Support Abilis

It must be that time when Greenwich government is starting to wake up from its summer hibernation because people are starting to express concern about what the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) might do.

And what’s causing this concern is the plan for the RTM to begin to take up its examination of town leases, those arrangements that often allow non-profits to use town-owned property at rates that are far below market value if not bargain basement. This has been a long time coming as the body has sought increased transparency of the town lease process and what exactly goes into each arrangement and the concern is not the RTM’s quest for information, but rather where they are starting.

Abilis, a non-profit that, among its other programs, helps people with developmental disabilities live independently and get jobs in the community, has a lease with the town for a group residence for women at 101 Orchard Street. This 10-year lease is up this year but the language of the agreement includes an automatic trigger that rolls the lease over for another 10 years if certain conditions were met. The Board of Selectmen has said that everything is in order with this arrangement and the Planning and Zoning Commission agrees. But the RTM wants its say first.

This has caused some concern, especially from Selectman Drew Marzullo, that looking at this lease in particular could cause unneeded scrutiny of Abilis and what should be a simple matter could become drawn out and controversial. With more than 200 members on the RTM and some who might want to get closer to market rate for the valuable property, this is not an out of left field concern. But RTM member Gordon Ennis, chairman of the Finance Committee, has said fear is unnecessary since the body supports Abilis and continuing the lease, but just wants the chance to review it first in a public fashion.

What’s clear is that the selectmen and Abilis’ attorney are correct that this is an automatic trigger of the rollover clause. You don’t have to have a legal education to see that. Not only has Abilis lived by the terms of the lease by not making major changes to the building, but it has been an excellent tenant, allowing people of the community to remain in the community and be hard working, contributing members. We suspect that the RTM will quickly reach that conclusion just as the selectmen did when they strongly and unanimously put their support behind continuing the arrangement between the town and Abilis.

And since the RTM is coming back into session next month it seems appropriate that we have one of those fun town matters before it already where everyone has a good point. Mr. Marzullo is right that in the hands of the RTM sometimes what seems open and shut can drag out months, and that would be unfair and unreasonable to a fine organization like Abilis, which has acted responsibly and within the conditions set by the town. But the RTM has the right to look at these town leases and, more importantly, should do it to make sure that things are above board in these arrangements throughout town. Transparency and good stewardship are very rarely bad things.

First Selectman Peter Tesei is right that this is going to happen no matter what, so we just have to hope for the best. Mr. Ennis has shown himself to be responsible and a man of his word, so we believe him when he says this is just to establish a process for lease reviews and that this will not be controversial.

It’s almost time for everyone to get back to work in town government and we hope things start out nice and smooth. The selectmen have done their part. Now it’s time for the RTM.

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