Lawmakers and members of the public listened at a forum in Hartford on Tuesday, as more details emerged regarding alleged mismanagement inside a quasi-public state agency. The Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee hosted the public hearing in order to learn more about the corporate structure of the Connecticut Port Authority.
The chairwoman and a former chairman of the quasi-public agency have both resigned from its board in the last month, while the executive director was recently placed on leave.
It was the recent revelation that former Connecticut Port Authority chairman Scott Bates approved a $3,000 purchase for CPA offices in Old Saybrook that has caused a stir in Hartford. Bates and CPA chairwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder resigned over the 2017 expense on photographs, taken by Reemsnyder’s daughter.
When it comes to other issues on the books, state auditors testified that the CPA erred in three ways. First, an intern’s employment was “misclassified” as a consultant. There was also a lack of written procedures. For example, an auditor reported that the CPA didn’t have a policy addressing affirmative action. Finally, the audit found that for FY16 and FY17, the CPA didn’t maintain accounting records detailing the transactions and balances of its bank accounts.
“I cannot think of a quasi that would be in this position,“ said Deputy State Auditor John Rasimas regarding operations inside the CPA as compared to other quasi-public agencies.
State Senator Henri Martin finished that sentence, saying “as mismanaged as this one.”
House Democrat Roland Lemar said that the goal of the public hearing was to find a “reasonable solution moving forward” for the Port Authority. However, Lamar said it wasn’t yet necessary to subpoena Port Authority leadership for their testimony. No one in an executive or board position from the authority at the time of the decisions in question appeared before the committee.
House Republican Laura Devlin disagreed with that.
“To really understand what it is that we’re here to talk about, it is of great disappointment that for some reason, none of them are available or have been requested to join us today,” Devlin said.
Devlin wasn’t the only House Republican to speak out against the CPA Tuesday.
Before the hearing got underway, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides concurred with that view, saying that the proceedings were meaningless without the testimony of the relevant top leadership at the quasi-public agency.
In the absence of that testimony, Klarides said the hearing was nothing but a “charade.”
“For their own sake, they should be up here and we should be asking those questions. There is a lot of money that is put into that Port Authority,” Klarides said. “It is taxpayer dollars. They have the right – for us who are their agents as state representatives and state senators – to have those questions asked and they have the obligation to answer them and they are not here right now.”
Klarides used her speaking time on Tuesday to call for more action against former CPA leaders. In the wake of the controversy, she wants Bates to resign from another state-funded position he still holds – his job as deputy secretary of state.
Klarides said what’s happened with the Port Authority should push the state to pay attention to its relationship with all quasi-public agencies, and how it can hold them accountable.
While discussions on the quasi-public agencies were happening in Hartford, Governor Ned Lamont was fishing on Lake Ontario in New York with that state’s governor.
Speaking with reporters later, Lamont said he thinks the Port Authority can continue as a quasi-public agency, rather than being put under the control of the state Department of Transportation
“We made the changes necessary to give people confidence that the Port Authority going forward is going to implement state pier and wind power in a way that’s going to benefit the state,” Lamont said, referring to a multi-million dollar investment in the state pier in New London brokered by the Port Authority. That development is in service of allowing New London to become a hub in building out offshore wind farm insfrastructure.
Lamont was also asked about Bates’ position in the secretary of state’s office. He said Bates “made some errors in judgement,” but he stopped short of addressing the state job.
Lamont said the state will continue to audit the Connecticut Port Authority.
At the hearing in Hartford, auditor Rasimas said he expects an audit of the last two fiscal years to be finished in the next two months.