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    Local Columns
    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Stop Lamont from giving the Mystic Oral School to a criminal for $1

    A great injustice is unfolding before our eyes, and I find it more than a little discouraging to think that it could happen right in the midst of election season, when politicians are supposed to pay attention to what people think.

    Yet not one elected official or candidate has howled publicly in outrage about Gov. Ned Lamont’s plans to give away the spectacular Mystic Oral School property and its prime 40 acres of land to a guy convicted of bribery by New York mob prosecutors.

    Are Groton’s Democratic representatives so fearful of the sitting governor that they can’t speak up?

    How about it, Rep. Christine Conley or Rep. Joe de la Cruz? Cat got your tongues?

    And what about you, Sen. Heather Somers? It shouldn’t be hard for a Republican to protest this injustice.

    Is it too much trouble to ask that you try to protect your hometown from whatever unforeseen and very unlikely unwanted development might come from the governor’s lazy giveaway of valuable state property?

    The people of the town and the state are supposed to have a say in what happens to a publicly-owned state surplus property before the state literally gives it away.

    Right now it looks like Lamont’s economic development chief, David Lehman, a guy who played a leading role in the high finance mortgage shenanigans that led to the painful worldwide Great Recession, is going to deny citizens the right to have a say in who owns a valuable, magnificent 40-acre property in Mystic the public owns.

    It’s an election year, Groton voters. Make yourselves heard.

    It’s not a municipal election year, but there are still many town officials who deserve blame for the what’s happening, and make sure to remember them, too, when it’s time to vote for those offices next fall.

    How about some petitions, protests? Lamont is due for a debate in the region soon. Won’t someone picket that and be heard? I know there are a lot of neighbors angry about what’s happening.

    I’d sure like to hear Lamont’s explanation of his great Mystic giveaway, while the cameras are rolling.

    I can’t remember a time when a governor treated an entire town with such contempt. Wait, maybe it wasn’t that long ago. It was pretty recently, actually, that Lamont’s Wall Street refugee commissioner sided with rich utilities against the New London mayor in talks to give the city taxpayers a fair payment for the use of the untaxed State Pier.

    The state’s planned transaction to sell the Mystic Oral School is proceeding even though the town, on the precipice of a lawsuit, has said the developer, convicted of bribery, has substantially breached his contract with the municipality.

    Lamont’s Wall Street commissioner is planning to sell him the valuable land anyway, for $1.

    Not only that — and this is the part that is so shocking — the developer has zero obligation to the state or town to do anything in particular with it when the sale is done. The contract, incredibly, gives the buyer a huge number of contingencies that allow him to get out of the deal but almost none to the state.

    Indeed, there is no question that really bad lawyering helped put the state and the town in an awkward legal position.

    The state’s sales contract sets a $1 purchase price but then doesn’t set any of the standards for use of the property you would expect, in light of the fact that you are giving it away.

    It’s very valuable. You shouldn’t give it away without getting anything in return. How stupid is that?

    Lawyers who wrote the town’s separate development agreement with the developer also created an enormous flaw. It says the town will accommodate the project by changing the zoning, which of course can’t be promised in an agreement because zoning is the purview of the independent Planning and Zoning Commission.

    That promise, which can’t be fulfilled, appears to be the legal cudgel the developer will attack the town with.

    I believe the town officials who know they put themselves in a legal bind with that flawed agreement promising zoning changes hope that a sale by the state will somehow rescue them from their legal peril. That’s not clear at all.

    Meanwhile, even though the state signed a flawed sales agreement, I’m sure that some good lawyer — they seem in short supply for the state and town —could find a reason to keep from executing the deal before the November deadline.

    But it will also take some guts, which seem to be lacking in the Lamont administration, where incompetence reigns.

    You don’t have to look back far, just to the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy, to find some boldness in a similar situation.

    It was, in fact, on the eve of an election, that Gov. Dan Malloy literally ripped up an agreement to sell the Seaside property in Waterford and declared it a park instead.

    The park idea was probably ill considered. But the developer spent many years just trying to get into court to sue the state, which is a very hard thing to do.

    The developer here with a criminal history of bribery has made all kinds of misrepresentations to Groton and the state about his plans for the Oral School property.

    There are certainly plenty of ethical and legal grounds to be found for pulling the plug.

    Just make it happen.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

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