Port authority is paying two consultants with ties to Bates

I have wondered why Gov. Ned Lamont so quickly demanded the resignation of Connecticut Port Authority Chairwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, when news broke of the agency buying her daughter's photographs for $3,000, but didn't express similar umbrage about reports of an associate of board member Scott Bates landing a no-bid, $50-an-hour consulting contract.

Reemsnyder, a Democrat running for re-election in Old Lyme, resigned as authority board chairwoman. Bates, the deputy secretary of state, who resigned the port authority chairmanship in June, remains on the board and deeply involved.

Now I've learned that the authority has been paying another consultant with ties to Bates tens of thousands of dollars for "media relations and public affairs" work, even though this newspaper has never directly received a single news release from her.

It begs the question in my mind why Bates, who presided over an agency as it drifted into turmoil and scandal — the director offering a consulting contract to an agency critic, hidden payments being made to a board member's relative, the subject of a whistleblower complaint about management misuse of funds, the office manager inexplicably fired — still is on the board of a public authority he also was using as an employment agency for his chums.

It turns out the port authority, which defied insistent calls from Comptroller Kevin Lembo for compliance with his demands for its checkbook-level financials, finally complied after former Gov. Dan Malloy was asked to intervene.

"Stunningly, ... three (quasi-public) agencies have either declined or have not even responded to my most recent and repeated follow-up requests to easily establish greater financial transparency," Lembo wrote to Malloy, citing the port authority, the Hartford Courant reported last year.

It's only because of those checkbook-level financials demanded by Lembo that I've been able to learn about how Bates' associates and Reemsnyder's daughter were paid.

A spokesman for Lamont responded to emailed questions about the consultants with ties to Bates, saying that the issue is being looked at as part of a new investigation of the port authority by the governor's office. Bates did not respond.

As Bates was presiding over this swamp, he also was ingratiating himself with Malloy's Democratic successor.

I was startled last fall to see the deputy secretary of the state attend a New London event for candidate Lamont, in the middle of a work day. He told me he made up the lost hours of his work day in other ways.

Bates and his wife, Lisa Tepper Bates, who ended up working on Lamont's transition and now has a $115,000-a-year job in his administration, hosted Lamont at a meet and greet at their Stonington Borough home May 6.

Silly me, I thought the secretary of the state and her deputy are supposed to independently preside over fair elections, not participate in one party's campaign for the highest office in the state.

The second consultant with ties to Bates hired by the authority was Loren Dealy Mahler, who in 2016 wrote a long report on the future of the defense workforce for a nonprofit called the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century. Bates was executive director of the agency at the time, a post that strangely does not appear in his extensive biographies on LinkedIn.com or the secretary of the state and port authority websites.

Their paths also may have crossed in Washington, D.C., where Mahler worked for the National Security Council. Bates reported in his biography he delivered "policy papers and recommendations" to the National Security Council while working in Washington at the same time.

Tepper Bates also worked for the council, though authority officials have emphasized that the two worked there at different times and never met until Mahler started consulting for the port authority.

Duby McDowell, president of McDowell Jewett Communications, made a frantic nighttime deadline bid for a correction when a column reporting the Tepper Bates and Mahler employment at the same agency, saying it was at different times.

McDowell, whose firm worked for the Lamont campaign, now is working for Mahler on media relations for the port authority, apparently subcontracting from the money paid to Dealy Mahler Strategies. The port authority also is paying Quinn & Hary Marketing of New London for communications work, with more than $30,000 paid so far.

Why do they need the company with ties to Bates if she is only going to farm out the work and they also have a third one on the payroll? I have asked for and not received the contract with Dealy Mahler Strategies.

According to information I obtained with the help of the comptroller's office, Dealy Mahler Strategies has been paid $39,000 by the port authority. The authority board was asked to vote on a new $96,000 contract with the firm June 19, the same meeting at which Reemsnyder was voted to fill Bates' vacancy as chairman.

It was tabled, according to meeting minutes, on a motion by a board member who has been critical of many of the agency's moves. That day appears to me to mark the beginning of the unraveling of Bates' control of the agency.

Mahler, strangely enough for a media consultant, has no phone number or address on her website. She answered an email I sent through her website, but then stopped responding when I said I wanted to ask about her work for the port authority.

It is sad that serious decisions about closing New London's unique deepwater port to traditional cargo for the better part of the next 20 years, making money for a lot of people, came out of what looks more and more like a very deep swamp.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Editor's Note: The section about the Lamont event at Scott Bates' house has been edited.

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