good ground with some of [Ackert’s] demands being unfounded. Some of his requests can be agreed to.”

Regarding the EDC meeting, in a letter to The Bee published April 26, Ackert wrote, “At the March 19 EDC meeting, Chairman Jeffrey Robinson discussed 6 Commerce Road with no members of the public present, because he did not include it on the agenda as required by the FOIA. On the audio recording of this meeting, he acknowledges intense public interest, and says that he wants to provide his update ‘as quietly as he can.’”

Ackert stated that, “Mr Robinson reported that according to the town attorney, the authority he and the First Selectman thought they had to sell 6 Commerce Rd has not existed for several years, and he confirmed they do indeed need to follow the town charter. I’m not an attorney, but I figured this out easily (and shared my findings with them), months ago. Why couldn’t they?”

The town-owned property at 6 Commerce Road is also at the center of Ackert’s non-EDC-related complaints. The property at 6 Commerce Road was deeded to the town 18 years ago with a condition it be used as economic development. Over the years it was considered for a “tech park” and for senior housing units, but those developments fell through.

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Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Comments
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6 comments
  1. BRUCE WALCZAK says:

    FOI regulations are very complicated. Individuals often want to believe a regulation has been violated only to find their interpretation is incorrect. In fact, more times than not, the complaint is ruled unwarranted or inconsequential. I learned this the hard way. Now I call or email FOI to discuss what I felt was done wrong before filing a FOI complaint. I often learn I’m misunderstanding the regulations. It would be a good practice for anyone thinking there has been a violation to reach out to FOI prior to filing a complaint.

    1. debz says:

      I fully agree with Bruce. For those interested in learning more, here is a link to a presentation I found useful:
      https://www.cabe.org/uploaded/Convention/2021/Handouts/A3/CABE_Convention_FOIA_powerpoint_for_11-12-21.pdf.
      Slide 32 provides information on legal advice.

      The FOIA commission provides an email address and phone numbers at https://portal.ct.gov/foi/common-elements/top-menu/about-us.

      The full act is available at: https://portal.ct.gov/foi/regulations/the-foi-act/2023-foi-act.

    2. wingeey says:

      The FOI Commission was consulted before these complaints were filed.

  2. tomj says:

    I think the town should look at giving the property back to the state. It has caused us nothing but problems. It has a deed restriction placed on it by the state. Therefore if given back to the state they can remove the restriction. THEN the state should put in a D002 – D006 transfer station. Hopefully, this will cut back on the NIMBYs. Alternatively, the NCC should just buy the property and raise a fundraiser like the Newtown Forest Association does.

    The truth is the NCC does not have any actual membership. They don’t have the resources to buy a cup of coffee. When the NFA wants something done they fundraise and are true guardians of the land in their control. The NCC just wants to sensationalize action and have a few squeaky wheels. I hope the local politicians stay the course and don’t bend to this small group who have no weight other than whining.

    1. wingeey says:

      So you don’t care about regulations or the need to follow them? There’s no need to return any land to the state. There are no penalties or consequences for conserving the meadow at 6 commerce road instead of destroying it.

      1. tomj says:

        I am generally knowledgeable about regulations but admit this is a subject that I haven’t taken the time to find the codified laws. Since you appear knowledgable can you expand? If there are no penalties or consequences for conserving the meadow, what are the specific regulations preventing a builder from building on it? I am looking for a particular regulation, not a NIMBY code or creed. It is land that is for sale, it should be sold and if the owner wants … developed.

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