Published April 28. 2013 4:00AM
In opening the annual meeting of the New London Development Corp. Thursday evening, agency President Michael Joplin made what seemed intended as a joke, saying people might have seen him earlier down on his knees in front of the mayor.
"I don't want you to get the wrong idea," Joplin told the small group of assembled NLDC members, after saying he might have been caught kneeling in front of Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who was in attendance.
No one laughed.
In fact, I saw a lot of puzzled faces and nervous squirming in the room, as people seemed to wonder if they had heard right.
One possible scenario Joplin was suggesting is that he was down on his knees begging the mayor to let him stay on as NLDC president. But he needn't have bothered.
The mayor, who vigorously campaigned on the promise that he would abolish the much-hated NLDC, which famously destroyed a city neighborhood after taking the homes by eminent domain, simply changed the name instead last year and said Joplin would go as president.
Well, Joplin was re-elected president Thursday in a strange meeting in which other principal officers were also returned to office, even though some of them didn't bother to attend.
Not only has Joplin slipped the mayor's recall, but he soldiered on Thursday and called to order the meeting of the New London Development Corp., sidestepping at first the mayor's new name, Renaissance City Development Association.
Even the printed agendas used NLDC in big type.
The agency, it seems, is not much better with the details than the big picture. Its website, for instance, incorrectly spells the mayor's name: Daryle Justine Finizio.
The next order of business for the now part-time NLDC, which during the many years of Joplin's tenure has produced not one new building in the leveled neighborhood, through an entire boom and bust-real estate cycle, is to give away some of the best parcels.
On deck to take the land for free, and then not pay taxes on it, is a father-and-son development team from Fairfield County and New York City, Irwin and Robert Stillman.
In return for the free land, the Stillmans, according to the development agreement they signed 2½ years ago, are supposed to prove they are going to build a big apartment complex and have the financing to finish it.
The Stillmans, apparently until recently, had been unable to obtain the institutional financing they first said they intended to secure, years ago.
They have also received one extension on the original development agreement, which now expires in a few weeks, on May 17 , and reduced the project into phases, so that the first phase will produce only 34 rental units.
As recently as last week, NLDC officials suggested the Stillmans might not use institutional financing. Mayor Finizio said quite definitively last week that the Stillmans are going to self-finance the project.
Then at Thursday's strange meeting - surprise, surprise - Robert Stillman disclosed, when asked, the name of the bank, M&T Bank of Buffalo, N.Y., which is going to provide financing.
But no one would produce any evidence.
And the press office of the bank did not return messages inquiring about the New London project.
Joplin said Thursday evening the financing would be revealed after the closing in which they give the land away, and Stillman said his proof of financing commitment would remain in his "private file."
First of all, it seems remarkable that the financing has indeed come in at the 11th hour, after all these years.
But if it has, the development agreement is clear that "evidence that sufficient funds are available ... including, without limitation, loan documents and equity commitments" are to be provided prior to a transfer of title. That's prior - as in before you give the land away.
Moreover, an official with the Freedom of Information Commission assured me Friday those documents, the evidence of adequate financing, would be public.
If the NLDC persists in its stated intentions to have a closing to give away city land without disclosing the financial details of the deal, then that process is nothing short of corrupt. If there is no financing, then the process is fraudulent.
No wonder so many officers of the NLDC stayed away from Thursday's annual meeting.
The next time Michael Joplin kneels in front of the mayor, figuratively or otherwise, the mayor needs to pat him on the head and send him on his way.
It's time for the city to move on and take a new direction in developing the treasure that is the Fort Trumbull peninsula, just like candidate Finizio promised.
Joplin, who lives in Chester, was reminiscing Thursday that when he came to New London in 1999 as a developer, before buying and losing in foreclosure a large State Street apartment building, the city was one of the poorest in the state, taking in less tax revenue than it requires to run the schools.
He suggested the NLDC has made a difference and improved the city since. It hasn't. And city residents should take offense at the condescending attitude.
It is time for him to resign, before more harm is done.
This is the opinion of David Collins.