The Connecticut Port Authority has had significant problems with policies and procedures around ethics, money, procurement, personnel, accounting, and records management, a new state audit shows.
The authority is a quasi-public state agency that oversees three deep-water ports and several smaller river harbors across the state. It’s also in charge of a $93 million State Pier project in New London touted by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.
But the authority has been rocked by allegations of mismanagement since the summer, when its executive director resigned and Lamont ordered that the agency get a state audit. That audit was released Thursday, and it paints a stark picture of an agency in disarray for the past two fiscal years.
“You can’t stay at a hotel halfway between your home and an event that’s actually near the office because you live so far away,” said David Kooris, a Department of Economic and Community Development official put in charge of the authority’s board over the summer.
Other examples highlighted in the audit? Don’t try to get a mileage reimbursement for commuting to work. Don’t give raises to employees who don’t qualify for them. Don’t pay terminated employees for accrued vacation time.
The audit says all of these real examples violated policy. The audit also offers seven recommendations, including implementing policies for surplus funds, affirmative action, and ethics.
“There was not the attention paid to putting the foundational guidelines in place and the training so that the board and the staff were aware of the guidelines that should steer operations going forward,” Kooris said.
Kooris accepted virtually all of the audit’s findings, and he said that he has been working to address these issues since the summer. He added that the effort is 50% complete, and all of the issues could be addressed by late in the first quarter of 2020.
In a statement, Lamont said the audit didn’t turn up surprises.
“The findings highlighted in this audit are consistent with the discoveries our administration made earlier this year, and our decision to overhaul the leadership of this quasi-public agency and install severely needed new policies and procedures,” Lamont said. “For too long, this organization operated without the highest standards of transparency and fiscal best practices that our state’s residents should expect and how state government entities should operate.”
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Len Fasano is calling for more transparency. He is the state Senate minority leader.
“This audit is screaming for a public hearing,” Fasano said. “The Connecticut Port Authority needs to earn back the public’s trust. We need to have confidence in this quasi-public to be a responsible leader when it comes to managing many very important state projects. But the only way to do that is to fully air out these problems.”
Kooris said he welcomed the opportunity to speak to legislators.