Monday, October 02, 2006

$2.3 Million and Counting....

I thought y'all would be interested in the headline story in today's LR, "Greenwich Time". By the bye, you wouldn't believe how many people, even long-time locals, either put a "The" in front of its name, or an "s" at the end of it, or both. That's why I find it simpler, as well as more descriptive, merely to call it the local rag, or LR for short. It is notorious among the townsfolk for never getting the facts of a story straight, so I hereby offer the following with the disclaimer that I rarely believe most of what I read in its pages.

The story states that the town of Greenwich has spent over $2,300,000 on payments to outside law firms to help in defending lawsuits - and that's just in the past five years. My own legal history with the town, as you know from the last post, goes back considerably further than that. Now, you would think that in a town of ca. 60,000 residents, a law department consisting of a Town Attorney, five and a half assistant attorneys, and a plethora of support staff, would have no problem staying on top of things. But you would be wrong, of course - remember, this is Greenwich, which has more municipal employees per capita than any town in the state, if not the country. (Some people line up at the town trough right out of high school, do their nails and take naps and coffee breaks for the next 4-5 decades, and then retire with generous pension and health benefits - not a bad deal, if you think life is all about creature comforts.)

The LR story goes on to say that the town gets hit with some 250 lawsuits a year. If you factor out weekends and holidays, that's about one per working day. Given my own experience of the town's incompetence, malfeasance, and just plain stupidity, I guess I am hardly surprised. I try to keep my own filings to an average of one a year, and generally tie them to some particularly egregious violation of the law and/or civil rights; but it seems as though others, perhaps having read of my exploits, are jumping on the bandwagon. As Mark Twain once said, "I'm thinking of filing a lawsuit, and am looking around for a defendant." He should have moved from Hartford to Greenwich.

The problem with suing the town of Greenwich is that it's generally a lose/lose situation, at least if you reside in town. The law department will first try to obfuscate you to death, and when that doesn't work, spend thousands of dollars on depositions. Years later, on the eve of trial, they will suddenly start to talk settlement. They will have spent far more on legal fees, both internally and with outside firms, than the amount of the settlement ultimately agreed on. This, my friends, they regard as a victory. To me it smacks of litigational insanity.

But the moneys they dispend come out of taxpayer pockets, not theirs, so they don't really care. The prevailing theory is that it would cost more to settle than to defend the actions; this leads to situations like that in which the town ignored a six-figure offer of judgment and wound up losing almost $10 million in court. Oh, BTW, please note that the legal costs we've been discussing do NOT include the ultimate amounts paid out in settlements or judgments - those come to many millions more.

So no wonder that the rank and file of the GG are upset when they read in the LR that this kind of megabuck outlay is being made with no budgetary control, while their grievances and demands are being ignored by the town. (The fact that these worthies are themselves the proximate cause of many of the lawsuits seems not to have occurred to them, of course.) In any case, the police union has written an open letter to the citizens telling them, in effect, to take back the control of the town budget. Said budget is purportedly the realm of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), but for lo! these many years the bureaucrats in Town Hall have been treating it as their private piggy bank. No wonder the GG are upset - for all these years, they thought that *they* ran the town.

In the meantime, however, the best way to get rich around here is to "work" for the town, screw up or get laid off, and threaten to sue. You will walk away with a nice five- or six-figure settlement, particularly if you know where some of the smellier bodies are buried in Town Hall. You will, of course, have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but hey - that means that things will still be rotten when the next opportunist comes by to pick up his or her share. They don't call it the public trough for nothing.

So, gentle reader, you can see that things haven't changed much in Greenwich since the days when "Boss" Tweed and his Tammany Hall henchmen used to live and play here. Or since the days in the early twentieth century when Lincoln Steffens "loafed around home in the old New England town of Greenwich, Conn...I stood on Election Day in the undertaker's in Greenwich and saw the voters file through, getting their three dollars each to support the machine...." On another occasion Steffens said, "I happen to be a resident of Greenwich, Connecticut, and I can tell you that that town is as corrupt as any city in the United States."

As it happened, the editor of the LR of the time was standing nearby when Steffens made that statement, and challenged him to prove the "libel" on the fair name of Greenwich. The story goes that Steffens called a town meeting, had them elect a respected citizen as the moderator, and proceeded to make his case as follows:

"I will start with the reminder that at the last election you saw me, lots of you saw me, standing in the undertaker's shop, watching you pass through there getting your $2.50 per voter. We both knew that, but I know something you don't know. I know and you don't that while you were getting your $2.50, the Italians were getting $2.75 a vote."

The meeting, attended mostly by old-line Yankees, erupted in an uproar. Was it possible that their gardeners and stonemasons were getting more money than they were? Why, it was a scandal! When the political bosses at the back of the room failed to deny Steffens' charge, everyone knew it was true. The following resolution was offered by Steffens:

"We, the people of Greenwich, in town meeting assembled, admit that we are as corrupt as any community so far exposed in this country."

It passed, dear reader - not without dissent, but it passed.

Sounds like something out of Mark Twain again, doesn't it? What really upset the townsfolk was not that they were selling their votes, but that the immigrants were getting a higher price for theirs. Whether the voters that night thought of that as the corruption, or that any sale of any vote constituted corruption, we shall never know; but I suspect that most of them inclined to the former point of view.

As the French say, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Greenwich was founded in what some believe was one of the greatest land swindles in history: Tod's Point and Old Greenwich for twenty-four English coats. One wonders, did the Indians take turns wearing them? Well, it hardly matters; history goes on to record that when the Indians got uppity, they were massacred. Thus the town of Greenwich continued to expand to its present size of some 50 square miles, all without, as far as I can tell, any further payments to the Indians - or those of them who may have been left.

So, gentle reader, ends today's chapter in the history of Greenwich. Who knows what the morrow may bring?


Blogger ERiCA said...

In the meantime, however, the best way to get rich around here is to "work" for the town, screw up or get laid off, and threaten to sue.

Sweet! Sounds like a summer job to me... *g

August 18, 2007 6:22 PM  

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