'Personnel issues' unfold at port authority as audit begins

The closest I got Wednesday to a confirmation that Evan Matthews is no longer executive director of the Connecticut Port Authority was in a conversation with David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development and vice chairman of the port authority.

"I am not going to comment on ongoing personnel issues," Kooris told me, when I asked him to comment on the many rumors that Matthews was fired or resigned. It seems to me a simple no, if true, would have been easy.

Kooris said port authority board Chairwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, first selectwoman of Old Lyme, would be the one to comment.

When I told him she hadn't returned my calls, he said he would ask her to. She never called me but sent an email late in the afternoon saying she understood Kooris had answered my questions. If she talked to Kooris, he must have told her he told me she would be the one to talk about Matthews.

I emailed her back asking to please call and she didn't.

Reemsnyder actually told a reporter for The Day on Tuesday, when first asked about reports of Matthews leaving, that she could not comment on personnel issues. How lame is that?

Incredibly, no one from the port authority, including its chairwoman, would comment on the fact that the agency apparently no longer has a director. Gov. Ned Lamont, who has promised to pour tens of millions of borrowed dollars into the port authority, tilting at wind turbines, also did not respond Wednesday to a specific message left with his spokesman.

Meanwhile, another of the many rumors about the port authority raging this week proved to be true.

Connecticut Auditors of Public Accounts is beginning an audit of the port authority.

John Geragosian, a state auditor, told me that the audit is essentially a routine one, part of ongoing biennial audits of all state entities. But he added that there has been a whistleblower complaint alleging management misuse of funds at the port authority and that complaint should be reviewed as part of the new audit.

The complaint, which is not a public record under state Freedom of Information laws, was received May 23, he said.

None of the five employees listed on a telephone directory for the authority, including Matthews, answered their phone or returned messages Wednesday.

So let's review the state of things at what you could now reasonably call a troubled agency.

First, the former port authority chairman, Scott Bates, the architect of the $93 million deal to transform the New London port into a wind turbine assembly facility, stepped down as chair in June but retained his board seat. Bates was among many who did not return my phone calls Wednesday.

Then Matthews wrote an email to a frequent critic of the port authority, Kevin Blacker of Noank, threatening to ask state police and the attorney general to investigate what he said were emails from Blacker with threats of violence.

When I asked to see the threatening emails, Matthews provided me with one that Blacker had sent to his lawyer, with a copy to Matthews, suggesting they "go for the throat" and file an FOI complaint. It was hardly a threat unless Matthews worried Blacker's Mystic lawyer was going to interpret his client's rhetoric literally.

Among the complaints against the agency Blacker has raised is the fact that an associate of Bates was hired as a $50-an-hour consultant without the issuance of a request for proposals or any competitive bidding.

Blacker was correct in raising concern that negotiations for the $93 million project to rebuild the pier in New London still are going on, even though the governor implied the deal was done when he announced it with fanfare in May.

Blacker was among those reporting the rumors this week that Matthews is gone and an audit is beginning, apparently spot on again.

Most of the state agencies in the Lamont administration are represented on the port authority board. The governor owns these problems.

Even the professional public relations agency that works for the authority wouldn't answer questions.

Can't the governor produce some adult who can tell the public what's going on? Everyone has scurried into the corners, like rats when the light comes on.

These are reasonable questions that deserve answers, as the foot-dragging goes on for days.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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