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Fracassini: There is No Town Policy to Withhold Information

Pending litigation over a proposed shopping center on Main Street led to an argument over the Freedom of Information Act.

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."

JoAnn Toth March 24, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Hope this goes through! We need more revenue in this town so that the taxes can finally go down.
Walt March 24, 2012 at 06:58 PM
It'll never happen, the nimbys will kill any development in town.
Rapture March 24, 2012 at 08:56 PM
We need another shopping center like a hole in the head. How many vacant business do we have in each shopping center around town already. Try filling those ones first with business that will stay longer than a few months and then think about building an additional center.
Donna March 24, 2012 at 10:29 PM
people think that Monroe is still a small town. Wake up folks Monroe is growing just like other towns. Monroe is not the way it used to be, with a lot of the yuppies moving into this town who come in vote our taxes up and then move out after a few years. Just like the monster houses that have been built We need more businesses to help with our high taxes.
Walt March 24, 2012 at 11:38 PM
You're right, transients move in and demand the most and then are gone next year. We absolutely have to have some commercial development in town to offset the confiscatory taxes that are now in place.
Joey March 25, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Donna - everyone has a right to live here, Monroe does not belong to the townies. So what if people move in and out, it's like that all over Fairfield County. I would rather have families buying homes then have more hillbillies running around crying about taxes. I would much rather look at a well kept big home than a run down shack with rednecks crying poverty.
kay inderdohnen March 25, 2012 at 02:09 AM
The point is: This is a idea that will have tragic consequences. There is the river, first of all, that the shopping center will be built on, and the disturbance of that watershed. There is the ledge, which will require nearly a half a million truck loads of gravel to be removed. There is the small matter of at least five years of blasting, which will impact the dug wells and field-stone foundations of neighbors who have historic homes. Then there is the traffic of dump trucks coming and going for those many years, on a road that already has congestion. Think about it.
Donna Gail March 25, 2012 at 02:44 AM
The way Monroe is set up geographically, and with no sewers, I just don't see how it would help to keep adding these strip malls & little shopping centers. It seems like for every new shop that opens, at least one closes. Why open up a new business in a town like this? Maybe we need to do more to keep the businesses we already have.
Joseph Heller March 25, 2012 at 04:42 AM
"The Freedom of Information Act: 'a federal regulation obliging government agencies to release all information they had to anyone who made application for it, except information they had that they did not want to release.'" Joseph Heller, "Closing Time" (1994).
Alex March 26, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Good luck moving in and out with the current housing market. Maybe 5 years ago, but that isn't happening anymore.
Steve Kirsch March 26, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Donna, can you please point me to the data that shows that Monroe has a lot of short-term home buyers? Thank you.

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