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Gov. Lamont spits on New London

In the enormous universe of broken promises by politicians, Gov. Ned Lamont has, remarkably, managed to stand out.

His newest, a broken promise to New London, should offend every citizen of the city. I applaud Mayor Michael Passero, Lamont's fellow Democrat, for publicly calling him out.

The promise was made in a news conference in New London City Hall on Jan. 30, while the governor, flanked by U.S. and Connecticut flags, stood in front of bronze plaques commemorating New Londoners who gave their lives in the two world wars.

"I'm glad New London has a place at the table going forward," Lamont said solemnly that day, promising that the city would have representation on the board of the Connecticut Port Authority, as it plots a $93 million reorganization of the city's harbor.

The promise of a "place at the table" was part of a consolation bone thrown to the city amid complaints that the grand remaking of the port, owned by the state and not taxable by the city, was not fair to New London. The seat-at-the-table deal announced in January also included a meager 10 percent cut of the port authority shipping revenue from its New London facility.

But the governor did nothing to tweak the port authority enabling law with allowance for New London representation while the General Assembly was in session last winter.

Then he spit into the city's eye in a story in The Day this week, saying he would "take a look" at giving the New London mayor a seat on the port authority board. He then went on in the same story to suggest he wouldn't include New London, saying "there are other harbors and ports too."

Well there aren't any others with state-owned piers, piers that can't be taxed, that are slated to become part of an enormously profitable enterprise, run in part by a foreign government, using city services.

What I find most remarkable is that the governor would renege on a promise hardly made lightly. It was announced in a news conference filmed by television news crews. In fact, it was the point of the news conference.

Passero said, in the same story in which Lamont turned his back on his promise, that the offer of city representation on the board was the only thing that made the deal giving the city a minimum of $125,000 a year palatable.

Meanwhile, the makeup of the port authority board seems to violate principal terms spelled out in the enabling legislation for the now scandal-ridden quasi-public agency.

The law says the authority should include one member or employee of a local port authority, one elected or appointed municipal official from a costal municipality with a population no greater than one hundred thousand and one elected or appointed municipal official from a coastal community with a population not greater than 50,000.

With the Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder's resignation from the authority board, the board would seem to lack any representation of local municipalities, as required by law. Does that invalidate its votes?

Two of the board members also have expired terms, although the law allows them to continue to serve until a replacement is appointed.

Board member John Johnson of New London, who owns property near the pier property in the city, has recused himself from discussions and votes on the renovations to the pier. Board member Brian Thompson of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, whose agency is reviewing the application for $93 million in pier improvements, also has recused himself.

The interim chairman of the port authority board, David Kooris, is deputy director of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the agency that includes the state Historic Preservation Office and is charged with reviewing plans to bury the historic railroad pier, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He has not recused himself though his agency is part of the regulatory review. Why not?

Let's recap the port authority tailspin.

The executive director, who tried to bribe a citizen critic before threatening him with a police investigation, has been put on leave for undisclosed reasons. The office manager was fired for unexplained reasons. Auditors have been asked to look at a whistleblower complaint alleging management misuse of funds.

The board doesn't meet the criteria established by the law that created the agency. And the interim board chairman has a conflict of interest in the principal business before the agency.

Meanwhile, the plan by the promise-breaking governor is hurry up and approve a blueprint, hatched in secret, to remake New London's port, despite objections from the U.S. congressman who represents the region.

Any lawyer who wants to stop this will have a field day.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

Editor's Note: This version corrects the minimum amount of money New London was to receive under the deal as well as a sentence that incorrectly suggested the board had no representation on the port authority.


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