Port Authority Board Chair Bonnie Reemsnyder announced Wednesday she is stepping down, after Governor Ned Lamont called for her resignation. It’s just the latest trouble at the agency responsible for promoting investment in Connecticut’s three deepwater ports.
David Kooris, a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, is now Acting Chair of the Connecticut Port Authority Board.
“There’s been clearly a perception over the last couple of weeks, of disarray,” Kooris said. “We’re confident we are implementing some stability.”
Kooris said the Authority has been plagued recently by a “series of small issues that have added up to something larger.”
The Port Authority is a quasi-public agency. That means it uses taxpayer dollars, but is subject to less public oversight than most state agencies.
One recent issue was an appropriation of public funds to a family member of Reemsnyder.
That transaction was originally outlined in an opinion piece published in The Day of New London.
The Port Authority, under the leadership of Executive Director Evan Matthews, used thousands of taxpayer dollars to purchase photographs created by Reemsnyder’s daughter. Those photographs were then hung on the walls at the agency’s office in Old Saybrook.
“This was a couple of years ago, before I was on the board,” Kooris said. “The decorating and the purchases, and the decision-making, was in the hands of the executive director, not in the hands of Bonnie. The Board did not take any action on it at that time.”
Last week, Matthews was placed on administrative leave.
Kooris said Matthews is still collecting a salary, but his future at the agency remains unclear. Kooris declined to comment on why, specifically, Matthews was sidelined.
In a statement, The Connecticut Port Authority said the agency’s daily operations will now be assisted by retired Navy captain Paul Whitescarver, who commanded the Naval Submarine Base in Groton for more than three years.
Kooris said he hopes the leadership changes will reassure the public and the business community that the Port Authority has stabilized its operations as it works out the details of a $93 million public-private investment in New London’s State Pier.
The partnership includes Gateway, which is the operator of New London’s State Pier, and Bay State Wind, a joint venture between Eversource and wind energy company Ørsted.
“We’re very confident in Paul’s expertise and the support he’ll bring to the Board,” Kooris said. “I can assure you the governor’s chief of staff is playing a very engaged role that we are confident is going to bring not only stability, but a course correction.”
In May, Governor Ned Lamont billed the State Pier project as a transformative step forward for Connecticut’s maritime economy and the burgeoning offshore wind industry. The deal is yet to be finalized.
“The recent events have been a sideshow and distraction to this organization’s critical mission,” said Governor Lamont, in a statement. “That is something I won’t tolerate.”