State legislators call for additional actions over Connecticut Port Authority

Groton — In wake of an audit report on the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority released Thursday, two state legislators have called for resignations and an additional hearing for board members overseeing authority actions.

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, submitted a letter to the chairs of the legislatures Transportation Committee, Gov. Ned Lamont and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill requesting the committee hold a public hearing to address recent findings in the audit.

Carney wrote in his statement that "The gross negligence and blatant dishonesty" outlined in the audit "is disturbing and even more of a reason why a public hearing needs to take place." 

"The legislature needs to speak to those who were employed by, or in power, when this audit took place in order to get to the bottom of the authority's abuse of taxpayer money and a public hearing would allow us to do so," Carney said.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, in a separate statement Friday, said she believes Lamont also should demand the resignation of the authority's entire board of directors.

“In order to restore credibility to the Port Authority, it is clear there needs to be a complete change in leadership, significant reform and vigorous transparency,” Somers said. “The auditor’s report shows a callous disregard for public interests and taxpayer resources as thousands of dollars were spent on personal perks, consultants with dubious roles and questionable legal fees.”

The 33-page audit , released Thursday, shows that salaries and legal and consulting costs ballooned in recent years, with the agency spending 67 percent of its operating budget on those expenditures alone last fiscal year. The audit also reviewed the authority's written policies and procedures, financial records, meeting minutes and other information, covered fiscal years 2018 and 2019. It revealed several deficiencies at the agency, which has faced increased scrutiny over questionable spending and operating procedures.

State auditors found that most of the deficiencies can be traced to a lack of oversight by management.

Somers noted that Lamont has "taken positive steps in the right direction to bring reform to the troubled agency," but urged "more comprehensive action to restore confidence."

Somers said the governor should ask for resignations from current board members, make new appointments giving weight to relevant industry and civil experience, set clear deadlines for the implementation of the auditors' recommendations and personally chair the first meeting of the new board.

"This was an agency untethered from accountability," Somers said. "Elected leaders in both parties must work swiftly to restore trust and ensure this kind of mismanagement can never happen again."

Somers, who said she was a former founding partner of a biotech manufacturing firm in Connecticut, also said the port authority personnel's behavior, under the leadership of the current board, "would be completely unacceptable in the private sector."

“The lack of financial protocols, dubious personnel management and apparent absence of any business sense at the Port Authority demands total structural change,” Somers said. “While too many Connecticut residents have struggled with one of the slowest economic recoveries of any state, officials at the Port Authority spent lavishly on trips, food, drinks and consultants.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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