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ZBA lawsuit gets attention of Norwich Ethics Commission

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published January 17. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - The city Ethics Commission will consider investigating a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals for an alleged conflict of interest that also is the subject of a lawsuit against the ZBA for denying permits to a homeowner who had partially built a deck without permits.

Ethics Commission member Ira Misenheimer told the commission Monday he was approached by an unnamed member of the ZBA who asked that the Ethics Commission launch the investigation on its own into the possible conflict-of-interest claim.

After consulting with attorney Edward O'Connell, the commission determined that it does have the authority to initiate complaints, and can do so concurrent with the pending lawsuit. Misenheimer agreed to write the potential complaint, and the commission will consider it at its Feb. 4 meeting.

While Misenheimer and the Ethics Commission did not divulge names, the only pending suit against the ZBA was filed in October by resident John Burgess, who challenged the commission's denial of a variance to build a deck 2 feet from the side property line at 74 Russell Road.

In the lawsuit, Burgess complained that ZBA member Raymond Dussault "likely had a conflict of interest because of his relationship with one of the abutting property owners."

During the Ethics Commission discussion, Misenheimer said the allegation was made to him that the ZBA member had "ex parte" communication - outside the official public hearing process - with someone involved in the zoning dispute.

Dussault on Tuesday denied the allegations that he had contact with parties involved in the case and said the complaints are politically motivated.

He said the Ethics Commission should not become involved in the situation until the court appeal is resolved. He also said the ZBA member who brought the complaint to Misenheimer should come forward.

"Wait until the appeal is resolved," Dussault said. "Let the process work and decide on any actions I may or may not have taken. I'd be willing to sit down with the Ethics Commission once the issue has been dealt with in court."

Misenheimer told the Ethics Commission that the ZBA member making the complaint did not want to write the complaint because it could lead to political problems and instead asked Misenheimer to bring the issue to the commission.

c.bessette@theday.com

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