Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The wrong choice for city commission


In depressingly typical Bridgeport fashion, an appointment that should have been a sure thing has gone sour. Mayor Bill Finch's choice to fill a vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission has city officials trading barbs and raising accusations of bad faith.

It was easy to see coming. Jose Tiago, owner of Tiago Construction on Seaview Avenue, has fought with zoning officials over his business, which authorities say was illegally established. Choosing him to help make decisions about other city residents and how they can use their land was bound to spark controversy.

Complicating matters further are allegations Tiago was less than forthcoming with the city's Ethics Commission, which in January approved the mayor's appointment. One commissioner later said he felt deceived because Tiago falsely told the panel his zoning issues had been resolved. Others say he may have misunderstood the question.

Ethics Commission hearings by law are held behind closed doors; there's no way to tell for certain what anyone said. It well could be a simple misunderstanding.

That's not the issue. A member of a city commission should be free of conflicts regarding the public's business. Fighting a years-long battle over what the city says was an illegal business does not clear that hurdle.
Tiago was issued a cease-and-desist order by the city several years ago for his failure to obtain a special permit or coastal site plan approval for a construction yard on the Seaview Avenue site, which borders the Yellow Mill Channel. In 2007, Tiago went before the PZC seeking to legalize the use of the property, but was denied.

It can be hard to find qualified, available people to serve on boards and commissions who don't present some sort of conflict. Realtors, builders, developers -- these are people who understand city planning, and would do well to serve on a panel like the PZC. Almost anyone who has done business in the area could potentially present a conflict, but that shouldn't preclude everyone with experience from public service.

This goes too far. Zoning rules exist for a reason, and someone who flagrantly flouted the rules over a period of years does not belong in a position to enforce those same rules, even if it does not legally disqualify him.

The city could have found someone with experience and a good working relationship with zoners. Instead, we get one more example of how progress in Bridgeport will always be a long, hard slog.

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