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Hamilton: Norwalk tax assessor was admonished for bidding in tax sale

Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart
Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart appears poised to own this East Norwalk home, having won it in July’s tax sale.
Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart.
Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart.

NORWALK, Conn. – An investment made by Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart has been called “an error in judgment” by his supervisor, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton. Mayor Harry Rilling concurs, Hamilton said.

Stewart was the winning bidder on a property in Norwalk’s tax sale in July. This was recently called to NancyOnNorwalk’s attention in an email from a regular reader.

Stewart’s bid for 4 Hawkins Ave. was $215,000, according to the city’s website. The East Norwalk property is owned by Alexander Hay, with $27,245 in outstanding taxes at the time of the sale. Hay, or any lienholder on the property, has until Jan. 21 to pay the minimum bid – the $27,245 – and the interest on Stewart’s bid if he wants to keep the property. A clerk in the tax collector’s office said Wednesday that the property has not been redeemed.

Tax Collector Lisa Biagerelli was unavailable for comment.

Stewart works under Hamilton. Asked about the situation by email Wednesday, Hamilton responded:

“Neither the Mayor nor I were aware of the fact that Mr. Stewart was planning to participate in the tax sale as a bidder. We both learned about it after the tax sale had concluded. While I am not a lawyer and cannot offer a legal opinion, to the best of my knowledge the City does not have a specific policy that prohibits City employees from participating in the Tax Sale as a bidder. I would also note that the Tax Sale is an open and transparent public auction process, which is conducted fully in public view. I would further note that the Tax Sale is conducted entirely by the Tax Collector and her staff; the Tax Assessor plays no role in determining what properties are to be included in the sale, nor does he play any role in administering the Tax Sale.

“Nevertheless, both the Mayor and I are concerned that having a high-ranking City official involved as a bidder in the Tax Sale presents the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and may raise concerns about the integrity of the process among members of the public. Appearances in the public sector matter.

“If consulted prior to the Tax Sale, both the Mayor and I would have advised the Tax Assessor to refrain from bidding.  Subsequent to the Tax Sale, both the Mayor and I counseled Mr. Stewart that we believe his participation as a bidder in the tax sale was an error of judgment on his part, despite the fact that there was no explicit City policy which would prohibit his participation.  Both the Mayor and I conveyed that we were disappointed in this error in judgment, and we admonished him to exercise better judgment in the future when such issues arise.

“I also spoke with the Tax Collector, Lisa Biagiarelli, concerning this matter, and indicated to her that prior to any future tax sales, we would like her to develop written guidelines which exclude certain City employees from participating as a bidder in such tax sales, so that this sort of situation does not arise again.”

Zillow.com estimates that the house is worth $487,255. It has been assessed by Vision Government Solutions at $229,200 and appraised at $327,430. This is a significant drop from the previous valuation, when it was assessed for $311,640 and appraised at $445,200.

A man who came to the door at the home Wednesday said he did not know Hay’s whereabouts.

Correction, 3:43 p.m., deadline for repayment is Jan. 21

Comments

12 responses to “Hamilton: Norwalk tax assessor was admonished for bidding in tax sale”

  1. anon

    Norwalk’s Tax Assessor Michael Stewart, a public employee paid by taxpayers, buys an overtaxed Norwalk property at a tax sale. How rich.

  2. Screwed Taxpayer

    Working for the City of Norwalk is a license to steal. In the real world, people are prosecuted and go to jail. Not in the city of Norwalk. You get to keep your pension. Get paid while on suspension. Sue the city and collect. Get letters of recommendation for your next job. Etc….

  3. Screwed Taxpayer

    If Hay was smart and wanted to keep his property, he could easily get an injunction against the city. While the assessor may not have been coordinating the sale, who is to say he hasn’t been goosing property valuations for his or someone else’s benefit? Hopefully he isn’t smart and taxpayers won’t get screwed yet again for the overpaid incompetents we have.

  4. Taxpayer Fatigue

    So is Stewart planning to live in the house or become yet another out of town slumlord?

  5. OhNoNorwalk

    Nepotism, Cronyism, Favoritism, Collusion, Intimidation, Discrimination, is how the City of Norwalk is operated. The Mayor knows it and has done nothing about it. If your not part of the solution then you part of the problem. Business as usual for this protected group.

  6. Lynnelle

    Mike Stewart has a history of lowering tax assessments for “friends of City officials,” something I have documented since he replaced Ken Whitman as Tax Assessor. My bet is that Ken left because he would not do these “favors” which are illegal, unethical and downright sleazy. Maybe the reason Mike Stewart is still in his job, given everything I have documented and shared, everything that has come out in court cases and FOIA requests, is because he is a puppet for City officials who believe lowering taxes for friends is a perk of office. Clever City officials know how to create “buffers,” people to do their dirty work. Mike Stewart and other Department Heads (none of whom actually live in Norwalk or pay Norwalk taxes, in fact last I checked Mike lived in NY State) do what it takes to keep their jobs and pensions.

    “It’s not a crime, it’s politics,” was the mantra by the highly paid white collar attorneys representing ex-Governor Rowland in his second criminal trail. Maybe the reason Mike Stewart is still the City of Norwalk Tax Assessor, despite all the documented lies under oath and illegal actions he randomly makes, is because he has something on his bosses. Isn’t this how politics works?

    Review Mike Stewart’s education and credentials, none of which I could confirm. Speak to him, ask him questions and see that he neither answers questions nor seems particularly knowledgeable about topics he should be. Clearly he is good at something and that is probably playing politics, trading favors and using his office to dole out favors for others in office and their friends. Why would it surprise anyone to learn that after years of doing favors for others, he finally does something for himself?

    Reporting fraud, believing that someone in the City Government would care about corruption, got me a tax assessment in 2005 over 30+% what my home was worth. Did the BAA care? Despite a Certified RE Appraisal, extensive neighborhood comps and comparisons, and a variety of engineering, wetland and topography reports, NO CHANGE was made. This told me the BAA, particularly the head of the BAA was drinking the same Koolaid as Governor Rowland. Records show, again documented, that the head of the BAA lowered taxes for properties she represented for sale and lowered taxes for friends without any evidence. Maybe actions like this are what it takes to become the head of something; show you know how to “work the system” to continue to deliver the “favors and special treatment” so loved by corrupt insiders.

    Should a tax assessment case like mine have even gone to court? Yes if the City enjoys punishing someone who questions them and points out fraud. After years of refusing to settle, after years of wasting time and money for Norwalk taxpayers and me, a Judge required the City of Norwalk to get their own expert and their own Certified RE Appraisal before going to trial. After spending $1,500 (billed as an Appraisal of 10 Point Road)the City denied they got anything from the Appraiser and used Mike Stewart, who had never seen the home or set foot on the property, as their expert. Attorney McCann, who knew there was no reason to not settle, who knew he had no evidence, who knew his “expert” had never even seen the property, could have settled before going to trial, writing briefs (seriously briefs following the trial of a simple tax assessment where only one side had any evidence!). Ask yourself why McCann didn’t force Mike Stewart to settle, maybe his job depended on him to keep this in court and continue to make me pay in time and money.

    Today I have proof that Mike Stewart and more than one City Attorney lied under oath and in front of Judges at endless settlement discussions. This isn’t about just one person, this is, as Rowland would say “how politics works.” My last settlement discussion, a result of the City of Norwalk taking an action against the FOIA Commission and me (again another colossal waste of taxpayer money), included the latest City of Norwalk attorney lying, showing me again that people will do anything to keep their cushy jobs working for the City of Norwalk.

    What should be most disturbing to all Norwalk residents is that despite a new Mayor, one who promised to try to clean up the fraud, doling out of party favors to friends, little has changed.

    Thank you Nancy on Norwalk for sharing this story and others. The fraud continues this year inside the Tax Assessors office, the BAA and other departments and there is no place at City Hall to report it. The State’s Attorney told me to take the new evidence I have collected, about the fraud this year (incredible that people do not learn, they really believe they are above the law) to the Mayor and Attorney Spahr. When I questioned Mike Stewart and the legal department about what I found, Mike Stewart wrote me back that he would no longer answer (or not answer, which was the case) the questions I asked because I was implying fraud. Duh, that was the point. Legal never wrote back. Since then I have written the Mayor and Spahr and asked for a meeting twice. Nothing back.

    Maybe if they read this, they will get back but I am not holding my breath. This has been business as usual, politics as usual, for decades in Norwalk, no matter who is Mayor.

    Should the Mayor ever meet with me, review what I have about fraud this year and do anything about, I will be happy to let Nancy on Norwalk know.

  7. Nora King

    I like Tom Hamilton but this should have been much more than a slap on the wrist. There shouldn’t be an issue with city officials bidding but the office of the assessor and tax collector’s office should not be allowed to bid based on conflict of interest. That is common sense and what I would think of as ethics and integrity. This transfer should be voided and he should not be allowed to acquire this property. The city should take it back on the books and Stewart should be put on suspension.

  8. Kathy

    This article is disturbing. Why was there no ethical complaint made?

    We became aware of a disturbing pattern of preferential treatment of properties in our own neighborhood in the 2008 Tax Reappraisal, when we worked late into the night on many nights with neighbors, some who were accountants and lawyers, producing spread sheets showing wildly varying land values on the same streets and a lack of any rational formulas in determining property values. We also saw a distinct pattern of high assessments for properties belonging to well known vocal activists and lower assessments for the well connected including politicians. However, to be fair, there was much improvement in the entire process in the 2013 Reappraisal, with little evidence of the same corrupt patterns and a much better process overall , that we attribute to a better choice of contractor to run the appraisal compared to 2008. Even with these improvements, we will never forget what happened in 2008 and how shocking it was to discover the level of corruption in the process that year that we could have proven in court if we only had the funds to hire lawyers to fight it, which we didn’t.

  9. EveT

    You mean he was admonished but the city didn’t void his bid?

  10. Suzanne

    Isn’t this like a banker taking money from the bank and not returning it or, a much lesser offense I suppose, a librarian taking books from the library to keep? I hope Mr. Stewart is not only “admonished” but his “bid” vacated and a lesson in ethical behavior on behalf of the public good be permanently stenciled in his brain. Maybe he needs to take a class or be more carefully supervised or, if the complaints above are true, let go. Sometimes I feel like Norwalk government needs to be vacuumed out like so much dust for some new furniture.

  11. Anna Duleep, City Sheriff

    This is alarming. I agree with Zoning Commissioner King’s comments. No benefit from the “error in judgment” and WAY more than a slap on the wrist.
    *
    @Lynnelle: Still fighting the good fight? Please know you have people all around the city rooting for you, especially in Silvermine!

  12. Jay vincent

    I think it’s time for Stewart to go, common sense dictates that behavior should not happen
    Did he think nobody would find out, no doubt a conflict of interest.

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