Tuesday, January 09, 2007

If You Get it in Writing, Can You Take it to the Bank?

Here in Greenwich, the answer is apparently not. Comes now Jerry Porricelli, who before buying a home in Hillcrest Park on the Stamford border half a dozen years ago, went to the office of the Registrar of Voters and asked if he would continue to be a Greenwich voter if he moved there. Since the federal government considers the house a Greenwich address, with a Greenwich Zip Code and Greenwich mail service, they said "yes". In writing. Twice.

That was then. Last Friday, the Board of Selectmen finally defined who could be a Greenwich voter: at least some part of the house must lie in Greenwich. Jerry's house, accessible only through Greenwich, with a Greenwich mailbox and driveway, did not qualify. He and his wife were told they are no longer Greenwich voters.

Wait a minute, you say: what about the age-old doctrine of reliance? Good question, dear reader; let's take a look at that. Here's what it says at law.com (I don't have my Black's Law Dictionary handy):

reasonable reliance: particularly in contracts, what a prudent person would believe and act upon if told something by another. Typically, a person is promised a profit or other benefit, and in reliance takes steps in reliance on the promise, only to find the statements or promises were not true or were exaggerated. The one who relied can recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance if the reliance was "reasonable." If the promisor says he "owned the Brooklyn Bridge," reliance on that statement is not reasonable. In a complaint the language would read something like: "in reasonable reliance on defendant's statement (or promise), plaintiff did the following…."

Well, Jerry wasn't looking to buy the Brooklyn Bridge; all he wanted was to continue to be a Greenwich voter, as the prior inhabitants of his new house, and all their predecessors, had been. Nothing unreasonable there. Seems to me that he might have a reasonably good cause of action against the town here.

In almost any other municipality, one might expect that Jerry and his wife would have been grandfathered, under the circumstances. But no, dear reader: this is Greenwich, where we defend the privacy of our beaches at enormous legal costs, until we are told clearly by the State Supreme Court that we don't have a leg to stand on. Now it appears that the Board of Selectmen want to take the same approach to voting rights.

One is tempted to think that perhaps Jerry may at some point in the past have looked cross-eyed at Jimmy Lash, our ineffable First Selectman, and that Jimmy is taking this whole thing personally. Why else would he now be trying to unseat Jerry from the RTM (Representative Town Meeting), to which he was elected in 2003 and 2005 from the address in question? Ordinarily, if someone moves between elections, they are permitted to fill out their term. And Jerry hasn't even moved. Is there something ad hominem going on here?

Given Jimmy Lash's modus operandi, which daily earns him more enemies here in town, this would not be an unreasonable conclusion. The politics in this town, never too clean to begin with (remember the past blogs about Lincoln Steffens?), seem to be getting dirtier every day. No wonder a poll in yesterday's LR said that two-thirds of the respondents felt that Jimmy should NOT run for a third term.

But the damage he leaves behind will continue to fester. IMHO, Greenwich will lose the Porricelli case, just as happened with the beach case, but only after tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars will have been unnecessarily wasted. Can you spell S-T-U-P-I-D, dear reader? Apparently Jimmy Lash can't.


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