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Aggrieved Norwalk taxpayer still waiting, despite state order

CT FOIA hearing Norwalk Lynnelle Jones 018
Wilson Point resident Lynnelle Jones speaks to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission on May 22 in reference to her complaint against the city of Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Information still has not made its way to a Wilson Point woman despite her victories in her ardent battle over her Norwalk tax assessment.

Lynnelle Jones took the city to court over the tax assessment done on her aging home at 10 Point Road, and the judge ruled for a compromise assessment reduction – in her mind, a loss, after four years of effort and frustration. She then took the city to the Freedom of Information Commission, where, on May 22, commissioners ordered the city to get her documents she seeks to validate her argument.

The only thing that has happened since then was another trip to Hartford, she said.

“What a complete waste of time,” she said of her attendance at the June 26 non-hearing, at which commissioners did not allow Norwalk Associate Corporation Counsel Brian McCann to present his case challenging the decision rendered on May 22.

Jones has been seeking the results of an appraisal done by Sheehy Associates LLC  in reference to the 2008 valuation of her home, which she owns with her husband, William Lipschutz. She would also like a copy of minutes taken at a May 29, 2009, Board of Assessment Appeals hearing, which contested the valuation.

Jones suspects that Sheehy’s appraisal matched hers. She wants a copy to use as possible evidence of fraud and corruption.

“It’s all over, but I just feel I have a right to this information,” she said to the commissioners.

No city representatives made it to the March 25 preliminary hearing on Jones’ complaint, which, Jones said, is not viewed upon favorably by the commission. Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane Beltz-Jacobson made the city’s case at the June 26 hearing in front of the full commission, claiming that neither a written appraisal nor BAA minutes exist, despite the photos Jones has proving that an appraiser came to visit, a copy of a paid invoice to the appraiser in the amount of $1,500, and the obvious fact that the BAA meeting occurred.

It’s an argument that McCann tried to make again in his June 6 appeal, a six-page petition for reconsideration, alleging “errors of both fact and law” in the commission’s decision.

McCann argues that the commission ignored tax assessor Michael Stewart’s sworn affidavit and that the city cannot comply with the commission’s order because no written appraisal exists.

Jones did not expect him to succeed.

“The commission lady said it was highly unlikely the commission would be impressed given this is the first time Brian McCann would attend, but I have to go there,” she said in a June 13 email.

McCann was not allowed to testify. The commission’s decision stands.

To no avail, Jones said.

“Do you think in a month I have heard anything?  Nada,” she said in an email.

McCann did not return a July 8 email asking how much time he has spent on the matter, and why he didn’t make it to the March 25 hearing.

Mayor Richard Moccia, Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan and McCann did not reply to a Monday email concerning the matter.

Jones said she is not only disgusted by the time she has spent, but the time the city has spent fighting her desire for information.

The six-page petition, which refers to six cases McCann researched to bolster his case, just proves “that more time was just wasted, more taxpayer resources just wasted … He knows the picture he used in court came from the appraiser. He wasted city time, taxpayer money, but what does he care?” she said, on June 26.

Still she was optimistic.

“Good news is this was a great decision for open government,” she said. “Now they have to go back and give all the information.”

But on Monday, it became apparent that she may have more time in court over the matter.

The city has 45 days from its receipt of the decision to appeal it to the courts, FOI Commission Public Education Officer Tom Hennick said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. “Either party has 45 days to appeal the final ruling. After that 45 days has elapsed, an aggrieved party could file a non-compliance complaint with our commission. Any penalties would be at the discretion of the commission.”

That was news to Jones.

“I was not aware of this,” she said in an email. “This is very important. … Clearly I need to RE-COMPLAIN as they will do nothing.”

Lynnelle Jones June 7 petition from city

Comments

6 responses to “Aggrieved Norwalk taxpayer still waiting, despite state order”

  1. Don’t Panic

    How many timed has the city paid appraisers who did NOT produce reports? Are they only in connection with appeals? Or do we routinely waste money in this fashion?

  2. EveT

    This is so complicated it makes your head spin. I have great admiration for any citizen who has the intelligence and energy to pursue a Freedom of Information request. It shouldn’t be this way. Citizens should have access to information that pertains to their persons or their property, and the means of access should be simple. I wish!

  3. envirogal

    Thank you Lynnelle for your tenacity!
    Do not give up….but we taxpayers should be wondering how many times does this happen?

    Remember that where there’s smoke, there’s (usually) fire.

    There HAS to be some paper trail such as invoices and documents that the City received for the $$ they paid the appraiser.

    Please send a complaint to the Council Personnel Committee …they are constantly cancelling their meetings instead of investigating why staff make it hard for citizens to get deserved answers!
    One also needs to look at the makeup of the Tax Appeals Board members to see why this has become so convoluted….and connect the dots to the Administration…and elections…

  4. nwkprobate

    This needs to be remembered on Election Day. Michael Stewart is incompetent and the Mayor should have never renewed his contract … but he did. Stewart lives in NY State and has no understanding of Norwalk. He has lost EVERY court case on property tax appeals on Wilson Point — stick with with!

  5. oldtimer

    Appraisers follow formulas based on size and location of property, size and condition of buildings, and reported sales prices of similar properties. An appraiser working for a bank, or an owner, puts a lot more work into a property than a contract appraiser (outsourcing) working for the City on a large number of properties. Guessing the market value of land in a neighborhood where there are few sales and access to navigable water is a factor is not easy. One recent sale, for a lot of money, can skew all the values in the neighborhood. If the City can’t, or won’t, document their process, they are probably covering up some very sloppy appraisals. Is it possible her appraisal was done inside City hall with NO site visit, just a percentage adjustment over the prior appraisal ?

  6. Norwalk Lifer

    The city of Norwalk has grown breaktakingly adroit at creating bureaucratic mish mash to hip check the taxpayer at every turn. A simple advisement on how to enter an insurance claim for damaged property turned into a 5 month ordeal.

    This lady should keep pursuing her goal; as a by product of this, possibly town hall will clean up it’s act and have a process that traceable when it comes to assessments.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

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