The Villages, LLC v. Enfield Planning and Zoning saga continued last week with Judge Trial Referee Richard Rittenband denying the PZC’s motion for reconsideration and sustaining Villages’ objection.
To provide context to the proceedings, you will find copies of the documents submitted to the Superior Court.
This is yet another slap-down to the PZC by Judge Rittenband, who last month decided that Commissioner Lori Spazzarini Longhi wrongly participated in Villages, LLC’s application and so-tained the proceedings by her participation that Villages was denied a fair hearing.
If the Motion to Reargue is any indication of the grounds upon which Town Attorney Kevin Dineen hopes to appeal, he would do best not to waste his time. A quick read through the motion shows that it is almost entirely directed at issues of fact not issues of law. As mentioned in a prior commentary on this topic– findings of fact are set in stone by the factfinder (either a jury or a judge). The general purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to draw the judge’s attention to a point of law that he may have misinterpreted, not to invite him to revise his fact-finding, unless there are clear factual mistakes or inconsistencies.
In particular, Section 3 of the motion is nothing more than a baldfaced plea to set aside the finding that Commissioner Longhi engaged in ex parte communications and substitute her testimony to the contrary to the Court’s finding of fact. The same is true with Section 1– The commission asks the judge to re-decide whether the second bias incident detailed by former PZC Chair DiPace was communicated to the applicants either prior to or following the application. Again, it calls for a finding of fact. Factual issues generally can only be revisted upon the discovery of new evidence of material significance– and cannot be considered at the appellate level.
Defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff’s claim of bias precludes further claims of bias– is a novel issue of law– but one that has no substantiation in common law.
Although this latest skirmish raises some curious legal issues– there are far more significant policy issues at stake in this case. Often attorneys for a public agency will encourage it to exhaust ever avenue of appeal possible, irregardless of the cost. The Planning and Zoning Commissioners should be wary of such advice. The Town does not have a bottomless treasury– there are undoutedly more meaningful uses for public funds.
Additionally, the Commissioners need to consider whether it’s appropriate to use public funds to defend the private reputation of a Planning and Zoning Commissioner, particularly such injuries to her reputation are the result of her own malfeasance, misconduct, and blatant disregard for impartiality. The residents of Enfield work hard for their money and don’t need their tax dollars being spent on Quixotic judicial appeals. The Commissioners would do well to steer clear of attempts to enlist the public treasury in such a mission.
Rivalries, vendettas, and treachery over the quest for land, money, and power are not new to North Central Connecticut. In fact, they have a long history, as illustrated in the novel Parrish, by Mildred Savage, which was later turned into a movie starring Troy Donahue. In Parrish, small tobacco farmer Sala Post competes with the high and mighty Judd Raike for control of the tobacco fields of North Central Connecticut. The novel is rife with back-handed dealing, driven by the greed, jealousy, and the desire for land. Fifty years after Parrish debuted on the silver screen, the same sentiments that motivated its characters– greed, jealousy, hatred and malice– are alive and well today. If there’s one lessson to take away from this dispute, it is this: Although our society has changed much since the days of Parrish– human nature has not changed at all. Mankind is still the fallen species it has been since the beginning of time. Justice demands that we exercise special caution to ensure that public offices do not fall into the hands of those who are unable to resist such temptations.