A group of neighbors opposed to Pondview LLC's proposal to build a shopping center on former farmland at 127 Main Street have been embroiled in an ongoing court battle for years. The conflict also resulted in a complaint over how the town zoning records are kept.
Steve Ballok, a resident supporting the neighbors, has said that Planning & Zoning Department employees did not let him see the Pondview file in February because Town Attorney Jack Fracassini had closed it to the public due to the pending litigation.
Ballok was angry over the denial and called the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission Office in Hartford, which told him documents on the land application should be at town hall and available to view.
"By state statute, you cannot remove documents from the office," Ballok said.
Fracassini explained that there was a box of documents for the Pondview application at town hall and that he had to make sure it contained nothing about the litigation — which is exempted from FOI.
"There was no intent to prevent Mr. Ballok from seeing something he was entitled to look at," Fracassini said, adding he was able to view the file within about two days.
Fracassini said the information is also available at Bridgeport Superior Court, where Ballok could have asked for the return of record.
At a recent Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, Chairman Richard Zini said that he told Fracassini and First Selectman Steve Vavrek not to seal records without the commission's permission.
Joseph Sullivan, a former P&Z commissioner and a resident advocating for the neighbors, used an Aug. 15,2008 Connecticut Post article about a dispute when the late First Selectman Thomas Buzi gave a directive "that prohibits the public from inspecting town documents that may be subject to litigation," as proof there is a town hall policy to withhold information.
But Fred Martin, who was the town attorney at the time, said that represents a "mischaracterization of Buzi’s quote."
That policy was for internal matters, he said. For instance, when people are suing the town or a town employee, the town's lawyer should know when they ask to see documents, so those documents can be protected — ensuring that nothing is removed or altered, according to Martin.
"He's conflating a zoning matter where everything is a matter of pubic record and should be available in the courthouse and at town hall with a personnel matter that involved allegations that were the basis of a civil suit with a town employee," Martin said of the article. "There is no prohibition on viewing documents that are part of the public record."
Vavrek and Fracassini had also said there is no town policy to withhold documents from the public.
"It's not the town policy," Fracassini said. "It's never the town policy."