Comptroller Lembo: Port authority may have misreported financials

The Connecticut Port Authority, long before it spun into open scandal, was scolded by Comptroller Kevin Lembo in October 2018 for not providing routine checkbook-level expenditures to be included on his office's public reporting website for state spending data.

After Lembo complained to then Gov. Dannel Malloy about the lack of reporting by the port authority and two other quasi-public agencies, the authority did finally comply, and in January filed its checkbook-level expenditures.

But in a Monday letter to David Kooris, acting chairman of the port authority, Lembo said that the spreadsheet "presented as the full and complete list of checkbook-level payment information" for fiscal year 2018 expenditures "may not represent all expenditures by the authority for that year."

We know from initial audits of the port authority that have been made public that the agency operated for some time without proper financial controls. An ongoing audit is looking at a whistleblower complaint of management misuse of funds.

Lembo's letter this week suggests that, as recently as January of this year, the authority provided incomplete information to the comptroller about its spending.

Was this more ineptitude, or were they hiding expenditures?

Given the fact that the expenditures were reported to the comptroller on Excel spreadsheets, it's hard to imagine how they could be incomplete by mistake.

In his Monday letter, the comptroller suggests he would like to get to the bottom of this very question, himself.

"I would like to request any documents related to the initial development of the Fiscal Year 2018 file of checkbook level payment information, including any documents prepared in response to our initial request for this data," Lembo wrote.

In other words, if there were deliberate deletions, he would like to see the smoking gun.

Lembo of course also requested an updated file so that the information can finally be provided accurately on the Open Connecticut website providing public access to expenditures of state money.

A spokeswoman for Lembo said Tuesday the comptroller would not comment beyond the letter but said in a statement he was looking for answers.

"Deliberate failure by a quasi-public state agency to provide my office with full and accurate checkbook-level data would be extremely troubling," he said in the statement. "However, we understand that human errors do happen, and so we are giving the Port Authority an opportunity to correct the record and provide an explanation for any checkbook data exclusions that may exist."

I don't see the same level of concern for transparency from the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has kept a tight lid on the scandal-ridden agency, even as he uses it to negotiate a deal for the use of New London's port for wind turbine assembly.

The Lamont-directed port authority even offered a $5,000 hush deal to keep an office manager involved in the financial reporting to the comptroller from speaking to the news media.

It is also interesting to note, as we approach Election Day, that Bonnie Reemsnyder, Old Lyme's first selectwoman, who resigned as chair of the port authority as the scandals began to unfold over the summer, is on the ballot this week.

She was chair of the port authority Finance Committee when the reports Lembo says appear to be incomplete were filed.

And Scott Bates of Stonington, who was chairman of the port authority at the time, by some accounts closely involved in its management, is deputy secretary of the state, supervising the voting next week.

Stay tuned, as Lamont's lid slides off the pot.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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