Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 24, 2009

No Prohibited Conflict of Interest for Commission Chair Who Was Employed by the Municipality

Plaintiffs appealed a decision of the town of Deep River planning and zoning commission (PZC) that granted a special exemption application allowing co-defendant Haynes to excavate/quarry gravel on property owned by Incarnation.  After public hearings, the PZC voted unanimously to approve the plan for an initial period of three years.  Plaintiffs claim that participation of Jonathan Kastner, the chairman of the PZC, was an illegal conflict of interest.  They alleged that Kastner was a full-time employee of the town of Deep River which requires that the municipality adopts a town ordinance authorizing a municipal employee to serve as members in the town in which they reside.

The Court found that Kastner did not have a personal interest in the PZC’s vote, and noted that plaintiffs are required to show that Kastner has a personal bias or financial interest.  In a case that pits one property owner against another, the plaintiffs did not advance any arguments to show that that Kastner would favor one over the other.  Essentially, the plaintiffs argue that having Kastner as a member is a per se violation that should invalidate the PZC ruling.  Also, plaintiffs asserted that there is a perception of bias, but the Court said this was not supported with any factual evidence.

Furthermore, plaintiffs argue that Kastner’s presence and participation in the public hearings invalidated the final decision.  The Court found that Kastner was in charge of the hearings, but that his participation was not substantive.  He did not advocate a position, he did not ask substantive questions of those who testified, and he did not attempt to influence the commission.  The Court pointed out that he voiced a preference that the commission approve the application for an initial five years, but that it only approved the application for three, displaying how little influence he possessed.  Finally, the Court noted that since all six members voted in favor, even if Kastner was disqualified, the overwhelming majority was still in favor.

Lent v. Town of Deep River Planning & Zoning Commission, 2009 WL 1663035 (Conn.Super. 5/22/2009).

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