Clash of the mayors

I have never heard former New London mayor Daryl Finizio publicly utter a word of criticism of Mayor Michael Passero, after losing their hard-fought election contest two years ago.

I always thought that was gentlemanly of the loser.

That changed, this week, though, as Finizio took on a new role, defending a city citizen he believes has become a victim of regulatory overreach, at the least, harassment at the worst, by the Passero administration.

I didn't often agree with Finizio in his many spats with Passero over the years they both served in city government. But lawyer Finizio is dead right this time, as he takes on the city's club-like use of its 2015 blight ordinance, advocating for his client, a longtime city resident.

Not only does Finizio seem to have latched on to a winning case as he defends this city taxpayer in the two venues where the city is waging a spirited war against him, seeking, in apparent violation of the blight ordinance, both criminal and civil penalties.

But his defense of this individual exposes a much more troubling dysfunction of city government.

Why is the city, which finally has a blight ordinance and blight officer, using it to go after struggling taxpayers in single-family homes, while investors with big hulking monuments to blight, in plain sight, don't get harassed at all?

The most prominent prosecutions of blight so far have been against the owners of single-family houses, for landscaping violations.

One, against a talented landscape professional, using progressive, environmentally sound plantings, was lost.

And now Finizio is poised to sink the newest landscape violation to obsess the Passero administration, this one a decades-old stand of bamboo that fills much of Carlos Carrion's yard, on Borodell Place, a quiet little cul-de-sac off Hempstead Street.

And yet the big marquee blight, foisted on the city by profiteering investors and landlords, an insult to every conscientious homeowner, goes unpunished and unresolved by the Passero administration.

We all know where to find it. Why can't the blight team?

Instead police show up at the front door of the guy with too much bamboo, too much according to the city anyway.

Think about that. The first person the city moves to criminally charge for blight, in a city marked by big swaths of blight, happens to have landscaping some people apparently don't like. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Finizio notes that this is an especially strange campaign, given that, according to paperwork in the case, it began with a complaint from the mayor's office.

Indeed, the mayor's chief of staff made a personal visit to Borodell Place, the scene of the bamboo crime, which tells me that he is someone with way too little to do or too much interest in the city's prosecution of this individual.

Finizio says his client also had to fend off a lawsuit filed in Superior Court to collect on a past due water bill of less than $2,000. Finizio said his own administration never went to the trouble and expense of collection lawsuits for debts that small.

The former mayor has also filed a discovery motion in the criminal case against his client seeking all the email among city officials that might shed more light on how this case came to be prosecuted so aggressively.

That should be interesting reading.

It shouldn't be too hard for Finizio to get the criminal charge dropped and the $13,000 judgment in civil fines eliminated, since the city has been so inept in its first criminal prosecution of blight.

The city ordinance specifically says you can pursue criminal or civil fines, not both.

It is hard to imagine why Mayor Passero, also a lawyer, has allowed this flawed prosecution to continue for so long, lingering on in headlines, the story of a city that seems doomed to never resolve its blight problems.

It's also pretty obvious that Finizio could win, too, on the simple merits of the case.

Finizio notes that the bamboo is not the species that spreads. Indeed, the whole neighborhood would be covered after all these years if it were.

And the homeowner has already cut it back more than 18 inches from his border, as ordered, according to his lawyer, which should have been the end of the matter.

Instead, Carrion needs a lawyer, who is preparing for a full trial.

I also see a harassment case forming here, against a city already reeling from legal liabilities.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments