May 24, 2006

Kelo’s Crunch Time Looms in New London — Part 2 (to the Tune of $946,000)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:22 pm

NOTE: This has been carried to the top for the rest of the day because of the importance of the topic.

This is the latest in a nine-month series of posts about what is happening to the real people impacted by the Supreme Court’s Kelo eminent domain decision. Many people do not know that the standoff in New London, CT, that gave rise to the decision has never been resolved. The plaintiffs are still in their homes; the city and its “independent” development corporation are still trying to get them out. The drama continues.

Summarizing Part 1 earlier today: As of early May, the battle between the Kelo holdouts and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) was at this point:

  • The NLDC had an “offer” on the table to let the holdouts stay but to pay rent for the rest of their lives, which the holdouts summarily rejected.
  • The NLDC and City council had rejected an offer by the holdouts to allow their homes to be physically moved to adjacent land.
  • The NLDC, assuming it can raise $30 million in an undefined “fundraising drive,” got the deal they coveted for a Coast Guard Museum and adjacent hotel on property not belonging to the holdouts.
  • The Connecticut Legislature did nothing to address eminent domain reform before adjourning in early May.

The only two remaining rays of hope for the holdouts were a change of heart by the NLDC or action by Governor Jodi Rell.

On May 15, any hopes for local resolution disappeared (New London Day link no longer available without subscription), as the City Council and the NLDC went the hardball route, as indicated in the bolded paragraphs:

Council Gives Fort Trumbull Residents A May 31 Deadline
After Then, Settlement Offer Is Off The Table

The City Council voted Monday to withdraw settlement incentives for the six parties whose Fort Trumbull properties were taken by eminent domain if they do not come to terms by May 31.

The city has remained at an impasse with the six remaining plaintiffs in the Kelo v. City of New London case since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case last June, upholding the city’s right to use eminent domain at Fort Trumbull in a controversial 5-4 decision. Since then, the former property owners, led by Susette Kelo, have remained in possession of their properties while the city owns them.

Monday night was the City Council’s last meeting before the May 31 deadline it previously set for a resolution of the impasse. In a three-part resolution recommended by City Law Director Thomas Londregan, the council recommended that all monies offered by Robert Albright, who is charged with conducting settlement negotiations, be withdrawn as of May 31.

The council took off the table as of May 31 its “offer to forgive past-due real estate taxes, claims for use and occupancy and claims to collect rent from third parties.” That would make the former property owners liable for $946,143 in such fees if no resolution is reached by May 31.

The council voted to notify any third-party tenants of the former property owners that as of June 1, the tenants should pay rent to New London rather than any of the plaintiffs.

The resolution passed 5-2 with no discussion from any of the councilors.

….. “They don’t realize this is a property issue, not a money issue,” said Michael Cristofaro, whose father, Pasquale Cristofaro, is one of the former property owners.

“This is the right to own your property and the right to sell it when you want to,” Cristofaro said following the City Council’s vote.

….. “It’s not for sale.” he said.

The City Council vote followed a public comment period during which resident after resident urged councilors to return property titles to their former owners.

“Are you going to make New London the most permanently infamous user of eminent domain?” David Hayes asked. “Just return the property titles.”

In a New London Day article on the 17th (registration required; paid subscription required after article is more than one week old), it is clear that nerves are frayed on both sides:

….. If the city could wait for 30 years for a resident to die, said Cristofaro, “Why can’t they give back the deeds? If they’re willing to move the houses and give everyone life tenancy, doesn’t that tell you they don’t need that land?”

….. But (New London Mayor Beth) Sabilia said she has heard from others who have a different point of view.

“Quite frankly, I’m hearing from a lot of people that are honestly reluctant — even afraid — to come to the City Council and say, “Just be done with it. People are just calling and saying you guys are hearing from the same 10 people over and over again,” she said.

“I’m also hearing nobody but these people get to live in the city for free. $946,000 is not a small amount of money for the city of New London.”

….. All in all, it seemed clear Tuesday that the residents of Fort Trumbull would not be intimidated by the May 31 deadline.

“Death,” said Matt Dery, a longtime Fort Trumbull resident, “is the only deadline I can’t live with.”

Maybe the holdouts aren’t intimidated, but they seem to be down to one option: some kind of reprieve from the governor. This past Monday, they went to the state capital in Hartford to draw more attention to their plight, and did get a bit of a response:

With a May 31 deadline looming, a group of New London homeowners on Monday urged Gov. M. Jodi Rell to step in and protect their property in the long-running eminent domain dispute.

The residents, who live in the city’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood, said they are being forced to accept a financial offer from the city or face eviction. They gathered Monday at the state Capitol, holding a sign that read: “Please Gov. Rell, return the titles. Do what is morally right.”

“This outrageous act cannot happen. The city does not need this land for development,” said Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which represents the Fort Trumbull homeowners. “Hopefully these people will be able to stay in their homes that they love so dearly.”

In a written statement Monday, Rell said she is directing the Department of Economic and Community Development and mediator Bob Albright to redouble their efforts to reach a resolution between the homeowners and the New London Development Corp., or NLDC.

“This situation has gone on far too long — too long for the city of New London and too long for the remaining Fort Trumbull occupants,” Rell said.

Where this all goes if the deadline passes is not at all clear, though a Hartford Courant article makes this point:

Bullock said it is not clear exactly what action the city council will take after the May 31 deadline. Homeowners by law must be given 90-day notice before they can be evicted from their homes. The next city council meeting after the deadline passes is June 5.

So as you enjoy your weekend holiday, spare a thought and perhaps say a prayer for the Kelo holdouts, who by late next week or shortly thereafter may be not be out of their properties, but may be out of legal options.

UPDATE: This appears a bit speculative, but in his post back in February reacting to the “rent” offer, Andrew Langer at Langrrr’s Liberty Blog suggests what NLDC’s real motivation might be:

Just got this – with the question, “If New London knows that they don’t need the land and the residents can stay, then why do they want to seize it anyway and force Mrs. Kelo and others to pay rent?”

The answer is two-fold: First, the city has already seized the land. What would have to happen now is some sort of re-conveyance to the original owners (which shouldn’t be too hard, since I don’t believe any money has actually changed hands).

But second, and more importantly, the city knows that once the Pfizer plant moves in, Kelo et al will have prime pieces of real estate on their hands, which they can deal with as they choose. But if the city holds onto this land, the value shoots up and the city can charge outrageous market-based rents, so that Kelo et al will have to move – and then the city can sell that more-highly-valued land to a developer interested in those prime lots.

This presupposes that the holdouts, if they ever agreed to a rent deal, would actually agree to allow unlimited annual increases based on market value. I doubt it, but have e-mailed Andrew to see what else he knows.

Selected Previous Property Rights Posts:

Even Our Probably-Worst President Is Right Occasionally: Voter ID Should Be Required

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:25 pm

Jimmy Carter and the commmission he co-chaired recommended that identification be required at the polls. He’s right for once, as John Fund explains in his column Monday (bolds are mine):

The Carter-Baker commission issued 87 recommendations to improve the functioning of election systems. One called for a national requirement that electronic voting machines include a paper trail that would allow people to check their votes, while another would have states establish uniform procedures for counting provisional ballots.

But the biggest surprise was that 18 of 21 commissioners backed a requirement that voters show some form of photo identification. They argued that with Congress passing the Real ID Act to standardize security protections for drivers’ licenses in all 50 states, the time had come to standardize voter ID requirements. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle joined two other commissioners in complaining that the ID requirements would be akin to a Jim Crow-era “poll tax” and would restrict voting among the poor or elderly who might lack such an ID.

Mr. Daschle’s racially charged analogy is preposterous. Almost everyone needs photo ID in today’s modern world. Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador, believes that in an era when people have to show ID to rent a video or cash a check, “requiring ID can help poor people” who otherwise might be even more marginalized by not having one.

The Carter-Baker commissioners recognized that cost could be a barrier to some and thus recommended that identification cards be provided at no cost to anyone who needed one. They also argued that photo ID would make it significantly less likely that a voter would be wrongly turned away at the polls due to out-of-date registration lists or for more malicious reasons. In any case, the tacit acknowledgment by Mr. Carter and most of the other liberals on the commission that the integrity of the ballot is every bit as important as access to the ballot was a welcome one.

The photo ID issue is being joined with the immigration debate because there is growing anecdotal evidence that voter registration by noncitizens is a problem. All that it takes to register is for someone to fill out a postcard, and I have interviewed people who were still allowed to register without checking the box that indicated they were a citizen. Several California counties report that an increasing number of registered voters called up for jury duty write back saying they are ineligible because they aren’t citizens.

The man who in 1994 assassinated Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana had registered to vote at least twice in the U.S. although he was not a citizen. An investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service into alleged fraud in a 1996 Orange County, Calif., congressional race revealed that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in the disputed election between Republican Robert Dornan and Democrat Loretta Sanchez.”

Sanchez’s razor-thin victory in the 1996 election should have been overturned. The fact that it wasn’t is all the proof anyone should need that only preventing fraudulent voting in the first place will make or keep the election process clean.

The voter-ID requirement is long overdue.

UPDATE: E-mailer and former US Senate candidate Bill Pierce tipped me to this Hotline blog piece reporting that Ohio Senator Mike DeWine voted against Mitch McConnell’s national voting photo ID amendment. The post further notes that “In A Recent (NBC/Wall Street Journal) Poll, 81% Favored Requiring Voters To Show Valid Photo IDs When They Vote.”

Don’t blame me, I voted for the guy who sent me the e-mail.

You Don’t Say?

Filed under: Business Moves,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:22 pm

Really “tough” question: Which party did indicted law firm Milberg Weiss and its partners favor?

Milberg Weiss gave top Democrats funding
By Jeremy Pelofsky
Monday, May 22, 2006; 7:00 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP, the securities class action law firm indicted last week on fraud charges stemming from corporate lawsuits it filed, made large political contributions almost exclusively to Democrats since 1999, records show.

The firm and individuals there made $2.78 million in campaign donations to Democrats since 1999 compared to about $22,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Among the recipients were New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is a possible 2008 presidential candidate, senior New York Senator Charles Schumer and Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.

On top of the $2.78 million, lawyers in the firm made contributions to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is the Democratic candidate for governor. Spitzer’s office said on Monday that he plans to return $124,455 in contributions.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Republicans would likely use the donations as ammunition in the November congressional elections and to blunt criticism about recent corruption scandals involving Republicans.

They will target “every individual Democrat in a competitive race in 2006 to begin with,” Sabato said.

They also will mount “a P.R. offensive to make certain that this helps to balance the Democrats’ charges of a culture of corruption that affects only Republicans,” he said.

How DARE they?

Despite attempts at creating impressions to the contrary, Enron’s contributions were found to be not that far from 50-50 between the two major parties and their representatives. That won’t happen this time.

Between William “Frozen Assets” Jefferson (D-LA), Alan Mollohan (D-WV), and now Milberg Weiss (giving to Ds-All over the place), I think it’s safe to say that the “corruption” issue is not going to be the strongest liberal card to play this fall.

The 24th Carnival of Ohio Politics Is Up!

Filed under: News from Other Sites — Tom @ 11:31 am

And it’s here.

Kelo Crunch Time Looms in New London — Part 1

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:59 am

I wanted to get this update out before the holiday weekend ahead of when the cut-out-early crowd (you know who you are) cuts out.

That’s because by the time everyone’s back in gear next week, the holdouts in the case that led to the Supreme Court’s odious Kelo v. New London decision will be roughly 24 hours away from the deadline the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) has imposed on them, with the approval of the town’s City Council. And wait until you see in Part 2 what happens if the deadline passes.

First, let’s refresh — When I last posted on the New London Kelo controversy in January, NLDC was trying to entice the Coast Guard to build a museum and to have developer Corcoran Jennison build a 133-room hotel adjacent to it. Building these facilities does not involve the Kelo-disputed properties.

In early February, the city made an offer to the holdouts (the link is to Langrrr’s Libery Blog because the original AP report that was in the Washington Post is long gone):

The mayor of New London, where a fight over government seizing property led to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling, is proposing a compromise for a group of homeowners.

Under a plan presented to the City Council Monday night, four people whose homes were seized for a private development would be allowed to stay. The city would own their properties and the residents would have to pay the city to live there.

Yeah, you read that right. As you might expect, the holdouts are not at all impressed:

“The ongoing battle of the last eight years has not been to allow us to live in our homes and pay rent to the city of New London until we die,” Kelo said.

A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial called the offer “Another Kelo Insult.”

In March, a Hartford Courant columnist (link no longer available) suggested that NLDC just let the holdouts be. Clearly, there was not much interest in that idea.

In early April, demonstrating more flexibility than I would have expected, the holdouts had an idea that from here seemed awfully reasonable:

….. a proposal to move the homes to an unused lot in the Fort Trumbull area was put on the table. The proposal would also give the resident’s the titles back.

That proposal was defeated by a vote of 5 to 2.

Councilman William Cornish says,”I am disappointed. I think the city council is out of whack with the community. All the people I talked to said give them their homes back and not to keep going the way we are doing it.”

Susette Kelo says,”I am not surprised. Right now I am waiting for the Governor’s word on it. She supported us in June and then again in September.”

In late April, the NLDC apparently got the museum deal done (though it is not indicated at the link, the date of the report is April 28; I say “apparently,” because the need to do a $30 million “fundraising campaign” seems odd):

Today the Governor and the Coast Guard signed agreements to build a U.S. Coast Guard Museum in New London. The $60-million museum will be built on a 3 acre site on the waterfront at Fort Trumbull.

Where to build the museum has been a seven year political struggle. But after much debate, the Coast Guard decided to build a state of the art facility at Fort Trumbull in New London. Governor Jodi Rell and Coast Guard officers made it official and inked the deal with Connecticut kicking in $15-million.

The project includes exhibition space and interactive displays, an amphitheatre for outdoor events, a waterfront walk and pier with a cafe and restaurant.

The designated developer for Fort Trumbull will build a 133 room hotel and conference facility next door to the museum on land that once belonged to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

The new development is expected to give the city the economic shot in the arm it’s been waiting for. Eyewitness News has been told a fundraising campaign will soon rev up to collect $30 million to support the design and construction of this new facility.

Here’s the importance of this development: The city and NLDC now have everything they want. Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice has asserted, without vocal disagreement, that the holdouts’ property is not needed for development.

Lacking other recourse, the Kelo holdouts have placed a lot of faith in the Connecticut legislature and Governor Jodi Rell to defend them. In early May, the legislature let them down, adjourning without acting, as this this editorial excerpt at a small newspaper in the state noted with displeasure:

The failure of Democrats in the General Assembly to keep their promise and pass a law restricting use of land condemnation by eminent domain for the sake of economic development is disappointing.

A large majority of the state’s voters and taxpayers clearly favor these restrictions, but divisions within the legislature’s Democratic majority stymied their chances. The majority leadership said differences between state House and Senate versions proved too wide for legislators to reconcile.

What has happened since the letdown at the Legislature? A lot–go to Part 2 to get up-to-date.

UPDATE, May 25: The New London Gazette’s front-page story in its May issue is about Kelo, and reinforces the point about the NLDC’s lack of need for the land:

After the Supreme Court decision, there was an immense outcry throughout the country condemning it, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, to her everlasting credit, put a hold on the takings of the homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and stopped action to evict the residents.

Since then, the Governor has sent an agent to “negotiate” with the holdouts, essentially asking what price they would accept to leave. The city has also offered to let them stay in their homes as renters, with the houses moved to one of the two contested blocks. This offer actually reveals that the land never was needed for economic development.

The bottom line is that the home owners do not want to sell or become renters, although they are willing to have their houses moved within the area from what is called Parcel 3C to Parcel 4A. They want their ownership back. And since giving them back their titles is not part of the “negotiations” setting a deadline of May 31 for them to make up their minds, as the city council has done, seems rather pointless.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (052406)

Free Links:

  • More ho-hum news fromThe Greatest Story Never Told” –

    Worker confidence up as hiring rises
    Posted 5/23/2006
    By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY

    Employees are feeling more confident about the labor market and their own job security as hiring picks up in a number of industries.
    Mounting research shows employees are cautiously optimistic as salary freezes thaw and companies play tug-of-war over skilled job candidates.

    Workers reported high confidence in their job security, with more than 80% predicting little or no chance they could lose their jobs in the coming year, according to a May survey of 1,000 full-time employees by Philadelphia-based Right Management.

    Other items in the article: Wages are up in many industries, employers are having a hard time finding people they need, and signing bonuses are back in vogue. Betcha that doesn’t make the evening newscasts.

  • So The FTC Must Also Be in on the Big Oil Conspiracy“The Federal Trade Commission said yesterday that it investigated 15 instances of potential price gouging in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and found no wrongdoing…..”
  • The Dixie Chicks’ Business Move Is Not Working Out — Call me cynical, but I think their leader’s statement a few years ago while overseas (“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”) was a short-sighted business move to get that crowd on their side at that moment. That business move is not paying off so well, if early sales and audience reaction to their new album is any indication. Opposing the Iraq war is one thing; disrespecting your home audience by dragging an entire state into the matter was simply a bad business move. Similar thoughts come from Texas Rainmaker (HT Instapundit).
  • That about sums it up“Ever since USA Today broke a story on May 11 about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret review of millions of phone records, the media and civil libertarians alike have gotten their knickers in a twist. But here’s the problem: the story isn’t news, it isn’t accurate, and it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) troubling.”
  • New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Is Sorry — He said as much at a commencement speech at the State University of New York at New Paltz on Sunday. He’s sorry because:

    “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You weren’t supposed to be graduating in an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren’t supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life, the right of gays to marry or the rights of women to choose.”

    Yawn. The people he really owes an apology to are New York Times Company shareholders (graph is as of about 1:30 PM on Tuesday; the stock closed at $25.03):


    Update, May 25, 10 PMVia The Corner, NYT bonds have just been downgraded by Moody’s “to ‘Baa1′ — the third-lowest investment grade ranking.”

Positivity: A New School in Mosul, Iraq

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

This is from the Multi-National Force Official Iraq web site (HT A Rose by Any Other Name). Also note that the overall reconstruction effort in the area is over 99% done:

May 22, 2006
Sheile School-Back to School in Style

MOSUL, Iraq – A newly constructed school located in the center of Dahuk will provide service to approximately 840 students and 36 teachers.

This new two-story complex consists of a 12-room classroom school with a detached exterior lavatory building, a play-yard and a generator building; all of which is surrounded by a three-meter high perimeter wall.

The exterior and interior walls are of masonry construction with a concrete super structure and terrazzo tile flooring. The exterior wall finishes are cut stone and plaster.

“The architectural design and material selection was made by a local Iraqi engineer in coordination with the Director General of Education and then provided to the Dahuk Residence Office,” said Joshua Adekanbi, Dahuk resident engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The DG of Education uses a standard primary school design with the same floor plan. Since the plans are recycled, varied exterior architectural elements are chosen for each school.

This $460,000 project was funded by the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund and built by a local Iraqi construction company. Of the 317 IRRF-funded school projects in the northern region of Iraq , 315 are complete and two are in progress.