Halls Road Committee Must Address Due Process Concerns

With a meeting of the Halls Road Improvements Committee scheduled for tonight, I’ll keep this to the point. While it is true that the Connecticut General Assembly grants the Old Lyme Zoning Commission wide latitude to consider and approve changes to zoning regulations, that latitude is constrained by the public’s right to due process, including the right of the public to meaningfully comment on the substance of a hearing. Unfortunately for the committee, the courts do not care whether violations of the law involve Democrats or Republicans, the best or worst intentions. The reality is that the committee stumbled into

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Consultant-driven Planning in Old Lyme

The other day, I joked to a friend, that if the Declaration of Independence was signed yesterday, it would have been drafted by McKinsey – a silly way of making a serious point, that so much of contemporary public life, law and policy is written by outside consultants with little local knowledge and less at stake when their best laid plans go awry. In the case of the proposed regulations for Halls Road in Old Lyme, I don’t think members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, and Economic Development Commission intended to mislead the public – in numerous comments on

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Just Crickets in Connecticut as Court Takes Narrow View of Whistleblower Protections

Since early October, countless columnists, lawyers and elected officials – many in Connecticut – have voiced support for Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, who came forward with a variety of damning information about the conduct of the social media platform. But a state employee whistleblower case right here in Connecticut that I believe deserves similar attention has curiously drawn little reaction from those so vocal on the Facebook matter. As far as we are aware, Haugen has not alleged witnessing any crime or any conspiracy to commit a crime as a private employee of the company, but

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Has Anyone Actually Read the New Rules for Halls Road (and Flo Gris)?

On Oct. 12, with little fanfare, Old Lyme’s Zoning Commission took up a petition to change the existing rules determining what owners of private parcels of land can and cannot do in a new “village district,” stretching from Huntley Rd. and the shopping center, clear across to the Florence Griswold Museum and the Krieble Gallery. Town officials are now ‘on the clock,’ through the election and into the holidays, to decide whether to approve or reject a 61-page plan that includes several dozen significant changes governing everything from the style guidelines for acceptable architecture and renovations to what sorts of

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Regarding Clinton Schools — CT Examiner Responds

A number of claims have been made about our reporting, in an apparent effort to quash any serious outside inquiry or reporting on numerous teacher complaints alleging a toxic work environment in Clinton public schools. That these claims have been manufactured primarily by the Connecticut Education Association, a self-described “driving force in lobbying legislators for the resources public schools need and campaigning for high standards for teachers and students,” is ironic and disappointing. Hardnosed advocacy and sharp elbows are something we expect from organized labor in support of its members. And we understand and respect that role. But here we

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On the Matter of Equity and East Lyme

As a practical matter, I see no reason to question the thrust of the recommendations made by the Equity Institute, which are, by and large, common sense.  Yes, East Lyme school officials should work to reduce bullying, and to make school settings a space for young people to learn and grow. Yes, school officials should try to construct a curriculum that is diverse and relevant, equally nurturing for young people who wish to learn a trade or to attend college. Yes, school officials should do their best to provide equal opportunity and discipline, if necessary, to every student. Classrooms should

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On the Matter of Bordelon’s Comments

We neither favor nor endorse candidates for election. In the case of Portia Bordelon, who is running in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for Groton Town Council, there are, no doubt, fair reasons to oppose her candidacy. But Bordelon’s vocal objections to the Groton Oral School project — in defiance of the legal advice of Groton Town Attorney Eric Callahan – should not be counted among them. We believe that Callahan, at best, spoke with a surfeit of caution when he advised members of the Groton Town Council to refrain from responding to public comments at a May 4 meeting on the

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About That Rail Route More Parallel to I-95

We’re not sure what to make of reported comments by Amtrak head William Flynn, who apparently reassured Charlestown, RI in a recent phone call that the multistate Northeast Corridor Commission is now leaning toward routing a new high-speed rail line between Providence and New Haven on a path “more parallel to Route 95.” If you don’t recall, the last attempt to finalize a route — a fiasco known as the Kenyon to Old Saybrook Bypass — went down in flames in 2017. That left unfinished business on the federal level, where the Federal Railroad Administration still needs (wants?) to complete

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By the Numbers — COVID and the Return of School

In any given year, for every 100,000 people living in Connecticut about 200 are victims of potentially life-altering violent crime. 8 die in car crashes. 5 are killed by firearms. 1 drowns. Somewhat fewer are hit and killed by cars. About 20 are victims of forcible rape. And about 50 males for every 100,000 will die from accidental poisoning or exposure to chemicals and solvents. Over the last 18 months, based on CDC numbers, about 233 of every 100,000 people in Connecticut died of COVID-19. But in Connecticut, the odds of a young person, aged 19 and under, dying of

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Why Won’t Metro-North Release Their Numbers?

On May 21, CT Examiner’s Brendan Crowley made a simple Freedom of Information request, asking Metro-North to document the number of citations or tickets the railroad has issued for mask-wearing violations since January 1, 2020. It’s the sort of straight-forward request that a well-functioning public agency can usually fill in a week, maybe two, often less. So, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we have our answer, and that Metro-North is not a well-functioning agency. How far that dysfunction extends is less clear — but I see no reason to believe that transit officials are doing a better

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You Can’t Have a One to One Mapping of American History

As some of you may know, my academic training is not in journalism, but Russian and Modern European history. I also have an academic interest in cultural theory and method, and have taught Adorno, Benjamin, and Habermas – theorists directly and indirectly attached to the Frankfurt School – at the college level. I’ve actually translated Benjamin from the German.  I know, as the columnist David Collins once wrote, some time before our launch, it’s a funny sort of pointy-headed profession for someone to start a newspaper. But I suppose every so often it comes in handy when the public debate

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CT Examiner Turns Two

How to sum up the past two years?..  Well over 1,800 stories, 1,500,000 words, the rough equivalent of 15 novels. Our coverage has expanded significantly to include Hartford, and our readership to include a loyal following in Washington, D.C. and New York City. In just the last week, writing in CT Examiner has been featured in Real Clear Policy, blogged in Fishery Nation and by the United Farm Workers, linked or referenced in USA Today, Connecticut Public broadcasting, and Stamford Advocate. We’ve had one threat of legal action (ignored), fielded an email from Koch Industries and personal calls for help

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What about Regulating Connecticut’s Internet Broadband

It was inevitable, given the lessons of the last year, the innovations of online learning and medicine, that state Democrats would add access to the internet to a small number of regulated public utilities – along with water and electricity – basically guaranteeing every person in Connecticut the right to a speedy connection. Already many Republicans, and some Democrats, would toss in the regulation of private companies – Twitter and Facebook — that provide social media. But given near universal dissatisfaction with the cost and service of Eversource and United Illuminating, it’s probably worth seriously considering what good will come

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A Great Talking Machine — Vaccine Exemptions, Police Accountability, Structural Racism

“A great talking machine whose grinding gears drowned out the insidious truth of administrative continuity” was how the historian Lynn Hunt described it — the paradoxical language of revolution and disruption and cataclysm, when nothing much of anything ever seems to happen. Yes, the state is proving that it can spend breathtaking amounts of money, but unlike say 60 years ago, I don’t think anyone has any expectation of more than incremental change on the dollar — perhaps because the currency of politics these days is not accomplishment, but instead the measure of just how much annoyance and outrage a

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Understanding ‘Environmental Justice’

It’s not exactly a secret that when city, state and federal governments decide where to route an interstate, site a sewage treatment plant, or build a waste incinerator, it’s most often poorer and less politically advantaged neighborhoods that bear the brunt of the projects. That’s in part why the sewage from Old Lyme’s beach communities, which could be pumped a mile or so west to the Connecticut River, will instead be pumped 15 miles east to New London, where it is treated and released in the Thames River. Likewise, garbage collected in Lyme, Old Lyme and Essex – and 48

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Clean Water and Affordable Housing — a Problem and a Fix

It’s not zoning, or angry crowds, it’s sewers that may put the kibosh on a plan for 67 units of affordable housing in Old Lyme – part of a 224-unit 11-building residential complex proposed for a 20-acre site on Hatchetts Hill Road. The fact is, it’s nearly impossible to build dense housing of any sort without sewers. You might recall, the proposed Hope Partnership development on Neck Road in Old Lyme would have provided just 37 units of affordable housing on septic and still required a loophole and a subdivide to get around Connecticut’s stringent environmental laws. But here’s the

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Residents Deserve a Vote

There is no rule requiring that the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education win the approval of local residents before committing them to plans for a new multimillion-dollar sports field. The nine-member board could vote on the project as soon as Wednesday. In fact, school Superintendent Ian Neviaser, with the support of the board, has been salting away money for the project – to the tune of $2,107,873 — in an “undesignated” fund for years. Clearly, in the short term at least, the cost of the field is unlikely to explode budgets. But whether this amounts to fiscal prudence or fiscal

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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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