A Case of a Missing Person in Old Lyme


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OLD LYME — Behind closed doors, in exchanged emails and phone calls, Town Hall was rocked in mid-May by the unexplained disappearance of Eric Knapp.

A former attorney, who has worked as the town’s land use coordinator since 2022, Knapp has been a fixture at public meetings — Zoning, Inland Wetlands and others — as well as regularly enforcing and arbitrating the town’s sometimes tricky rules for land use.

You could say he’s the public face of the town’s regulations of signs, rooflines and setbacks — a fairly thankless job.

And it’s in that role, back in 2022, that Knapp appears to have found himself embroiled in a particularly bitter dispute between neighbors on Neck Road – one trying to run a retail nursery business and the other trying to sell her house.

Being in the newspaper business, my staff has talked to Knapp on a regular basis. He returns calls and picks up the phone. Offhand, I’d say he’s unusually competent, impartial, sometimes overbearing. He is not the heavy hand of local zoning.

But it’s fair to say that Old Lyme has always been an easier place to have money than to make it, and to that extent the nurseryman, Mark Comstock, found himself the subject of a variety of inquiries, questions about his hoop houses, and a request by the Zoning Commission for a site visit — all billable hours for someone, I’m certain.

Comstock, who may be the first person to attempt a business on Neck Road since the mid-1980s, was being “put through the wringer,” in the view of one well-placed Town Hall employee.

To further complicate matters, the real estate agent handling the neighboring sale at the time, Tammy Tinnerello, sat on Zoning. We’re told that she also made efforts in Town Hall to aid her client and that sale.

Knapp, as the land use coordinator, was inevitably in the thick of it.

By all accounts it appears that Comstock was operating legally, and his ability to grow and sell plants — with some limitations — was never in doubt. And in May 2023, Knapp drew up an agreement that settled the matter, that satisfied no one, but that hasn’t been appealed. Comstock’s business, by appearances at least, is going gangbusters.

Now skip ahead a year.

Tinnerello, a Republican, lost the election. Comstock gave away a lot of plants in an effort to win friends and favor — with some success, I might add.

And on May 14, Knapp was placed on paid leave by First Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker pending what she called an investigation into a “private personnel matter” — a nonsensical phrase, if you know anything about Freedom of Information law in Connecticut.

The nature of that investigation would only become apparent weeks later, in letter to Knapp dated June 3 outlining a 12-point complaint — though Katie Balocca, Shoemaker’s executive assistant, denied the existence of a written complaint in response to a Freedom of Information request on June 17.


For what it’s worth, an earlier Freedom of Information request on the matter has languished since mid-May, along with yet another Freedom of Information request made in March for records in a separate case of alleged physical and verbal sexual harassment by an Old Lyme employee — we’ve heard that one was videotaped.

Luckily, the 12-point written complaint, labeled “personal and confidential,” was leaked to us, along with other public documents — and not by Knapp, I might add, given that Shoemaker reportedly ordered him to refrain from talking about the matter.

You can read the complaint for yourself — and Knapp’s response — but I think it’s fair to say that it focused on a series of sometimes disparaging asides that Knapp made to colleagues in 2023 and 2024 expressing his frustrations with a handful of local residents, including Comstock and his neighbor Susan Zilke.


Meanwhile, with Knapp still on leave — and his workload piling up for the busy season — heads of the town’s land-use commissions who work with Knapp — Inland Wetlands Chair Rachael Gaudio and Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Nancy Hutchinson (both elected without party affiliation) — pushed back forcefully against launching an investigation without consulting town employees and land-use officials with knowledge of the matters.

In a later June 12 follow up, Shoemaker narrowed her complaint to five charges, docked Knapp a day’s pay, and ordered him to provide her with bi-weekly summaries of all issues and communications coming across his desk — you can be sure we’ll be filing Freedom of Information requests for every one of them — as well as meetings and summaries with Paul Orzel, who chairs Zoning. Knapp was further ordered to take sensitivity training. Here’s his response.

Knapp has since returned to work.

It seems pretty clear that Shoemaker’s intent is to force Knapp out — and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s warranted — but who else competent would take the job given the above is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Shoemaker has someone else in mind.

Frankly, if we’re cleaning house, launching investigations and requiring trainings — you might as well add gifts to Town Hall, which have caused Mark Wayland, the local building official, to distance himself from the current behavior in Town Hall and to file an ethics complaint in January. There’s no sign yet that the Ethics Commission has taken up the matter.

I didn’t suggest back in September that “the meat of the election is in development,” for no reason.