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    Monday, October 03, 2022

    A week before elections, Groton still stalls on FOI compliance for Mystic Oral School

    Groton attorneys this week officially notified the Mystic Oral School developer, Jeffrey Respler, that the town intends to move to the formal, nonbinding mediation phase of its dispute over a development agreement for the property, which the town now wishes to terminate.

    That news, with a report that informal mediation with Respler failed, was delivered in an email Monday from Town Manager John Burt to town councilors.

    The next stop after mediation, of course, is a full-blown lawsuit, and everyone should fasten their belts and prepare for long and probably expensive litigation over the bad deal consummated by the current Town Council.

    As we approach next week's contentious municipal election, with many incumbent councilors up for reelection, it is troubling, but I suppose not surprising, that the town continues to stall on Freedom of Information Act requests that might shed more light on how the town ended up in such a deep legal hole.

    Who wouldn't, right now, want to learn more about how the deal unfolded and what was said or promised in communications between town officials and Respler?

    And who wouldn't want a look at how town officials communicated with one another in developing the project to help inform voters as they do their important business next week of choosing new leadership for the town?

    Of course it would help to know more of what happened, and that's why, I believe, a week before voters go to the polls, the town is still keeping a tight lid on information about the soured oral school deal, as it rumbles toward a long lawsuit.

    Alas, manager Burt, who, as the scope of the problems created by signing up with an unqualified developer with a troubling criminal history of bribery came into focus, was, incredibly, rewarded with an extension of his employment contract by the current councilors.

    I have followed some of the FOI requests about the project filed by neighbors, and many of them say they have been frustrated by the town's continued lack of a response.

    I filed my own FOI request in late June and, besides one or two documents made in response to my original emails, am still waiting some four months later for some legitimate compliance.

    Jonathan Reiner, town director of planning, responded in June on behalf of all town officials to whom the requests were made.

    He said at one point in his response that the town doesn't "maintain a 'paper' file per se," which, I have to say, is quite preposterous.

    At one point, when I asked for the file at the planning department public service counter, a clerk was about to hand over what she called the request for proposals file for the project, before someone stopped her.

    Reiner later said no such file exists and the incident never happened.

    Well, it did.

    As to the requested correspondence and emails, Reiner said back in June there are as many as 1,000 to review and it would take 10 weeks.

    That was about 16 weeks ago. I haven't received anything.

    I filed a complaint about the lack of response with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, which has docketed a case and assigned someone to arbitrate and seek a compromise.

    Meanwhile, town attorneys have filed an appearance with the FOI Commission, beginning, apparently, another long and expensive fight. They could skip the fight if they would just produce the public documents they are obligated to provide.

    They could at the very least make a good-faith effort to comply.

    A town government run by one dominant party, one that both limits public participation in meetings and dodges requests for public documents as it descends into a legal quagmire of its own making, desperately needs a good kick from voters.

    Next Tuesday is Election Day. Bring it on.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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