Last week, the New London city council expressed no confidence in the Fort Trumbull project, and demanded that the New London Development Corporation's leadership be replaced. This is seen by many as the first steps toward the city reasserting its control over the Fort Trumbull redevelopment project and perhaps even disbanding the quasi-public NLDC altogether.
On Tuesday, the New London City Council voted unanimously to express no confidence in the development authority. It ordered the corporation to dismiss its president and chief operating officer, and threatened to dissolve the agency within a week if it did not do so.
The vote came after the corporation angered state and local officials by sending orders to vacate to five Fort Trumbull residents living on property being seized for a hotel and office space. The corporation rescinded the notices under pressure by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. (AP)
Perhaps this should also raise a larger question about the role of partially private development corporations in cities. The problem with the NLDC is that it has never been directly accountable to citizens, and its relationship with the city council is complicated, to say the least. The city can dissolve the NLDC, but it would be complex, legally speaking, to do so. The NLDC isn't, strictly speaking, run by the city. This, as New London is finding out, can be somewhat problematic.
So why have a quasi-public agency?
"You create an entity whose sole purpose is to do these development projects, so their sole purpose is getting these projects done, and done on time," Michael Cicchetti, the undersecretary of the state's budget office, told The Day of New London. "Instead of having city employees take on that responsibility, setting up an entity whose sole purpose is getting these done just streamlines the process." (AP)
In essence, when the city doesn't have the money or the staff to oversee such a big project, they can create a private corporation to do it for them. This is part of a larger national trend away from "big government" towards the private sector. This trend has existed since the early 1970s, and peaked in the 1990s. President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security is one of the results of this trend.
Outsourcing government functions to the private sector can sometimes bring good results, but sometimes not. Either way, it's more difficult for the public and its representatives to exert control over private companies than government agencies, and therefore much harder to hold them accountable. The tradeoff is that they don't use as much taxpayer money as public agencies.
Is trading money for control worthwhile? New London, burned by seven years of slowdowns and public ire, is starting to think not.
"City of New London wants to take control of Fort Trumbull project." Associated Press 26 September, 2005.