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The Common Council at its May meeting voted 8 - 4 to gift city-owned land to a private soccer club,
Middletown Youth Soccer, to use for its Sporting CT elite soccer program.
Now several councilmen have written to Mayor Ben Florsheim and General Counsel Brig Smith that the gift of the land violated city ordinances, and urged their fellow council members to rescind the vote.
The issue will be discussed at the Economic Development Commission meeting, tomorrow via WebEx (agenda). Attend the meeting (virtually) HERE.
The soccer fields at 395 Country Club Road are part of the city's open space inventory, which is intended to provide passive and active recreation for city residents. Sporting CT schedules it for games between elite teams from New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and occasionally for the volunteer-run, and city-specific youth soccer program.
Three of the councilmen who voted no on the gift, Vinnie Loffredo, Ed McKeon, and Grady Faulkner, pointed to several sections of the ordinances were not followed. According to the charter (excerpts):
- The Economic Development Committee may initiate a process to divest itself of property it has in its inventory."
- The Economic Development Committee will carry out Determination of fair market value.
- The Economic Development Committee shall request a C.G.S. § 8-24 review from the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine compliance with the City plan of conservation and development.
- The Economic Development Committee will determine that the property or properties in question are indeed surplus and will not be needed by the City in the future (surplus property).
- The [Economic Development] Committee will hold a public hearing to hear comments from the public and to see if any other interested parties are interested in the property.
- The Economic Development Committee may, at its discretion and/or if there is more than one interested buyer, decide to pursue the selection of a buyer via a competitive process, including sealed offers and development proposals.
- The Economic Development Committee may, at its discretion, judge the prospective buyer(s) by any criteria it sees fit.
General Counsel Smith responded to the first point above, with a riff on the "may" in the first point above (bold and underline in the original):
Section 232-6(A) states that the “Economic Development Committee may initiate a process to divest itself of property it has in its inventory” and subsection (B) provides that a “private entity may approach the city via the Economic Development Committee and request to purchase property….” Pursuant to the ordinance, if the EDC initiates a process to explore divesting city property, or if the EDC is approached by a private entity to purchase city property, then the EDC must follow the procedures set forth in Sections 232-7 through 232-14. The ordinance, which provides for a procedure that the city may follow, cannot be read to provide a procedure that the city must follow, let alone the only one that the city can follow. Nowhere in the ordinance does it state that this procedure is the sole one that can be followed for every transaction, or that failing to follow the procedures set forth in the ordinance would render any divestment of city property void.
Loffredo and McKeon responded today, "We respectfully disagree." They point out that there is specific language in the Code of Ordinances that allows the requirements to be waived, "Except to the extent prohibited by law, the requirements described in this article can be waived by a vote of the Common Council if, in the opinion of the Economic Development Committee, such waiver is in the best interest of the City of Middletown."
The Economic Development Commission consists of 5 Council Members, in addition to Loffredo and McKeon, they are Anthony Gennaro, Jeanette Blackwell, and Philip Pessina. The EDC meets tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7PM, the meeting is virtual on WebEx (HERE
), there is a public session at the beginning of the meeting.