Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fairfield Replaces Its Environmental Watchdog on a Big Project Because He Was Too Tough

There’s an interesting conflict going on in the town of Fairfield, when the First Selectman has brought in a consultant to make sure that environmental regulations are being adhered to by a big development, because the people who should be overseeing it – the town’s Conservation Departmen – were being too tough.

The head of the Conservation Department is Tom Steinke, who long-time Long Island Sound-watchers know as the former co-chair of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee. From everything I’ve heard, his reputation is golden. But apparently First Selectman Kenneth Flatto didn’t like it that Steinke was keeping a close watch on the so-called Metro Center, a project that the town is co-developer of. The Connecticut Post (here) describes the project as …

… a joint effort of the town, state Department of Transportation and Blackrock Realty, would include the town's third train station, 1,500 rail commuter parking spaces, a hotel, office buildings, a health club and retail space.

The project, slated to be built on 35.5 acres across from BJ's Wholesale Club on lower Black Rock Turnpike, was unveiled in January 2001, but construction has yet to start, despite several groundbreaking photo opportunities and missed construction milestones.

Environmentalists in Fairfield have several reasons for being pissed off at Flatto for pulling Steinke. Some of them have to do with their assertion that by doing so, Flatto violated the town charter. Others are annoyed because Flatto seems to be one of those think-skinned elected officials who doesn’t take kindly to public criticism and shows little compunction about letting the criticizer know how he feels:

Some environmentalists said they were reluctant to criticize Flatto on the issue for fear that he might take retribution against them on other initiatives.

"Any of the times I've criticized Ken, he's called me immediately, come over or left a note at my door, being very upset," said Miner, a Democrat.

Ritter, an unaffiliated voter, said Flatto was "very public in his unhappiness" with her when she criticized a power line project that was later scuttled.

Brown said Flatto used to call him at home after letters he wrote to area newspapers were published until Brown filed a complaint against Flatto with the town's Ethics Commission.

Brown said his complaint didn't go anywhere, but that Flatto got the message. "He'll go after you He won't call me, just because he knows better," he said. "I kind of said, 'Do it again, and I'll file a complaint with the Police Department.' "

As for the question of whether Flatto’s action violates the town charter, the Post provides a lot of he said-she said but doesn’t do the one thing that might throw some light on the issue: quote the relevant section of the town charter. Granted, there must be some room for interpretation, but how about letting us read it and see for ourselves?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

see for yourself what the Charter says. it's a piece of junk but it is the governance doc for the town along with a few DEP resolutions

9:24 AM  

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