Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Ever get the feeling that they're all out to get you? Peter Porrino seems to feel like that.

It started when Unilever, the owners of the office building next to him, seemed to have gotten a very quick turnaround on a sweetheart zoning change allowing them to build a new loading dock. The dock which would have rather worsened his view, to say nothing of the diesel fumes. On further investigation, their lawyer, one John Schepisi, turned out to represent just about every other major property developer in town. But then again, he has a very successful record -- he's gotten unanimous approval of everything he's asked for from the town planning board for the past five years. Mayor Joseph Parisi explains, he's a very good lawyer.

And Parisi would know. As it happens, Schepisi isn't just a lawyer who frequently has business before the city council; he's also a client, of the mayor's family insurance business. The town's lawyer announced that much, when the mayor and his son, a city councillor, both recused themselves from further votes on the matter. With the recusal, it no longer mattered that the mayor is also a client of Schepisi's for some legal work, or that they have a joint investment in a shopping center, a taxi business, and a bank, so they didn't bother announcing any of that, leaving it for other folks to discover.

Of course, there are also more neutral arbiters around, like the head of the local planning board. His main connection with this is that he's also a loan officer at the bank, and the son of its president. But hey, that's not unusual -- most of the city council owned shares in the bank. It doesn't matter much; the borough's attorney had ruled those holdings were insubstantial, which conveniently meant that they didn't have to recuse themselves from business brought to the council by their co-owner of the bank, Mr. Schepisi. (And is there anything else?)

Likewise, the fact that Unilever deposited a few million dollars with the bank before getting unanimous approval for their loading dock can't have mattered much. The council members' holdings, after all, were insubstantial. Their lawyer says so.

You can get really carried away talking about casual connections like this as if they were an invitation to corruption. Heck, the lawyer who wrote this all up for the Times himself had a relative who was at one time, a client of Schepisi's.

This is even more true of higher levels of government -- as in Connecticut, where people are trying to sling mud at the good and well-connected people who were staffing that state's trash authority. Nonsense. They're just trying to do the best for the people of Connecticut. They may have taken a bath on that unfortunate $200 million dollar deal with Enron, but it was surely well intentioned. (And while it is, well, unseemly for the Times to be covering the matter at all, at least they didn't make too big a deal of their Republican party affiliations).

And if it's irresponsible to speculate about this sort of thing on a local or state level, how much more irresponsible must it be to speculate about unseemly shenanigans between the heads of the Fortune 500 and members of Congress?


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