Scott Bates is hunkered down in Denise Merrill's bunker

I disagree a lot with Connecticut Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, but he was spot on when he said during a recent Connecticut Public Radio interview that the "cloud of suspicion" hanging over Scott Bates, for his aborted role running the scandal-ridden Connecticut Port Authority, is problematic as he continues working as the deputy secretary of the state.

Indeed, Bates who established and ran what I would suggest may be the most corrupt state-funded agency that Connecticut has seen in a generation, soldiers on as the $149,000-a-year No. 2 leader of the secretary of the state's office, which is supposed to guarantee efficient, fair and ethical elections.

Bates' port authority, on the other hand, has literally imploded with corruption. The last state audit of the agency found noncompliance with statutory reporting requirements and auditors are looking at a whistleblower complaint of management misuse of funds.

Comptroller Kevin Lembo once complained to former Gov. Dannel Malloy of what he called stunning noncompliance by the agency in financial reporting.

The authority executive director, before being placed on an unexplained paid leave of absence, which continues, fired the office manager, who is also the state-designated ethics compliance officer.

The director, Evan Matthews, before threatening agency critic Kevin Blacker with a police investigation, actually offered him a consulting job, if the New London port renovations he was complaining about were finally approved.

Not only did Bates, as the first chairman of the board of the new agency, build and preside over this deep swamp, but he starred in some of the most unethical breaches revealed so far, rigging the process so that his associates got lucrative jobs and consulting contracts.

Bales also signed off on hiring an interior designer from Rhode Island, who was friends with Matthews' wife, instead of one from Groton, at twice the cost.

One Bates associate landed a no-bid $50-an-hour consulting contract with a vague proposal that, honestly, wouldn't have helped him get hired at McDonald's. Despite a lack of any relevant job experience, he was hired by the authority at more than $90,000 a year.

The even more lucrative deal went to another Bates' associate, Loren Dealy Mahler, who, until the Bates house of cards started collapsing this summer, still was being paid $6,500 a month for consulting as a media representative, even though there is no evidence she ever spoke to anyone from the media. Someone needs to find out where all that money went.

Bates resigned as chairman just before all the bad news began to break, but he remained on the board. In fact, he was sitting next to his successor as chair, Old Lyme First Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder, when she resigned during a board meeting, having acknowledged the port authority had paid more than $3,000 for her daughter's photographs to hang in the agency lobby.

Bates sat silently next to Reemsnyder as the bus rolled over her that day, never saying that he actually approved the purchase of Reemsnyder's daughter's photos because she had recused herself.

Reemsnyder got kicked to the sidewalk like an old dog by the governor but Bates got a fond salute and not one word of Lamont criticism when he finally resigned his board seat. Was that because the deputy secretary of the state dutifully attended Lamont campaign events, hosting one at his Stonington Borough home, unseemly participation by an elections regulator.

Then there was all the lying at Bates' port authority. There were the little lies, like when Matthews told me he was out on sick leave when the Bates' associate was hired as an emergency measure. He wasn't.

Then there were the big ones, deceiving the public, when the port authority was staunchly denying that plans were being developed to radically change the New London port. Bates' associate on the agency staff boldly lied to me, saying a picture depicting the two New London piers filled in was just a one-off concept rendering an artist was commissioned to do and not from a study I was requesting through Freedom of Information laws. I now have the full study, with the same picture, that was certainly in the port authority's possession then.

Meanwhile, Bates built the port authority into a money machine, negotiating contracts to make it even richer over time. The authority, in a way no state agency can, just rolled over hundreds of thousands of unspent dollars from one year to the next.

What's wrong with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and why aren't other Democrats calling her out for securing Bates in her bunker, issuing kind statements of praise for her deputy instead of holding him accountable for destroying the other agency he ran?

It is, at the very least, as Sen. Fasano would have it, problematic. She now owns it, as the sirens grow closer.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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