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New London needs a new lawyer

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 19. 2012 4:00AM

It wasn't that long ago that former New London Law Director Thomas Londregan, during a City Council meeting, slipped a letter from the lawyer representing the police chief, documenting the chief's allegations of intimidation by a city councilor, into the inside pocket of his suit coat.

Londregan then patted the outside of his jacket when reporters asked to see the letter and shook his head.

The answer, of course, was a clear and loud no. You can't see it. Never mind freedom of information laws. We're above them here in New London, Londregan might as well have added.

I remember the incident now because city residents have once again been shortchanged on the basics of democracy with yet another unfortunate decision by the Londregan legal machine, even though Thomas Londregan's son Jeffrey, from his father's firm, is now officially the city's law director.

I thought reappointing the Londregan law firm to represent the city was one of the first and biggest disappointments from the change-promising new mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. And it's a mistake that keeps growing in impact.

The latest Londregan insult to city voters is the decision that they can no longer petition the budget to referendum, even though the city charter expressly gives them that right.

Even the president of the city council, Michael Passero, a lawyer himself, dismissed the law director's latest ruling.

"(Voters) have every right to petition," said Passero.

Denying city voters a right to petition wouldn't be quite so egregious if it didn't follow on so many other decisions from this firm that have fallen on the side of political expedience, at the expense of citizens' rights.

The first Finizio-era, Londregan-enabled disregard of citizen rights came before the new mayor even took office.

Finizio, citing a Londregan opinion, declared the vote to sell Riverside Park invalid, even before a recount made the-deal-is-dead announcement stunt moot, since the measure failed to pass in the end.

The mayor, in declaring the deal dead, cited an expired deadline in the sales contract for the park and the lack of provisions to replace the park with other open space. Even if those obstacles were legitimate - and it seems unlikely they could not have been overcome - why didn't the city's lawyer foresee the problems in the first place?

The new Londregan law director was behind the mayor's first bungled attempt to deal with the city's fiscal crisis, agreeing to attend a hastily called emergency City Council meeting, before it was canceled by a Freedom of Information Commission suggestion that it would be illegal because of the lack of notice.

The Londregan see-no-hear-no attitude toward freedom of information laws continued after the mayor had agreed on a new contract with city firefighters and sent it on to the City Council for ratification.

Incredibly, the city's lawyers at first ruled that this deal was supposed to remain secret, even as councilors were asked to vote on it. They were told to secretly read it, not comment, but vote.

Really. You can't make this stuff up.

In the end, the lawyers had to agree it was indeed a public document, something most city first-graders could have told them.

The lawyers should also be held responsible for the long period of time the city budget was made public without an attached list of employees and their salaries, as specifically required by city law.

Allowing public meetings without proper notice, failure to make available public documents and denying residents their charter-given right to participate in government are serious shortcomings.

I don't think it's the kind of business-as-usual administration that voters had in mind when they elected a new mayor who promised change, a break from the political nepotism and back-room policies of old.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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