9/21/2005

A Vested Interest In Eminent Domain: Hartford (CT) Courant, 9/18/05

Op-Ed

By Laurence D. Cohen

The New London eminent domain case that roused the U.S. Supreme Court to encourage local politicians to seize your property and play economic development games with their developer pals horrified and agitated the Connecticut populace for about 3 minutes and 16 seconds.

Oh, the obligatory political press conferences were held to promise (cross their hearts and hope to develop a new hotel) that the eminent domain process would be "fair"; the make-believe public hearings were held so that "experts" could nod their heads wisely and tell the politicians what they wanted to hear: Go slow in "reforming" eminent domain.

Of course, nothing has changed. Gov. M. Jodi Rell noted, for one brief moment, that the discontent with the seemingly unfettered nature of eminent domain had created a "Boston Tea Party" sense of revolution among the great unwashed. But nothing has changed.

Short of marching in the streets and padlocking themselves to the front door of the state Capitol, the normal people aren't going to get protection from politicians who enjoy abusing eminent domain powers for their own amusement - and the profits of their developer pals.

The politicians aren't your friends on this issue. They don't "represent" you. You are the enemy that stands in the way of allowing them to bulldoze you out of the way to make room for "progress."

The National League of Cities and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and other special-interest groups masquerading as your friends have had their discreet huddles on the eminent domain conspiracy. They have launched the public relations counter-offensive to guarantee that at the end of the day, you can be given a check (paid for with your own tax money) and sent packing to make room for that dreamy new economic development scheme.

The lobbyists poised to kill any eminent domain reform that manages to survive a committee vote next year in the General Assembly won't be limited to the paid gunslingers for the developers who find you all a nuisance. No, lined up to kill the reforms will be the municipal politicians elected to represent you. They will be up there in Hartford working against your best interests.

The local politicians will pretend that they are up there opposing eminent domain reform because they happened to wake up one morning and decide that it's simply too "dangerous" to protect our private property rights. But the campaign is already being orchestrated; the boys and girls who control the economic development loot have already begun to work their magic, in cahoots with one another.

Consider the September opinion essay written by First Selectwoman Dolores Schiesel of Kent, which appeared in the weekly Litchfield County Times. It is an impassioned request to "go slow' on changing eminent domain; it is a personal, anguished defense of this "essential tool" for local government.

Here's an excerpt from what she wrote: "To this end, I encourage our legislative leaders and the governor to consult with municipal officials as they consider modifications of state law concerning municipal acquisition of property for a public purpose." Doesn't it bring tears to your eye? Very heartfelt and personal.

Now, ponder another essay on eminent domain, written by Town Council Chairwoman Helen Bergenty of Plainville, which appeared in August in the Herald newspaper of New Britain.

"To this end, I encourage our legislative leaders and the governor to consult with municipal officials as they consider modifications of state law concerning municipal acquisition of property for a public purpose."

Yes, it's identical. Some flourishes and minor differences have been inserted in their pieces so they can pretend they are not part of the larger conspiracy to sabotage your property rights and lock them in some desk drawer at town hall.

This is war. Your local pols are not on your side. With the exception of a few brave state legislators, who will be squashed like bugs on this issue, the political interests are as one in their love affair with the notion that they can call in the bulldozers and play development games with your property.

You'll be seeing quite a few impassioned opinion essays on this subject.

The propaganda machine is already hard at work, writing "individual" pieces for the local pols to sign off on.

Connecticut won't reform its eminent domain laws. It's a disgrace.


Hartford Courant: www.courant.com

Laurence D. Cohen is a public policy consultant who served as special assistant to former Gov. John G. Rowland: cohencolumn@aol.com