What we don't know about CPA is hurting us

Whether Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder lost her re-election bid because of unanswered questions about her actions as a board member of the Connecticut Port Authority, because of ordinary town politics, or a combination of the two, we cannot know. There is no polling in small-town elections.

But the fog still hanging over the activities of the port authority did Reemsnyder no good in the election, and it continues to cloud the picture for the public, which is wondering if progress is being made on a deal to bring wind turbine assembly and shipping to the Port of New London. Despite reforms initiated by acting Chairman David Kooris, including responses to Freedom of Information requests, what we still don't know can hurt us.

In an Oct. 18 letter to the co-chairs and ranking members of the legislature's Transportation Committee, Kooris reviewed the steps he has taken as well as the conditions that warranted them. Without naming names of those in charge of various functions, Kooris delivers a series of blockbusters: accounting did not meet appropriate standards; there was no software monitoring the books; the required audit had not been started. What you are hearing is the sound of financial alarm bells, but without the assigning of responsibility.

Kooris tells the legislative leaders in his letter about deficiencies in managing and reporting expenses, ethics and FOI training, personnel and operations systems. The loudest alarms should be going off for an item way down on Kooris' list: "CPA lacked the necessary capacity to execute and implement the Harbor Development Agreement with Eversource/Ørsted." Translated, that means that a large international partnership of energy companies was negotiating with a public partner unequal to the task.

That explains a lot about why the deal with Eversource/Ørsted appears to have stalled, the puzzling silences, and the lack of transparency from an agency that was supposed to be representing the interests of the state, not to mention consideration for New London, the host community. Kooris states in the letter that the "Office of Policy and Management legal (staff) have substantially vetted the proposed Harbor Development Agreement and negotiations to strengthen the agreement are ongoing."

In other words, with the CPA having failed in one of its most basic functions, OPM is picking up the pieces.

Yet Kooris is still avoiding any statement about who should bear the responsibility for such systemic failure.

President Harry Truman could have told him: The buck stops at the top. Long at the top of the Connecticut Port Authority was Scott D. Bates, who stepped down from the position months ago, only to be succeeded in chairing and resigning by Reemsnyder.

There is no way that acting Chairman Kooris could have ascertained all the problems he has reported without finding, in the same search, who was in charge over each aspect. Not even a lack of adequate accounting software would obscure the day-to-day evidence, nor will the initial failure to provide checkbook-level reports that State Comptroller Kevin Lembo has had to ask for — again.

Once again, The Day wants to know from Gov. Ned Lamont and the leadership of the Transportation Committee: When will Bates be held accountable at the same level as Reemsnyder, who was told by the governor to resign? And from Secretary of the State Denise Merrill: In the complex task of keeping Connecticut's 2020 elections safe from interference and fraud, do you want a deputy secretary who failed to provide transparency and accountability in his port authority role? Don't you want some answers, Secretary Merrill?

On Friday the leaders of the Transportation Committee set a second hearing on the CPA for Dec. 4. Bates and Reemsnyder must be required to testify, under oath.

Meanwhile, events that concern the CPA are moving quickly ahead, as they must. On Wednesday, the Eversource/Ørsted partnership, Constitution Wind, announced a plan by Ørsted to spend $100 million on scholarships, job preparation programs, and nonprofit services in the state if its proposal wins the 2,000-megawatt purchase the state will award. 

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, scheduled a round-trip train ride to show off upgrades to the New England Central Rail line from Willimantic to Massachusetts. The upgrades, paid for by a federal TIGER grant and state and corporate funding, are meant to "allow fully-loaded railcars to travel from the Port of New London northward to the Vermont-Canada border," according to a statement from Courtney's office. Whether the line will be used as intended is a big question, since Constitution Wind wants exclusive use of State Pier, the current terminus of the line.

Hold the committee hearing. Get at the heart of what's wrong at CPA so it can properly serve its function moving forward. Meanwhile, send the state's best team to the table to negotiate the best deal for all.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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