Time to finally abolish the unnecessary RCDA

It probably won't come as a great surprise to most people that the board of New London's Renaissance City Development Association lets months pass without meeting.

Actually, it probably wouldn't matter if many, many months went by without a gathering of the RCDA board members.

Indeed, it is hard to name any accomplishments over many years for this organization, the rebranded legacy of the creation of disgraced Gov. John Rowland, who wanted a conduit to invest state money in New London without dealing with the largely Democratically controlled city government.

To my thinking, it is still an institutional circumvention of the city's responsibility, a leechlike siphoning of city money and resources in a time of tight budgets. Control of the land and development prospects of Fort Trumbull and other city-owned properties should rest with elected officials and the city employees who report to them, not volunteers with no accountability who meet only intermittently.

I was taken aback when I showed up for a 5:30 p.m. board meeting July 27 to see that liquor was being served. In all my decades of reporting, I have never seen liquor offered at a board meeting, certainly not one charged with the public's business.

At the table, ready to weigh in and vote on issues pertaining to the future of the city, were some strange representatives, like the building owner poster child for downtown blight, who is, incredibly, an RCDA board member, and one of the original directors of the agency, a principal architect of the city's infamous taking of people's homes by eminent domain.

The city's last mayor ran on a campaign in which he vowed to abolish what was then called the New London Development Corporation. He succeeded only in changing the name and forcing the president and vice president out but the heart of the organization beats on to this day, with some of the same characters from the taking of homes tragedy still on board.

The current mayor beat the last mayor in part with a campaign in which he promised to reinvigorate the agency with more city resources, a pledge he has kept. One of his campaign managers is the assistant executive director.

A principal order of business at the board's July meeting was how to respond to the fact that the agency's lawyer, Karl-Erik Sternlof, has changed law firms.

Strangely enough, Sternlof has been representing the RCDA in a lawsuit brought by a developer suing over a deal that Sternlof himself, back before the previous mayor forced him out as vice president of the agency, helped negotiate.

It is incredible to think that Sternlof went through a revolving door and ended up being paid to represent the agency against a lawsuit over a failed deal that went south on his watch.

Even more incredible, board members said they expected to entertain a proposal to keep Sternlof on with his new firm, when it reviews submissions to a request for proposals for representation. At least there was some acknowledgment that the agency needed to solicit proposals once Sternlof's old firm said it was only interested in the lawsuit business, not daily representation.

Not a lot of other news came out of the cocktail hour July meeting. The lawsuit, which Sternlof has been defending, is not scheduled for a trial until next fall and it is largely a stop-work order on a lot at Fort Trumbull until it is resolved.

Mostly, board members and paid staff heard reports from the city's development director on what he has been doing to encourage development of city properties.

It seems like an enormous waste of time for him, when he should be able to focus on communicating directly with elected leaders of the city, the people who should have the sole responsibility for charting the future of the little remaining undeveloped city-owned property.

There is no better example than the RCDA that doing the same thing over and over, with many of the same people in charge, will always produce the same results — in this case, none.

The last mayor had it right. It's an embarrassing holdover from the city's dark days in the national spotlight.

This is a John Rowland workaround meant to bypass local government that should finally die.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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