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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    What will Scott Bates say?

    Scott Bates of Stonington was the founding chairman, principal architect and, by most accounts, the micromanaging force behind the now-rotting Connecticut Port Authority.

    So, I wonder, how he will explain himself and his port authority decision-making when he settles in to testify before the General Assembly's Transportation Committee for its much-anticipated Dec. 4 public examination of the agency's incredible downfall.

    It is hard to imagine a more spectacular failure of a state-funded agency than the monthslong implosion of the port authority, and the least of it is the corruption that has been oozing out in dribbles of disclosure, misuse of credit cards, hiring unqualified friends at executive-level pay, giving unnecessary but lucrative contracts to the politically connected.

    The worst of it all, I would suggest, is that the port authority has brought to a literal standstill what had been the functioning port of New London, turning over the long-term management of this enormous state-owned asset to a private competitor, Gateway Terminals, which promptly moved to more or less shut it down, to the benefit of its own non-union competing facility in New Haven.

    I know, it is hard to imagine this huge giveaway was done by a state-funded agency.

    New London longshoremen, who have seen an increase in work in recent years under the last operator, said they were told last week they will be laid off March 31.

    The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont refuses to disclose the fate of talks for future use of the largely shuttered New London port, although the sketchy and now-stalled proposed deal to hand it over for exclusive use by Danish wind giant Ørsted and utility Eversource, for wind turbine assembly, would seem to benefit mostly the clients of mega-lobbyist Jay Malcynski, Gateway Terminals, Ørsted and Eversource, and not so much the people of Connecticut, certainly not New Londoners.

    This politically fueled steamroller has proposed blocking much future use of the port for traditional cargo, from the salt needed for local roads to rail-linked cargo, generated by eastern Connecticut industry, that might be carried on recently restored rail lines created with $8.3 million in federal funding secured by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney.

    It also rolled right over New London's own Cross Sound Ferry, a major employer that can't get anyone in Hartford to listen to its cries of foul about the interference a transformed wind-driven pier would have on its thriving business, a ribbon of commerce to Long Island.

    There is lots to explore in this grim big picture.

    Still, I expect at least the Republicans on the Transportation Committee will want to ask Bates, a prominent Democratic insider who hosted campaign events for Lamont and former Gov. Dannel Malloy, about what I have heard, incredibly, some Democrats call the "petty" corruption at the port authority.

    This would include Bates' approval of the $3,200 purchase of photographs from the daughter of board member Bonnie Reemsnyder and the awarding of a $49,000 office decorating contract to a Rhode Island designer, a friend of the wife of the port authority executive director, who charged twice what a Groton firm bid.

    I would like to hear Bates explain the hiring of a young associate of his, with absolutely no relevant experience, at a salary of $94,000. He is still employed by Lamont's port authority.

    Even more I'd like to hear him explain why he convened a hand-picked special committee of three board members to award a $6,500-a-month public relations contract to an associate who never sent a news release, not to The Day anyway, and who finally disappeared as the agency began to implode, the sirens in the distance closing in, when public relations help was needed the most.

    The port authority has refused my Freedom of Information request for work-related communications between the port authority and the public relations firm Bates arranged to get hired, run by Loren Dealy Mahler, whom he had worked with in Washington.

    Lamont's port authority is fighting my request before the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission with Robinson + Cole Hartford lawyers earning hundreds of dollars an hour. Are they spending all that money because they don't want us to see what little work was done by Bates' friend for $6,500 a month?

    They also are fighting before the FOI commission disclosure of how those same Robinson + Cole lawyers racked up close to $1 million in fees working for the port authority.

    Some $78,000 of that legal bill was paid to an international firm that employs former Democratic Connecticut Congressman Toby Moffett, who is not a lawyer but an advisor to the firm. They won't tell us what that money was for, either.

    I spoke to Moffett recently, because he had complained in an email that I didn't understand why his Chicago-based firm was uniquely qualified to work on port authority business when I wrote about it before.

    He actually couldn't explain those unique qualifications when we spoke. He acknowledged that he was the firm's Connecticut connection, and he helped arrange the deal with Bates.

    Bates did finally resign from the port authority, when the heat of the scandals began to blister. But he keeps his day job, deputy to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who has been his biggest cheerleader as the port authority corruption has dribbled out.

    He is presumably charged by Merrill with keeping our elections fair and honest.

    Will Merrill be listening, too, when Bates sits down Dec. 4, to find out what he has to say?

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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