Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Robert Fromer Responds to Blog Posts

I received an e-mail from Robert Fromer today disputing my blog posts on the public hearings that resulted in the Windsor Town Council removing him from the Windsor wetlands agency in early October. With his consent I am publishing his e-mail on my blog. I am unable to post the 2 letters that were sent as attachments. The first letter, 4 pages with a 5 page attachment, dated September 7, 2010 to the Windsor wetlands agency addresses the "recurring false and misleading staff comments for the September 7, 2010 meeting." The second letter, 3 pages long with 2 attachments comprising 14 pages, is addressed to the Windsor Town Council and is entitled: "Complaint concerning the consistently recurring failure of the Wetlands Agent, Cyd Groff, Linnea Gilbert, Chairman of the Windsor Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and member commissioners to reasonably interpret and implement the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act and the Commission's Regulations on the necessary findings for the delegation of authority to approve applications and issue permits."

Robert Fromer speaks:

I read your blogs based on your appearances at the public hearings for my removal. It's crystal clear that you haven't read the written evidence, nor do you know the actual facts. I am very disappointed in you because as an attorney and former AAG, I believed that you or should base your commentary strictly on facts. Hearsay and testimonies are not evidentiary facts but opinions. If you read the evidence, you'll learn that the primary issue is the utter incompetence of Cyd Groff and the commissioners on certain statutory and regulatory issues, which they have and continue to violate. I have attached recent correspondence to the town manager and town council on just one such issue; there were numerous others.

I took my oath of office very seriously. I challenged all information coming to the commission based on my philosphy of "trust but verify." The other commissioners totally relied on Agent Groff when her opinions or activities were often wrongful. I wonder if you know the three basis for removal of a wetlands commissioner.

In fact, I would love to debate you at public forums on just the unlawful removal. Are you up to the challenge?

A Citizen Attorney General

My response:

I declined the invitation to debate the issue. The point isn't what I believe is the right outcome. I was neither the protagonist nor the decision-maker in that proceeding. I acknowledge I didn't read the trial notebooks. I listened to the sworn testimony and I called 'em like I saw 'em. My sight may be imperfect. It's just one vision. But a debate? It's not about me, Robert Fromer, it's not about me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fundamental fairness and orderly agency meetings

Reports are coming in, so says The Day, that Robert Fromer will be appealing his removal from the Windsor Town Council and that he will prevail on appeal. At this point it's time to look at the bigger picture.

Is there nothing to be done short of permanent removal of a disruptive member?

As I have written, not every town will have the fortitude of the Town of Windsor to undertake the process of removal of a wetlands agency member who is a disruption to the orderly process.

Our administrative agencies are required by the courts to conduct their business in accord with "fundamental fairness." The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a wetlands appeal, has instructed us to use that phrase instead of the previously used "due process rights" which suggested there is a constitutional source of such rights, which is limited to those who have a property interest. Fundamental fairness, on the other hand, is owed to everyone.

The chairwoman of the Windsor wetlands agency described Fromer's unwillingness to cease talking, an unwillingness to allow the chairwoman to speak and to move the meeting along. Both the town manager and she discussed a technique of calling a recess, in order to break the flow. It was not clear to me if and how that technique was used and its effect.

Is it fundamentally fair to have applicants and the public subjected to agency conduct which has been characterized as "dysfunctional" and "chaotic" which resulted in at least 2 instances where the agency failed to consider the merits of the application and impose any conditions because the agency appeared fatigued by the unrelenting talk of one member? I think not.

If applicants are owed notice and the opportunity to be heard, is anything heard when a member has so disrupted the process to render it "chaotic"?

I recall the early 1990s in Middletown, where I reside. Syd Libby had engaged in highly disruptive interference with city council and agency business, sometimes accompanied with his verbal hurling of anti-semitic epithets. (Ironically enough, Mr. Libby was Jewish). This took place at the Common Council meetings and the Conservation Commission in town over a couple of years, as I recall. The police were called in and he was arrested on a number of occasions for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. Mr. Libby was convicted, in fact, on such charges for conduct at a Conservation Commission meeting. (The Middletown Conservation Commission does not serve as the inland wetlands agency in town.) The Commission had voted to go into executive session to consider the purchase of property as part of the city's open space acquisition; Mr. Libby refused to leave the meeting. His physical presence prevented the Commission from executing its duties -- which by law were authorized to be undertaken outside of public purview.

Perhaps, you say, there is a difference between disruptive behavior of an appointed member and a member of the public. As far as the disruption goes, there is not. Removing the disruptive member removes his ability to vote, at least on that application. Are appointed members allowed to be as disruptive or more disruptive than the public simply because they have been appointed? What would the legal basis be? After all, the member has sworn to uphold the law. If a member's conduct deprives the applicant and/or the public of fundamental fairness, how can the agency fulfill its duties?

So, I suggest that there is a judicious use of police presence and police action when meetings descend into anarchy. (I could not bring myself to write about police intervention, as I had intended last Friday morning, after I was accosted with online pictures of German demonstrators bleeding from their eyes after police intervention in the Schlossgarten park in Stuttgart, Germany.) I brought up this topic with Attorney Mark Branse as we were carpooling together last week. We have both been at public hearings where the police have been called in. In hotly contested proposals members of the public were still allowed their opportunity to express themselves, evenly heated, within the bounds of civil discourse. It may have served to chill disruptive behavior, however.

Along with Assistant Attorney General David Wrinn, Mark Branse and I will be offering two workshops as we have for the past 3 or 4 years at the CACIWC annual meeting in November. We offer an update on legislation and case law. Mark and I have decided that controlling chaotic agency proceedings is as important as understanding the latest Appellate Court case on consideration of wildlife (both of we will also be covering.)

Will the judicious use of police presence avert another town from having to await a mass of evidence such as Windsor accumulated? Hopefully. Is it a step that should be undertaken with counsel from the town? Absolutely. Will it curb repeated disruptions? Unknown. Will it stop people from filing FOIA request upon FOIA request? Not at all.

A reader of this blog with whom I have shared my idea of the use of police was frankly aghast at my implicit position that member conduct could ever be criminal. But consider the inverse: member conduct is never criminal? "Never" is a long time. Our messages were flying through cyberspace at each other. I invite readers to add their comments at the bottom of any post. Bring on the searing, scathing comments and the civil dialog that will ensue. And if you prefer, you may just correspond with me at

I wasn't sure at the beginning why I decided to go to all of the Windsor Town Council meetings. David Drury of the Hartford Courant was certainly doing an excellent job keeping me informed. I guess I wanted to see if this is the new norm of how to remove a commission member. Thirty years since the Obeda case, our administrative hearings have become as formal as our court proceedings. I guess I wanted to understand how far the conduct of one member had gone and what that had done to the process. I was struck by the sense of helplessness and hopelessness of the volunteer members . . . and by the less than adequate quality of wetlands permits that were being issued.

May civil discourse rule.

Final vote by Windsor Town Council removes Fromer from wetlands agency for cause

In the shortest meeting to date, approximately 15 minutes, the Windsor Town Council on Monday night received the findings of fact drafted by Town Attorney Vincent Oswecki, Jr., and made a motion to remove Robert Fromer for cause for one reason: Fromer "impedes the ability of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission in performing its duties to the public." That one reason is bolstered with 24 enumerated bases of support.

The findings are remarkably crafted to reflect the breadth and depth of testimony of the various people who testified, town employees, members of the agency and representatives of applicants. The findings refer to his interference with the wetlands agent by making "incessant demands . . . including over 600 e-mails;" his constant disparagement" of the wetlands agent creating "a hostile work environment;" his disparaging remarks about fellow commissioners "discourag[ing] volunteerism;" "he uses the Commission as a tool to press his personal, radical agenda on nearly every issue, disparaging anyone who disagrees with him;" his repeated insistence on pursuing matters beyond the agency's jurisdiction; his creating a "hostile, dysfunctional atmosphere . . . by intimidating other members of the Commission from fully participating by demeaning them and demeaning the applicants;" his "domineering, arrogant and hostile behavior resulting in repeated disruptive clashes with other members . . . staff . . . other representatives of applicants appearing before the commission; his "grandiose sense of his rights" and his view that "other members of the Commission, staff and others as targets to be dominated and humiliated."

The findings culminate in conclusions such as: "he does not possess the social norms of behavior to constructively participate on the Commission;" and "a man who aspires to be the 'most hated man in Windsor', 'Bad Guy', or 'Public Enemy Number 1', exhibits disdain for the general public and common good and cannot be left in position of serving the Town of Windsor."

One basis lays out a reference to the orderly process envisioned by the Wetlands Act, set out in the legislative finding in Section 22a-36 of the General Statutes, and how Fromer treated the regulations as "a spider web to advance his agenda and to trap and delay applicants." Fromer's predatory web was implicitly contrasted with the oft-repeated statutory reference in that same statutory finding to the "wetlands and watercourses [being] an interrelated web of nature."

The motion was made and seconded. It was no surprise how the Town Council would vote. But the Council used its discussion on the motion instead to reach out in two interesting ways. Deputy Mayor Alan Simon spoke directly to the residents of Windsor -- he apologized for Fromer's appointment and for the waste of town time and money to remove him. I was moved by this gesture. When is the last time you heard government apologize? (How many decades did it take for a Congressional apology for the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II?)

Council member William Herzfeld addressed the judiciary, with the hope that whatever limitations the Obeda case may have imposed in that 1980 Connecticut Supreme Court decision would not be an obstacle to Fromer's removal thirty years later.

The vote of the Town Council followed: 8-0.

The Town Council was remarkable in its diligence and fortitude in reviewing the mass of documents submitted on both sides and conducting lengthy night hearings.

But I return to my original thoughts: is this the only avenue left to agencies and towns? Certainly there are towns unwilling to expend the time and money to remove a commission member. My final thoughts in the next post.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Continued musings on Robert Fromer: Civil Discourse Interruptus -- Stuttgart, Germany

I sat down at my desk this morning to continue my musings on the proceedings before the Windsor Town Council and specifically the proceedings before the Windsor Inland Wetlands Agency for the past 18 months, described by the town manager, environmental planner and commission members alike as "chaos."

But the tremendous winds blew in the chaos from Stuttgart, Germany where massive demonstrations are underway by a citizens group opposing "Stuttgart 21," an equally massive construction project to move the above-ground main train station underground. The project will necessitate the removal of 282 trees in the Schlossgarten, a centrally located urban park near the train station. The first 25 trees were scheduled to be taken down this morning beginning at dawn.

Peaceful protesters arrived yesterday, followed by others with reports numbering from the tens of thousands up to 100,000 -- the participants range from school age children through retirees. It is reported that one thousand police created a human chain around the 25 trees to be removed today. The interactions between police and protestors escalated in the use by police of pepper spray, tear gas and water. The police report that 26 demonstrators between the ages of 15 and 68 have been arrested and that the German Red Cross has treated 114 wounded demonstrators.

While living in Munich in 1975-76 and Nuremberg in 2003, I traveled through the Stuttgart train stations dozens of time to visit my relatives who live in Stuttgart and villages in the vicinity. The reports of chaos there are heartbreaking.

I will return to civil discourse in Connecticut in another post.