Published March 28. 2014 4:00AM
It's hard to imagine a more storybook New England coastal town in this part of Connecticut than Essex, with its neat and manicured streetscapes and carefully tended historic buildings.
The sign for dog waste bags in the center of the village keeps to the cutesy, suggesting people clean up "puppy poop."
Even the dogs here, it seems, are young and beautiful.
So it's easy to see why some people in Essex might be alarmed to see a vacant and dilapidated house prominently situated in the village deteriorating before their very eyes, paint peeling, shutters askew, fence over, roof sagging, birds nesting in the rotted wood of the porch columns.
Rep. Elissa Wright of Groton, who is in her fourth term in the General Assembly, representing parts of Groton and New London, inherited the house, along with her sister, when their mother died about five years ago.
Wright, when I spoke with her this week, said the house at 2 Prospect St. has been "mothballed." Some people in town use a different term: blight.
Wright also noted that she has never received legal notification from the town about the condition of the house. Of course, Rep. Wright, an attorney, should well know the town has no recourse to make owners fix up blighted property.
Wright wouldn't elaborate or discuss her derelict property, saying it is the subject of litigation.
Geoffrey Jones, captain of the Schooner Mystic of Stonington, who was given one half interest in the house by Wright's sister, his stepmother, recently filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, asking for a court-ordered sale of the property.
"She was so exasperated with dealing with her sister, she gave me her half of the property," Jones said of his stepmother.
Since then, he said, Wright has not only refused any attempt to sell the property and divide the proceeds, but she also won't acknowledge him as an owner, even though he is listed as one in town records.
Wright has hired the Hartford law firm of Reid & Riege to represent her in the lawsuit in which Jones seeks a court-ordered sale of the property as one solution to the standoff.
Jones said Wright, the daughter of the late Democratic Town Chairman of Groton, Mortimer Wright, appears to want to keep the house, which has been in her family since the 19th century, but doesn't want to buy out the other share and assume full responsibility.
"I am trying to figure out her motivation," Jones said. "None of it makes sense."
Jones added that he wonders how someone who can't settle a family estate can represent the public in Hartford.
"At one level, if she can't take care of things in her own family, how can she be trusted with the public good?"
Indeed, I wondered, when attending a public hearing in Hartford on the proposed reverse PILOT bill, which could rescue New London from its financial freefall, why I didn't see Wright.
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, New London's other representative to the General Assembly, gave a passionate appeal for the legislation, which could make the two colleges and the hospital in New London pay some of their taxes.
When I asked Wright why she wasn't at the hearing last week, she said she was out of town on family business.
When I asked her this week her opinion of the legislation, she didn't know that it had been voted out of committee and is headed for a vote by the full General Assembly.
I had to ask several times before she, almost grudgingly, said she would vote for it. She called the bill an "interesting concept" - a lukewarm endorsement, at best. I got the distinct impression she has not been up in Hartford twisting arms to get colleagues to vote for a bill that could help save the city she represents.
I began to see things from Jones' perspective.
Good citizenship begins at home, or at least at the houses you own.
Rep. Wright may be avoiding the decay in the city she represents as well as in her untended house in Essex.
This is the opinion of David Collins.