Defendants say police lawsuit has no merit

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 7:15pm
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In response to a restraining order petitioned by five New Shoreham Police Officers that is designed, in part, to halt construction of a single family dwelling designed for a town employee, the defendants are claiming the lawsuit and the attendant restraining order are without merit.

In a motion filed on Tuesday, Oct. 8, the defendants — there are 22 of them — state that the lawsuit contains “procedurally fatal issues, including the assumption that a ‘charitable trust’ is even in existence here... Moreover, Plaintiff’s application for temporary injunctive relief is unreasonably late, and involves money damages claims that do not qualify for injunctive relief. And — most importantly, there is absolutely no irreparable harm‚ much less immediate irreparable harm, as the construction they seek to halt has nothing to do with the police housing they claim to be entitled to, which is actually being doubled — not decreased — by the construction project already underway.”

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft Carter ruled on Wednesday, Oct. 16, against the temporary restraining order petitioned by the plaintiffs that would have halted construction of the single family home on the Thomas Property.

“We had a hearing, a consolidated hearing of the police case and the Cathy Payne case, against the town that was seeking a temporary restraining order on construction of the single family house on the Thomas Property until the plaintiffs contentions could be sorted out,” said the attorney for the defendants, Bill Landry. “The judge found that, at least based on what she understood about the case at this early stage, there was not any imminent or irreparable harm by the continued construction of that building.”

Landry said the next hearing in the case will be heard on Monday, Oct. 21 to consolidate the cases filed by five members of the New Shoreham Police Department. Payne is also seeking to block the construction of the single family dwelling.

The dispute stems from a will left by the late Violette Connolly in 2008, which stipulated that some of the property she owned on Spring Street be provided as housing for New Shoreham Police Officers. However, Connolly became ill and had to leave the island. Without funds and with significant medical bills incurred for her care, Connolly’s Executrix, Deputy Town Clerk Millie McGinnes, after she had petitioned the Probate Court, sold Connelly’s property for $875,000 to help fund her health care. “The barns were dilapidated and were torn down by the purchaser,” the lawsuit states.

Connolly passed away in 2010 “with $601,672 in cash in her estate, which, after expenses, dwindled to $540,000; no real estate; no trust, and obviously no barns or police officer housing,” according to the Objection filed by the defendants.

Given that the “remaining funds were insufficient to purchase property in the Town suitable for rental housing,” another solution was sought. Connolly’s legal guardian and Executrix of her estate, Millie McGinnes petitioned the state Superior Court, and, “out of an abundance of caution,” the objection states, “the attorney general was notified; became involved in the suit and weighed in on — and influenced — the solution.”

That solution was to buy the Thomas Property. The Superior Court approved a gift of $540,000 to the town, with another $240,000 approved by voters, to “purchase and renovate a property at 390 High Street that happened to contain two rental properties and a garage. The property is known as the ‘Thomas Property.’ This made it possible for the balance of her estate to be utilized in a manner that promoted police housing,” according to the Objection.

The Objection states that the monies provided by Connolly’s estate were not  a charitable trust but a charitable gift. “Hence, contrary to the allegations in the Amended Complaint, there was no charitable trust ever created here, and the Town and the police officers are not in a trustee/beneficiary relationship with respect to the Thomas property,” the Objection states.

The purchase was voted on and approved by voters at a special Financial Town Meeting on Oct. 3, 2011.

The Objection states, “Police Chief Vincent Carlone participated and voted, as did Sergeant Joseph DeMatteo, one of the Plaintiffs in this case, and Amy [Land], (the wife of another).” Land is misidentified in the Objection as “Amy Long.” (Carlone is no longer a plaintiff in this case.)

The plaintiffs include Lt. Paul Deane, Sgt. DeMatteo, Corp. Chris Rich, Officer Thomas Pennell, and Officer Steve Land.

The defendants in the case are the members of the Town Council, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board, Executrix Millie McGinnes, Town Manager Ed Roberge and former Town Manager Nancy Dodge.

After the purchase of the Thomas Property, the Objection states, “Town Manager Nancy Dodge thereafter regularly inquired of the Police Chief from year to year about the status of the needs of police officers for rental housing. He regularly responded that there were no police officers in need of housing.”

In 2018, the voters of the town approved $1.5 million “to finance the planning, design, construction, and development of an enhanced Town (including police) employee housing program on the Thomas Property,” according to the Objection. The plan called for renovating “the two existing rental units on the Thomas Property to four rental units instead of two. It also provided that the town would rent those four units to police officers — and to other Town employees if police officers were not in need or not interested.”

In early 2019, the Planning Board approved the “application for the new configuration. None of the Plaintiffs filed an appeal from that Decision to the Zoning Board of Review.”