Tuesday, May 08, 2007

JI Story On Enfield 5-8-07


Ex-Democratic chairman in Enfield
blames Democratic mayor for controversy

By Alex Wood, Journal Inquirer

ENFIELD - Former Democratic Town Chairman Jack Mancuso said Monday that he has filed complaints with state and federal prosecutors over what he considers "unfounded" zoning action that the town has taken over parking at the Enfield Montessori School.

"All I know is that what is being done to the sisters is wrong, and it is being led by the mayor," Mancuso said, referring to the Felician sisters, the Roman Catholic religious order that runs the school. The order also owns other buildings and land near the intersection of Enfield Street and Post Office Road.

But Mayor Patrick L. Tallarita - a Democrat who, like Mancuso, attended the Montessori school as a child - vigorously disputes that he has had anything to do with the zoning actions at issue.

"I don't have any influence over the Planning and Zoning Commission," Tallarita said. "In my mind, it's all baseless rumor."

The mayor added that he welcomes any investigation because he has nothing to hide.

"There's nothing I've done that's illegal, immoral, or unethical," he said.

The Hartford Business Journal reported this week that the chief state's attorney's office has begun an investigation of Tallarita.

But Mark Dupuis, a spokesman for the office, said, "We don't comment on matters that may or may not be under investigation."

The business newspaper reported that Janice Kmetz, a police inspector assigned to the Public Integrity Bureau of the chief state's attorney's office, had opened an investigation of Tallarita in early March.

The newspaper said it had obtained e-mails "from Kmetz to various people who are part of the investigation." But it added that the e-mails "didn't spell out which of the mayor's actions are under scrutiny."

Report not confirmed

Calls Monday by the Journal Inquirer to 17 people with potential knowledge of the situation failed to identify anyone who reported being contacted by the chief state's attorney's office as part of an investigation.

Mancuso, an accountant, said he had received what appeared to be a form e-mail from Kmetz acknowledging receipt of his complaint. But he said the chief state's attorney's office has had no contact with him beyond that.

Mancuso estimated that he received the acknowledgement about two weeks ago, saying it came "fairly quickly" after he filed his complaint. "I'm just guessing at the dates," he added.

Still, Mancuso's estimate raises questions about whether his complaint could be the sole basis for an investigation that the Hartford Business Journal says has been going on for some two months.

Mancuso said he e-mailed his complaint directly to Kmetz after receiving her address from Andy Thibault, a Litchfield-based blogger who has written extensively on the controversy surrounding the Montessori school and other allegations of misconduct by Tallarita.

Mancuso said he also has received acknowledgement of a complaint he sent to U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor's office.

Mancuso said his son and daughter attend the Montessori School. "The sisters asked a bunch of parents if we could help them, and we are," he said.

But Tallarita suggested that the bad blood between him and Mancuso runs deeper than the Montessori School controversy. The mayor said he was part of a group of people who ran Mancuso out of the Democratic Party.

Mancuso subsequently ran for Town Council as a petitioning candidate and was defeated.

Longstanding rumors

Rumors have been swirling over the zoning controversies involving the Montessori School for at least two years, according to people involved in local politics.

Tallarita's critics have suggested, in essence, that the mayor is part of a land grab, either to gain access through the Felician Sisters property to landlocked property behind it or even to buy land belonging to the sisters.

They suggest that actions taken against the Montessori School by the Planning and Zoning Commission on parking issues have been part of a campaign of harassment designed to achieve those goals.

Tallarita replies, however, that his family's only real-estate interest in the area - other than ownership of their family home - was his wife's partnership in a two-lot subdivision in the Yale Court area that has been developed and sold. Jeanette Tallarita owned the property with M. Diane Frederick, the mayor said.

But he said the property was neither landlocked nor abutting the Montessori School property. He said development of the lots required installation only of a common driveway - not a street.

Tallarita said his wife and Frederick went through normal procedures to subdivide the property and that the proposal won unanimous approval from local land-use boards. He added that the town's Ethics Commission ruled that his wife could make the subdivision application.

Tallarita said that neither he, his wife, nor Frederick has ever approached the Felician Sisters about acquiring any of their land.

"I don't get involved with Enfield planning and zoning issues, and I have a wonderful relationship with the Felician Sisters," the mayor said. "I participate in all their fundraisers."

Intramural lawsuit

One of the issues over parking at the Montessori School involved an order by Zoning Enforcement Officer Wayne Bickley that the school stop using a gravel parking area on the front of its property. The Zoning Board of Appeals overturned the order. The Planning and Zoning Commission then appealed to Superior Court, where a judge upheld the PZC's action.

Mancuso and others have suggested the mayor ultimately was responsible for the court appeal because the Town Council, of which he is chairman, has authority over all town spending, including the spending on the outside lawyers who represented both local boards in the lawsuit.

But Tallarita said that, to the best of his recollection, both boards paid for their lawyers out of their normal budgets. He said it would be inappropriate for the Town Council to attempt to influence the actions of independent boards through funding.

Critics also have suggested that Tallarita may have received improper discounts on appliances from the Bernie's store on King Street, which got a tax break from the town.
Tallarita called that accusation "preposterous."

"The only thing I would have utilized was any coupons that any consumer could get," he said.

As to the tax break, he said, "I'm one vote on a council of 11, made up of Democrats and Republicans."

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