Daniel Casagrande of Cramer & Anderson. (Photo from Danbury News-Times)

                                        Story By John Murray   

   There is not much time for city leaders to implement aldermen by district for the November 2015 election, but Mayor Neil O’Leary said there is no choice. The process is moving ahead at a vigorous pace and an outside lawyer was hired yesterday to oversee the historic change in municipal government.

   “The voters spoke loud and clear on Election Day that they want aldermen by district,” O’Leary said, “and we’re going to give it to them.”

   But it’s no easy task.

   All three political parties in Waterbury will have to rewrite by-laws to accommodate electing aldermen by district, city ordinances will have to be changed, district lines will have to be established, and explosive issues of super majority and minority set asides will have to resolved. At the moment there appears to be a lot of head scratching on just what to do, and how to do it.

   “There are a lot of issues to resolve,” O’Leary said. “I’m not comfortable with what I know, and we are bringing in experts from outside of Waterbury to help us with the process.”

   One of the first experts to arrive on the scene will be Attorney Daniel Casagrande of Danbury (no relation to well known Waterbury lawyer Tony Casagrande) who has been selected to oversee the legal process of implementing alderman by district in the next few months. Casagrande came highly recommended by Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton (R), who just guided his city through a redistricting process.

   “Mayor Boughton used Atty. Casagrande’s law firm (Cramer & Anderson) in the redistricting process in Danbury and told me they performed the job with great integrity,” O’Leary said. “One of the best things is that they are outside of Waterbury and nobody knows them.”

   Casagrande was selected after a necessarily quick search process that included interviews with Murtha Cullina law firm in New Haven, and Attorney Steve Mednick of Waterbury.

   Corporation Council Linda Wihbey said Cramer & Anderson have never performed any legal work for the City of Waterbury before, and they bring extensive skills and leadership to the daunting challenge facing Waterbury. “We are creating new districts, not redistricting,” Wihbey said. “When you create districts you are held to a higher standard. We are faced with a very short time frame to implement this, and we want to do this right.”

   Casagrande was officially hired yesterday afternoon and it is expected he will begin work immediately. His first task will be helping formulate a Request For Quote (RFQ) that will be used to hire a firm that will research and draw the five district lines in Waterbury.

   “We need a firm that has experience in drawing district lines,” O’Leary said. “We want to do this once and do it right. Their work has to stand up to any possible legal challenge.”

  The RFQ is expected to go out to bid in the next few days.

  Corporation Council Linda Wihbey said she has been extensively researching the legal issues of implementing aldermen by district since 7:30 am the morning after the election. “The biggest problem communities have had in creating districts is that they have not been inclusive and transparent,” Wihbey said. “That’s when you get into trouble. Transparency is critical. We are going create a documented record of the process in Waterbury that can prevent legal challenges. This is a fascinating time in Waterbury.”

  The following description of Daniel Casagrande is from the website of Cramer and Anderson:

   Dan Casagrande has been in private practice in Connecticut since 1986. Casagrande has served as an outside Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Danbury from 1990 through present. He served as Town Attorney for the Town of New Milford in the years 1987-1989 and 1991-1995, and as Town Attorney for New Fairfield from 1998 through 2005.

   Casagrande has been retained to represent Connecticut towns and land use agencies in specialized assignments, such as charter revisions, affordable housing appeals, construction projects and disputes, and high-exposure tax assessment appeals. Towns that have retained him on special counsel assignments include Ridgefield, Middlebury, Southbury, New Milford, Waterford, Cheshire, Bethany, Waterford and Beacon Falls.

   His municipal work has included drafting public works construction contracts and redevelopment contracts, and representation in court in a wide variety of cases, including land use appeals, construction claims, takings disputes, condemnations, assessment appeals, and tax foreclosures. He was lead counsel for Danbury in a multi-million dollar construction claim brought by contractors working on the City’s landfill closure project, which recently settled on terms favorable to the City. Casagrande and his partners at Cramer & Anderson have tried, mediated, and arbitrated construction claims for both private and public clients.

   Casagrande has extensive experience in property valuation issues, and has tried some of the most complicated property tax assessment appeals ever brought in Connecticut. In 1998, he defended the City of Danbury in an appeal by Union Carbide Corporation of the valuation for assessment purposes of its corporate world headquarters. The trial court upheld the city’s $307 million valuation after a 24-day trial, and he successfully argued the appeal of the decision before the Connecticut Supreme Court.

   In 2007, he defended the Town of Waterford in its defense of an appeal by Dominium Nuclear Connecticut, Inc. of the Millstone nuclear power plant, believed to be the largest assessment appeal ever litigated in Connecticut. The trial court, in several decisions, upheld over 92 percent of the town’s valuation.  Casagrande and his partners have extensive experience in litigating the valuation of other complex properties, such as nursing homes (CCRCs), manufacturing facilities, big box retail, and water utility properties.

   Most recently, he successfully defended a defamation claim brought by a real estate developer who alleged that the defendant defamed him in a YouTube video when he criticized two affordable housing land use projects then pending before a local land use commission. These actions have become known as SLAPP suits – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. The trial court granted summary judgment for his client and ruled that the statements in the video were not defamatory as a matter of law, and that they were in any event protected by the First Amendment’s Fair Comment Doctrine.

   Casagrande served as president of the Connecticut Association of Municipal Attorneys from 2011 to 2013, and is an ex-officio member of its board. He has given numerous presentations at both the state and national levels on legal issues facing municipalities, including land use, tax appeals, FOI, and trials of complex valuation cases.