Correction, 11:50 p.m.: Bill Speirs voted to approve Russo and Rizio. Updated, 6:44 a.m., 7:53 a.m.: Copy edits; Correction, 9:17 a.m.: Marc Grenier is listed as agent for Komi Ventures, not managing member
NORWALK, Conn. — The City of Norwalk has forced the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency to hire outside counsel in the lawsuit filed against POKO (ILSR) and developer Jason Milligan.
That’s according to David Westmoreland, who was appointed to the Redevelopment Agency just two weeks ago. Westmoreland said he expressed concerns at Tuesday’s meeting about a potential conflict of interest involving Redevelopment Agency Attorney Marc Grenier.
“I said that when the Agency has even just the appearance of conflict they needed to maintain the highest ethical standards because they can only be successful in their efforts at redevelopment through public trust, because they are giving away city assets or giving away tax incentives,” Westmoreland explained in a late night phone call.
Milligan said last week to NancyOnNorwalk that Grenier has been his lawyer in the past. The Redevelopment Agency and the City of Norwalk are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Wall Street Opportunity Fund, an LLC managed by Milligan. The suit claims that POKO Partners principal Richard Olson did not have the Agency’s approval when he sold Wall Street Place properties to Wall Street Opportunity Fund, and seeks an injunction and damages.
The properties are governed by a Land Disposition Agreement because the city turned over ownership of public parking lots to POKO to facilitate the construction of Wall Street Place. The construction halted two years ago and some of the land now owned by Milligan’s LLC is integral to restarting the project, the City has said.
The LDA specified that POKO needed Redevelopment Agency approval before transferring the property.
Milligan last week announced that Komi Ventures, an LLC he manages, has filed a deed-in-lieu transfer on the properties owned by Wall Street Opportunity Fund. Komi acquired the debt POKO owed on the properties, making Komi a lender. Transferring the property to a lender is permitted under the LDA, and negates the City and Redevelopment Agency’s lawsuit, Milligan said.
The Connecticut Secretary of State’s website lists Milligan as Komi Ventures’ managing member. NancyOnNorwalk on Friday found a website, opencorporates.com, listing Milligan as managing member and Grenier as agent.
Asked Friday about Grenier’s involvement, Milligan replied in an e-mail: “Marc is not involved. Not sure what website that is.”
NancyOnNorwalk found two more websites listing Grenier as agent and contacted Milligan again.
“Ok,” Milligan replied in a subsequent email. “It is no secret that Marc has been my attorney in past matters. Unfortunately, he is not my attorney currently because he is a good attorney.”
Milligan wrote that information on file with Connecticut’s Secretary of State was up to date. He did not reply to a late-night email Tuesday asking for details regarding the legal matters in which Grenier has represented him.
Grenier has not replied to two emails from NancyOnNorwalk requesting comment, one sent Friday and one sent Tuesday.
The Redevelopment Agency met Tuesday with an agenda item that called for an executive session to discuss pending litigation and possible action related to the retention of litigation counsel in the lawsuit filed against ILSR. The executive session went on for more than an hour and a half, overlapping the Common Council meeting that began two hours after Redevelopment began.
When Chairman Felix Serrano resumed the public portion of the meeting, he called for an immediate vote on a resolution to hire Russo and Rizio LLC, a legal firm based in Southport. Westmoreland said he requested to offer commentary on the resolution.
Discussion of the resolution lasted only two or three minutes.
“I said that I was very concerned about the process for the new lawyers because only one option was presented to us, that I was concerned that the city had to force the issue of hiring outside counsel. The Redevelopment Agency did not review their choice of outside counsel with the city before it was presented to us for voting on,” Westmoreland said.
Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King, who attended the Redevelopment Agency meeting, said in a late-night email that NancyOnNorwalk would receive a response to these comments Wednesday.
Serrano did not reply to a late-night email asking when and how the Agency became aware of Grenier’s legal work for Milligan.
While the Redevelopment Agency is “quasi-independent, it has no reason to exist other than the city of Norwalk and for the benefit of taxpayers,” Westmoreland said. “The city and the Agency need to work in lockstep, especially on this disaster project, POKO.”
Westmoreland abstained on the vote. Tom Devine, William Speirs, Lisa Cooper and Serrano approved of hiring Russo and Rizio.
There hasn’t been a new Redevelopment Agency Commissioner since at least 2016. Commissioner Lori Torrano’s term expired in 2016 but she continued to serve. The Redevelopment Agency allows a Commissioner to continue serving until they are replaced, Serrano said last year.
A spot on the Agency was recently vacated, Mayor Harry Rilling said two weeks ago, explaining in a statement that, “With so much happening with Wall Street, I felt it was essential to move forward, so the RDA had its full complement of commissioners.”