Norwalk tax assessor is now owner of home won in tax sale, which brought in $5.1 M

This home at 4 Hawkins Ave. in East Norwalk is now owned by
This home at 4 Hawkins Ave. in East Norwalk is now owned by Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s official – the big prize in last fall’s tax sale has gone to Norwalk Tax Assessor Michael Stewart.

The 2014 Tax Sale yielded $5.1 million in tax collections – a big prize for the city – with eight properties deeded to new owners, Tax Collector Lisa Biagiarelli said in a Friday press release. Three of those properties were dwellings, the priciest of which was 4 Hawkins Ave., won by Stewart with a bid of $215,000, according to the city’s website.

“There were approximately 50 registered bidders at the tax sale,” Biagiarelli said in her press release. “The Hawkins Avenue property generated the highest number of registered bidders, and had 18 individuals competing. Bidding on that property began at $27,245 (the amount due to the city at the time of the sale) and climbed to $215,000.”

Property owners had six months to pay their taxes and interest to the winning bidders. The six-month redemption period ended Wednesday, and Town Clerk Rick McQuaid recorded the property transfers Thursday, Biagiarelli said.

Two undeveloped lots were taken by the city, as no one bid on them, she said. Three of the properties were boat slips at Greyrock at Oysterbend LLC, located at 10 Platt St. The city’s website shows that Ron Kellog and Chris Handrinos each bought a boat slip at $8,173 and Jerard Teed bought one at $7,912.

Three of the properties now transferred were bought by A1Z7 LLC of Shelton. The LLC bought 32 Glasser Ave. for $95,000 and 176 Bouton St. for $22,138, the city’s website says. There is no record of an A1Z7 on the Secretary of State’s website, but the company is also credited with buying property in Redding during a tax sale.

The bids for both the Glasser Avenue and Hawkins Avenue properties were for more than the taxes owed to the city, but the city does not make a profit, Biagiarelli said. State law requires the city to turn that excess amount over to the Superior Court for distribution to the owners or other parties of interest.

When work began on the tax sale in November 2013, there were 225 properties and more than 50 boat slips with outstanding tax bills in excess of $25,000, Biargelli said. By the time the sale took place on July 21, that had dwindled to 20 properties and 55 boat slips; 14 properties and three boat slips sold, bringing in $5,158,897, she said.

The sale was adjourned on four regular properties, the press release said. For those, either there were no bidders, or a registered bidder bid an amount less than the city was willing to accept.  The sale was adjourned on 52 of the boat slips. They will be sold at a later date, or the city will pursue other collection options.

“The collection of more than $5.1 million in back taxes makes this tax sale successful.  The tax sale is the City of Norwalk’s primary means of collection enforcement for past due real estate taxes,” Biagiarelli said in the release.

The primary purpose of the tax sale is to enforce collection of taxes, not to transfer ownership of properties, she said.

“While it is difficult to witness three dwelling units and several other parcels of property transfer to new owners, the sale is still sound policy, because in excess of 200 other property owners did bring their accounts current, and did pay what was owed to the city, in order to avoid this result,” she added.   “A high current and back tax collection rate results in a more stable budgeting process, and lower mill rates, which equate to tax relief for every Norwalk taxpayer.”

The tax sale was conducted the Norwalk tax collector’s office, with assistance from the assessor’s office staff as well as tax collector colleagues from several other Connecticut towns, Biagiarelli said.  This was Norwalk’s sixth tax sale since 2003.  In total, these tax sales have yielded in excess of $24 million in back tax collections, she said.

A resident of 4 Hawkins Ave., which Stewart won, said in September that the owner was in the Middle East and unreachable.

In September, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton commented, in an email, on Stewart’s involvement:

“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.”


31 responses to “Norwalk tax assessor is now owner of home won in tax sale, which brought in $5.1 M”

  1. Yankee Clipper

    Michael Stewart’s judgement is completely off here. In addition, he is a lousy assessor — ask any appraiser — and does not know our city (he lives in NY). His poor performance (e.g., look at his assessment of commercial buildings versus where they sell in the market) and questionable judgement confirm that his contract should not be renewed. Mayor Rilling, don’t forget!

  2. Concerned

    Agreed. At face value, that seems questionable…. doesn’t look good. While assessor, is he trolling for deals? Zillow has the value at over $500K. It is near the water. Assessor ups the taxes near the water, people can’t pay the taxes, then assessor buys the property and makes a profit. The anti-Robin Hood? http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/4-Hawkins-Ave-Norwalk-CT-06855/58803101_zpid/

  3. Non Partisan Voter

    Be careful! Is the tax assessor a union job? You aren’t allowed to criticize anyone in Norwalk’s unions or hold them accountable for poor performance, much less fire them!

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ non-partisan

      Indeed, assessor is a Grade 9 (second highest – a step below P7Z Director) NASA member. As there was no law broken and no violation of city rules, it would seem there is no city recourse.

  4. Piberman

    Interesting that Mr Hamilton is speaking for the Mayor. Looks embarrassing all around.

  5. M. Murray’s

    While it raises eyebrows, he was not the only bidder on this home and other’s winning bid would have been less money for the city than what Stewart paid for it.

  6. Nora King

    I disagree with Tom Hamilton’s comments. The tax assessor sets the value that the homeowner on which his taxes are based on. When Mr. Hamilton found out that Stewart was the winning bidder he should have been disqualified and the next inline should have gotten it. Or the property goes into next tax auction This is ethical wrong.

    I don’t think there would be anything wrong with other city officials bidding on properties but no one related to establishing value or collecting taxes should be allowed to participate. Michael Stewart should have been put on probation or fired for this act. Michael Steward is the “man in charge” when it comes to establishing value on all property established in the city of Norwalk.

  7. John Hamlin

    So, let’s think about it from the former owner’s perspective. The tax assessor assessed the taxes at a level I was unable to pay. As a result, the house was put into the tax sale. The tax assessor then bought the house out from under me in the tax sale. How would the former owner feel about the city’s tax sale process and its assessment process? How should any Norwalk property owner feel about it? The fact that this was allowed to proceed just underscores the weak ethical standards of the city government and the corrupt nature of politics and government in Norwalk. Can you spell conflict of interest? Have these people no shame?

  8. John Hamlin

    It’s like the Middle Ages — the tax assessor and collectors always got rich at others’ expense! And our elected and appointed officials let this go on.

  9. OhNoNorwalk

    It’s a free for all at city. It starts at the top. They all have their hands dirty with the unethical ways things are done.

  10. Wineshine

    While there may be no laws or statutes against what Mr. Stewart did, it is wrong on a number of levels, and at the least shows extremely poor judgment on his part. How can a city employee who pulls a stunt like this be trusted with official matters? Mr. Hamlin provides an excellent example of what public opinion is bound to be on this matter.

  11. Piberman

    Kudos for John Hamillin. Our Tax Assessor can look forward for a salary hike for “public service”. A pattern is emerging. Transparency at work. Hamilton speaks for the Mayor here. Four Councilmen demand the Fire Chief’s contract non-renewal and behold it’s not. Mayor remains mum. Any doubts about 95/7 being a “slam dunk” ?

  12. Suzanne

    I guess that September conversation didn’t stick. Being terribly disappointed with a person for their actions does not necessarily curb their next action if there are no other real consequences. This guy has no conscious and no sense of propriety or fairness. Fire him.

  13. John Hamlin

    Maybe our do nothing Common Council could take a break from its dysfunction and address something so blatantly unethical by coming up with an ordinance that would strengthen (or in this case create) an ethics standard and obligations that would address this going forward — including a provision that no collective bargaining agreement can be agreed to that doesn’t require immediate dismissal for any ethics violation — as determined in the sole discretion of the Council. Then perhaps there will be some accountability. Unless of course the real agenda is no standards and no accountability as reflected in the status quo.

  14. Lisa Biagiarelli

    1. Mr Stewart & I never discussed this property or bidding prior to the sale & neither I nor anybody on my staff knew he intended to bid. 2. Two attorneys from the Corporation Counsel’s office were at the sale with me, witnessed this situation, & agreed that there was nothing we could do at the time to stop it. 3. Normally Mr Hamilton would have been at the sale & had the chance to nip this situation in the bud but he had a death in the family & wasn’t there. 4. I agree Mr Stewart’s participation “looks bad,” but there is a big difference between one employee doing something like that and the kind of bad acts some of the comments are accusing us all of – “corruption,” “weak ethical standards,” “dirty hands,” etc. 5. Taxes are based on value not on ability to pay. There is no basis to claim Mr Stewart valued this property, out of 29,000 parcels in Norwalk, too high, with the goal of forcing out the owner. There is no basis to assume the owner couldn’t afford the taxes & stopped paying for that reason. 6. It is our understanding the owner moved out of the US to the Middle East & basically abandoned responsibility for his affairs here. That isn’t something we can do anything about. 7. This is not the first time city employees have bid on tax sale property. It is a public auction as required by state law. 8. We also have had retired city employees as well as other public officials, including current and former council people, bidding at our tax sales. Some of the people bidding on this property in July were current & past council people. Again – it is a public auction. 9. I as well as many of my “union” colleagues are very accountable. I issue monthly reports all of which are available on line. I answer to the public, to the Mayor and to Mr Hamilton my direct supervisor. I have a 4 year term, & am either re appointed or not. I have specific duties set by state law & the charter, & also report to the state of CT. I am responsible with my office to collect 90% of the city’s annual operating revenue. I am audited annually. I am bonded. I am accountable. 11. My office does all our tax sale work “in house” which saves literally millions of dollars in “fees” that would otherwise be paid by those who are already struggling. Other towns typically outsource that work & there are attorneys making a good living running tax sales for other towns. We do it ourselves, charging only to recover our costs (legal notices, mailings etc) because the on time Norwalk taxpayer should not have to bear the cost of this type of collection enforcement. The tax sale is a lot of extra work & a huge undertaking, but we do one every 2 years because it is in the best interest of the City. 14.It is very disturbing to me to read comments such as those saying I am corrupt, unethical, or that I as tax collector am “getting rich at others’ expense”. I cannot let comments like that go unanswered. I am a professional with 33 years of experience. I take my job very seriously & work very hard for Norwalk. If you have an issue with Mr Stewart’s judgment, that is your right, and I do understand. Perhaps our 2106 sale will include a prohibition to disallow any employee of the tax collector’s or assessor’s office from bidding. I have no problem with that. But please be careful of the accusations being made here. Thank you.

  15. Andrea Light

    Well said Ms. Biagiarelli! I an proud and thankful you hold your position in this city. You do an outstanding job.

  16. Mike Mushak

    I am not commenting on anyone’s particular behavior, only responding to John Hamlin’s comment above.

    Norwalk has a Code of Ethics, Chapter 32 of the Norwalk Code, seen here: http://www.ecode360.com/27048731

    This is from the introduction to the code:

    “Public service is a public trust, and the proper operation of the City of Norwalk requires that all City officers and employees, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, be impartial and responsible to the public. Public office and employment must not be used for unfair personal or financial advantage. The public needs and deserves to have confidence in the integrity of the municipal government of our City.

    Officers and employees of the City of Norwalk must refrain from personal, business, and financial activities that adversely affect the individual’s fidelity and impartiality, having regard for the nature and scope of their official responsibilities. and responsible to the public. Public office and employment must not be used for unfair personal or financial advantage. The public needs and deserves to have confidence in the integrity of the municipal government of our City.”

    This is the paragraph that seems to describe the relationship between an ethical violation and “any applicable labor agreement:”

    “A violation of this code of ethics by a employee of an agency shall be considered misconduct and therefore a ground for censure or discipline, including demotion in rank or grade, termination of a contract or discharge under the Code of the City of Norwalk and any applicable labor agreement.”

    Perhaps NON can get our Personnel Department to share their opinion about this clause, and whether this was bargained with NASA along with performance reviews by the last administration in 2012.

  17. Lisa Thomson

    It looks bad!

  18. Piberman

    Perhaps NON could ask the Mayor and Council President whether a statute is needed to prevent a reoccurrence of City employees/appointed officials participating in a tax sale. Without NON’s reporting this employee tax purchase would not have reported to the public. Kudos.

  19. John Hamlin

    @Mike Mushak — thanks for the clarification — so it seems there’s a Code of Ethics, but it apparently isn’t followed or has no teeth. If it works, how could this have been allowed to happen with no consequences?

    @Lisa Biagiarelli — you sound like an admirable person and a valuable employee of the city. The vast majority of Norwalk’s public employees are. But the system that permitted this incident needs to be fixed. Public employees (not to mention our politicians) need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their duties in order for the public to have confidence in our government.

  20. QuickNote

    This is such a conflict of interest scenario and if it cannot be recognized as such by all involved, then maybe a class on what Conflict of Interest means should be held for all departments at City Hall. Also, if this is not a case for the Ethics Commission, then what is their role? Unfortunately, with all due respect to the Common Council, a bad precedent on conflict of interest was set when it voted to allow Ms. Stewart
    to use NEON assets for her for profit business for a nominal fee.
    Thank you

  21. Bill

    Fire this guy. Violation of public trust and absolutely unprofessional and unethical. Sad day for Norwalk that our mayor allows this guy to continue to be employed.

  22. Bill

    Let me get this right, a city Union employee has $220k+ sitting around in cash to buy a property, Doesn’t fear for his job, and won’t be reprimanded because our mayor won’t enforce our ethics code? Bring back Moccia!!!

  23. Logic

    I must go off subject if I may for this comparison comment.
    “Appearances in the public sector matter”, this quote from Mr. Hamilton is true and it should apply across the board to all departments, does it? No it doesn’t, black man buys a house commenters are speaking of the bad judgment, conflict etc. a bit of an uproar. White chief treats blacks disparately and makes public racially insensitive comments for years, no uproar EVER. “Sad to say it speaks volumes about the attitudes from some residents of our community in regard to race relations, and current long time Repubs support him, big problem for Norwalk I’d say. I agree Mr. Stewart has shown terribly poor judgment but so has the chief, do I have to point out the difference between the two men, I certainly hope not. I’ll borrow this great quote from Suzanne, “Being terribly disappointed with a person for their actions does not necessarily curb their next action if there are no other real consequences. This guy has no conscious and no sense of propriety or fairness. Fire him.” Can some one explain the difference, since the chief’s actions have a much more negative impact on our community than some one buying a house in a tax sale! The Fire Commissioners have clearly made the right decision and must not renew his contract. I apologize for going off subject but the irony was clear and no one cared to notice.

  24. Suzanne

    I had no idea Mr. Stewart was black and it has absolutely no relevance to my comments. He showed particularly poor judgement and a conflict of interest.

    He had a talk with the Mayor and Mr. Hamilton about this very thing last year and obviously did not heed their advice.

    The Fire Chief likewise shows no difference to the actions of Mr. Stewart. They are independent of each other, the Fire Chief is essentially “on probation” until May according to what I read in NON.

    Mr. Stewart is acting against such warnings. Don’t look for racism where there isn’t any. It is a reflection of you and not the people disturbed by Mr. Stewart’s ACTIONS not his race.

  25. Logic

    @ Suzanne
    My apologies but your line fit the scenario that has developed with the purchase of the house by Mr. Stewart, it was simply a comparison to the unequal observations made over ten years, by pretty much everyone.
    People are looking for immediate action against Mr. Stewart and had not done the same for ten years in the other instance, why?
    It’s a valid question, and it appears to have only one logical answer.
    I promise to not quote you again.

  26. Bill

    @Logic, your perception and a few bad apples perception of a well liked and respected Fire chief has nothing to do with this unethical behavior at the expense of taxpayers done by Mr. Stewart. Bringing up race that has no context in this discussion does your side a disservice, but I doubt you even notice your blind spots, nor care.

  27. Logic

    @ Bill
    Unfortunately you ignore the clear comparison that many call for Mr. Stewarts demise but say nothing about the chiefs comments over ten years in regard to minorities, be part of the solution and ask for equal treatment. If anyone really believes his comments are okay something is terribly wrong.
    Many have yet to condemn his comments, if you choose not to it is wrong, but it is possible you may have similar views?

  28. Suzanne

    Logic, Two wrongs don’t make it right or racism.

  29. Gus

    “While it raises eyebrows, he was not the only bidder on this home and other’s winning bid would have been less money for the city than what Stewart paid for it.”

    “the city does not make a profit, Biagiarelli said. State law requires the city to turn that excess amount over to the Superior Court for distribution to the owners or other parties of interest.”

    Doesn’t seem true, M. Murray.

Leave a Reply

sponsored advertisement




Recent Comments