Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know about COVID in the Schools

As summer turns to fall, and life moves indoors and classrooms across Connecticut reopen, no one should be surprised when the first cases of COVID-19 crop up. But if the recent outpouring of public anger and confusion on social media over an isolated off-season case in East Haddam schools is any indication, you might be taken aback by the outsized, if understandable, uproar as parents and staff come to realize that even in the case of a deadly and infectious disease possibly spreading in the schools, the public’s right to know holds less sway than a patient’s medical privacy. In

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Don’t Sweep Tuesday’s Mess Under the Rug

Tuesday’s uncontested primary – with minimal turnout – was a mess. That’s not exactly a surprise. New rules, new procedures, public ballot boxes and a broad shift to absentee ballots – it was bound to cause problems, without adding in the worry of fraud in Bridgeport or slow mail delivery. But let’s not beat around the bush, it’s never a good sign when election workers are spotted dumpster diving for ballot mailers, missing or discarded accidentally, because no one quite agreed on the exact procedures for counting or for disqualifying votes. To be clear, we heard strikingly different stories on

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Before a Second Wave Hits… Repeal the Immunity for Nursing Homes from Civil Penalties

In ordinary times, checks and balances and the separation of powers between co-equal branches of government – legislative, judicial, and executive – are a defining feature of American governance on both the state and local level. But in extraordinary times – states of emergency – governors and presidents have by tradition and precedent been granted great deference to act unilaterally by executive order. As Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist No. 23 in 1787, because “the circumstances which may affect the public safety” cannot be reduced “within certain determinate limits … there can be no limitation of that authority which is

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Year Two

One year ago last Monday, CT Examiner went live with the goal of returning in-depth, nonpartisan, local news coverage to towns across southeast Connecticut. Funded with venture capital from David Kelsey, and edited by Gregory Stroud, CT Examiner began with a staff of two: Cate Hewitt and Julia Werth. Over time, we added a third reporter, Chris McDermott, and a small pool of freelancers, including arts writer Clare Byrne. Who knew that exactly one year later we would have an exclusive one-on-one interview with Gov. Ned Lamont to mark phase of one of the reopening of the economy? What better

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Taking Stock at CT Examiner

It’s been a year since I hired away Cate Hewitt to be CT Examiner’s Employee #1 on April 1, 2019 and a giant leap of faith that we could thrive where other news organizations have failed in the region. To date, we’re outpacing our year one goals… And have successfully attracted a readership that otherwise might read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal as their “local” paper. Our top ten towns by readership (in order): Old Lyme, Hartford, New York, East Lyme, Essex, New London, New Haven, Clinton, Boston, Stonington. Our regular readerships extends across the state… And

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The Big and Small of Affordable Housing Solutions for Connecticut

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With apologies to Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin – who half-seriously split all of human thought into foxes and hedgehogs – those who advocate for a variety of smaller ideas and those who embrace larger singular solutions – if ever there was a ‘hedgehog,’ it’s 8-30g, the state’s 30-year-old affordable housing statute, which grants developers a favorable appeals process if an application for an affordable housing project is rejected without sufficient cause. Like a hedgehog with its quills, that statute gives developers near carte blanche to construct affordable housing in towns with less than 10% qualifying housing. According to Michael Fogliano’s

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The Civil Rights Case for Equitable Housing

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The struggle for equitable housing is inseparable from — but not identical to — the decades long civil rights movement in the United States. No doubt that’s in part the reason that, “Separated by Design,” the recent multipart series on affordable housing by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas is couched in a vocabulary of civil rights. “Housing segregation,” as Thomas phrases the issue of affordable housing. And to be sure, there is ample evidence that the WWI-era introduction of zoning laws in the United States went hand in hand with racial segregation. Until a landmark 1917 decision by the United States Supreme

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Taking Stock of Ethics in Old Lyme

There are, at most, two degrees of separation in the State of Connecticut – less in a small New England town like Old Lyme – so it should come as no surprise to anyone that sitting on an ethics board is a thankless task. Given how rarely the town of Old Lyme’s Ethics Commission actually meets – the last public meeting was on May 7, 2019 – you couldn’t be blamed for wondering whether a town ethics commission is even necessary. In fact, as of 2009 only 70 of Connecticut’s 169 towns had even set up a board of ethics.

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A Tale of Two Projects

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When the Connecticut legislature passed a ban on most pesticides for athletic fields used by kindergarten through 8th-grade students in 2010, who knew (not an entirely rhetorical question) that a common alternative — even for towns less wealthy than Old Lyme — would be to construct playing surfaces out of countless tons of tires recycled into pelletized rubber? Before we agree to Milone & MacBroom’s May 2017 estimate of $990,000, or Milone & MacBroom’s December 2019 estimate of $2.3 million or Board of Finance Chair Andy Russell’s (presumably) more conservative number of “up to $4 million,” for an artificial turf

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The New and the Old of It

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If you read the newspapers in America in 1780 or so – just as the modern familiar incarnation of the Christmas holiday is taking shape – you might be surprised to find that already critics and observers are fretting the loss of the true meaning, the spirit, of Christmas, much as they do today – because loss is not a defect or corruption of the winter holiday, but instead has always been a defining feature of modern Christmas feeling and expression. And it is much the same, the historian Peter Fritzsche explained, with New England. “It is New England and

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Editorial: A Round Up of What’s to Come

With a short legislative session in the spring, state and federal elections in the fall, we’re drawing up plans for nonpartisan election coverage, with the expectation that at least two state senate seats, and two or three house seats in the region will have exciting elections this fall – one insider has suggested privately that one seat, held by a popular incumbent, is a likely flip. Stay tuned. Over the next few months we plan to follow the Hope Partnership project at Spencer’s Corner in Centerbrook – set to begin early this spring – the unresolved State Pier negotiations in

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Editorial: Stepping up to Help a Neighbor

Seven months ago we launched CT Examiner with a story by Julia Werth reporting on extensive flooding in the soon-to-be-purchased McCulloch property. At the time there was some push back, that the beavers were beside the point, and a fact of nature — and they were right. Beavers were beside the point, as Julia Werth followed up a few days later bringing public attention to the plight of Old Lyme resident Dave Berggren. The more important story was that Berggern, 81 years old at the time, was on the verge of losing his home, and had already lost basic necessities

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Editorial: Oversight of Education Funding Requires Action By Legislature

When the Regular Legislative Session convenes on February 5, I hope that members of the Education Committee will consider putting in place rules to guide the spending of state Open Choice grant money — about $11 million each year – by local school districts. That’s not to question the value of the program, or to say that the Open Choice program — which helps fund urban students to attend public schools in nearby suburban towns, and funds suburban and rural students to attend public schools in a nearby city — comes at an unreasonable cost. The grant money, which pays

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Editorial: Four Hours with Former Connecticut Port Authority Head Evan Matthews

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Four hours with Evan Matthews on Sunday afternoon and I left convinced that – if the downside risk can be negotiated favorably — the delayed Eversource-Ørsted deal is a good (maybe great) deal for Connecticut. Certainly Matthews – an industry professional with years of relevant experience — believes it’s a good deal and feels blindsided, and aggrieved, by the sudden collapse of the Connecticut Port Authority, in his telling, just as he was hoping to wrap up negotiations on July 1. It’s the first time that Matthews has spoken publicly since July 12, when he was placed on paid leave

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Editorial: Local Oversight and Regional Budgets

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It’s simply unimaginable as part of the budget, anywhere in Connecticut, that a town employee could propose a $2.5 million project, with significant, ongoing and uncertain maintenance costs, as well as ten year replacement costs, and expect to plan and approve the project without early and broad public engagement, and without the promise of a townwide vote. Whether or not a synthetic turf field is a good or bad idea for Lyme-Old Lyme schools, we’ll set aside for a moment. But let’s be clear — a good idea or not — everything about the decision-making process so far gives the

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Editorial: Recapping Election Week

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Monday morning — I hadn’t gotten in to work yet — instead I was out on a rocky overlook at Selden Creek Preserve chatting on the phone with State Auditor John Geragosian about the Connecticut Port Authority audit. He was reassuring. While not characterizing the contents of the referral to the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General, he emphasized that a referral was statutory requirement and routine… don’t read too much into it. Geragosian said had no complaints about the remaining board and staff, whom he described as helpful and responsive. Two days later, a Wednesday, in a meeting room

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Editorial: 5 Questions, a Possible Criminal Referral, 220k in “Contributions from Developers”

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In case you didn’t know, an audit of the Connecticut Port Authority for fiscal years ending in 2018 and 2019 was released on October 31 — a Thursday. The timing was not a surprise – give or take a day – after State Comptroller Kevin Lembo (who has come across pretty darn well in this whole mess) gave the CPA just three days – until Friday, November 1 — to explain why the authority had failed to release accurate financials to his office.  The “incomplete” accounting of expenditures  – among other failings – were acknowledged in an October 18 letter

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Editorial: On Denying Old Lyme Residents a Meeting by Petition

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a town in Connecticut denying residents the right to petition for a special meeting. In Old Lyme, at least, it’s not often that this quaint provision of small-town New England democracy is ever even attempted. I can’t cite a case when it’s been abused. To be sure, Connecticut General Statutes set a notably low legal bar – the petition of “twenty inhabitants qualified to vote in town meetings” – to hold the selectman duty-bound to honor the request. So, it demands some legal explanation, when sixty-one residents of Old Lyme petition the

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Editorial: A Lesson On Quasi-Publics and Tolling

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By any measure I should be an easy ‘get’ for the Lamont administration on transportation. Months ago I actually penned an opinion piece for CT Mirror advocating for the new administration’s signature transportation project to speed travel times to 30 minutes by rail between paired cities: Hartford and New Haven, New Haven and Stamford, Stamford and New York City. As opposition blossomed across Connecticut to the governor’s support for tolling, I sat on the fence — attracted by the idea of capturing out-of-state dollars, but wary of overhead, accountability and what could be construed as a near perfect clawback of

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A Call For Connecticut Port Authority Hearings

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If you believe in the ability of government to accomplish great good – think Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — then it’s incumbent on you, when you see government misbehaving, to hold it accountable. To say that accountability has been lacking in the case of the Connecticut Port Authority is an understatement. If you think you know why the quasi-public agency, with oversight over millions of dollars of public money, all but dissolved this past summer, you are mistaken. Even David Kooris, the current acting chair of the port authority, by his own account has never once met with the

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Editorial: A Hard look at Region 4 — Essex, Chester and Deep River

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Perhaps you don’t live in Essex, Chester, or Deep River and have decided to skip over Julia Werth’s remarkably damning news story detailing years of failure to follow state law and to exercise adequate financial oversight, both by the superintendent and the school board. Well don’t. If ever there was a learning moment… it would be a forensic analysis of how the Region 4 school district managed to spend more than $379,000 on a piece of property, without a public vote as required by law and without having money set aside to pay for it. We’ll have more on that

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45-Day Window for Connecticut Port Authority Hearings

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It’s remarkable that former board chairs Scott Bates and Bonnie Reemsnyder have so far not answered a single substantive question from either the press or state legislators about their leadership roles in either the pending wind energy deal with Eversource and Ørsted, or in the near dissolution of the Connecticut Port Authority. The same can be said for Executive Director Evan Matthews, who for all we know may still be be drawing a salary from the state of Connecticut. In that regard, I’d like to join State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) and State Rep. Christine Conley (D-Groton) in calling for

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Editorial: Sexual Misconduct, and Taking Responsibility for our Schools

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Young people are the pivot around which everything turns. In southeast Connecticut, education budgets dwarf the size of most other town expenses. Old Lyme will spend about $27.5 million of the $38.9 million FY 2019/20 budget on education. Hand me a hot button issue – whether it’s 8-30g affordable housing or the balance of revenues between property taxes and income taxes – and I’ll show you most likely that a good bit of it comes down to how and where we raise our children. Quality schools are a major driver of property values, which attract the young, but also provide

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Editorial: On “Churnalism” and Town Public Relations

On September 4, like many local residents, I opened a news story on a local media outlet, only to receive the same news story the next day in an email from the Town of Old Lyme. It’s not clear whether the story was written by town staff and forwarded in advance to the media outlet, or whether the media outlet wrote the story and it was later forwarded to residents by the Town of Old Lyme. Both stories are word-for-word the same, and neither are attributed, so it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg. On the one hand,

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Editorial: Deeply Wrong at The Day

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Let’s just say that it is an open secret that something is deeply wrong at The Day, from its wildly gyrating attitude toward the port authority story, to its sometimes snarling headlines, to its willful disregard for context at the expense of the truth. This is not a case of the blind leading the blind, it’s worse—the newspaper of record in southeast Connecticut eyes-wide-open walking off a cliff. “Gov. Lamont spits on New London” is perhaps the most egregious example of a headline by the paper’s much-read “news columnist,” David Collins. We’re not exactly sure what rules govern a news

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Editorial: Unresolved Questions and Today’s Port Authority Hearings

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Twelve weeks ago, someone filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging some sort of misdoings regarding Connecticut Port Authority finances. At the time, Scott Bates was board chair of the Connecticut Port Authority. Bonnie Reemsnyder was finance committee chair. Evan Matthews was executive director. Gerri Lewis was office manager and ethics compliance officer. All have since departed. First, Bates stepped down as chair. He was replaced by Reemsnyder. Gerri Lewis was fired by Matthews. Matthews was then placed on leave. Then Reemsnyder resigned, and finally Bates. It’s frankly damning that twelve weeks later no one has been able to provide a half-plausible

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Editorial: Strategy, Liability, and Planning for Sewers in Old Lyme

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Now that the votes are counted, and the referendum to borrow up to $9.5 million approved, I guess it’s too late for the relatively tiny neighborhood of Sound View to reconsider a strategy which, when you think about it, amounted to convincing the vast majority of residents what a fantastic deal they’d be getting by approving the plan. Whether that deal holds up remains to be seen — Sound View residents have hired a lawyer and are mounting a well-funded legal challenge — and the actual text of the resolution (you did read the full text of the resolution, didn’t

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Editorial: Six Questions for the Connecticut Port Authority

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It seemed unlikely that Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder would have the last word with her announced resignation from the board and as chair of the Connecticut Port Authority following a growing media storm sparked by news that more than $3000 of public money was spent to purchase artwork by Erin Reemsnyder to decorate the authority’s Old Saybrook offices. Now that Gov. Ned Lamont has joined Republicans and Democrats, including State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), State Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton), State Rep. Devin Carney (R-Old Lyme), in calling for hearings on the matter, I’d like to cautiously put forward

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Editorial: On Reemsnyder’s Resignation from the Connecticut Port Authority

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I take no pleasure in First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder’s
resignation from the Connecticut Port Authority (CPA), nor in the remarkably abrupt
change in coverage from The Day that would end her brief tenure.

That ‘news’ columnist David Collins chose only yesterday to
notice that Ms. Reemsnyder had a professional background in daycare, rather than
in transportation or finance, speaks as much to the performance of The Day as
to the performance of the quasi-public agency ...

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Editorial: A Few Questions Before A Vote…

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On August 13, the Town of Old Lyme will vote to decide whether to borrow $9.5 million to finance the installation of sewers for commercial and residential properties in Sound View, and an adjacent neighborhood just north of Shore Road called “Miscellaneous Town Area B.” It’s our understanding that state law gives municipalities broad discretion in how they choose to charge for sewers – fair or not, that’s a high bar for shoreline property owners now considering legal avenues if the referendum is approved. But, how is it fair that seasonal residents are forced to pay for a school system

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