Is lying to lawmakers OK in Connecticut?

It's a good thing lies are not physical because there were so many flying around Wednesday at the Transportation Committee hearing on the Connecticut Port Authority that people could have gotten hurt.

The lies provided another layer of spectacle in the polarized hearing in which Democrats largely tried to help former leaders of the scandal-plagued agency find excuses for what went wrong, suggesting the authority wasn't given enough state money, while Republicans pushed for some kind of accountability for what one called "incredible misdeeds."

Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state and founding chairman of the port authority board, seemed to me to have a lot of trouble with the truth Wednesday, depending on whose account you want to believe.

Bates, in direct response to a specific question, told the committee that no one asked him to resign from the port authority board.

Hours later, Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont's chief operating officer, recounted how the governor's chief of staff asked for the resignation Aug. 7, after I reported that Bates had approved the port authority's purchase of decorative photographs from the daughter of board member Bonnie Reemsnyder. The governor also talked to him by phone, Mounds testified, and Bates resigned the next day.

Maybe it was my imagination, but there seemed to be a collective pause in the hearing room as Mounds' very clear answer sunk in, indicating that either the governor's chief operating officer or the deputy secretary of the state was lying to lawmakers.

I asked Bates' boss, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, to comment Thursday, wondering if it was OK with her that her deputy may have lied before a General Assembly committee.

I got back an email from the secretary's press officer, giving a new spin, saying that Bates actually resigned before he had any conversations with the governor's office.

"Scott Bates was appointed to the Connecticut Port Authority by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. As such, before he had any conversations at all with anyone from the Governor's office regarding his resignation from the board, he offered his resignation to Senator Duff and it was accepted," Gabe Rosenberg, Merrill's spokesman, wrote.

The thing is I got a copy of the resignation letter from Duff's office and it is dated Aug. 9, two days after the column reporting Bates' approval of the Reemsnyder photo purchase was published, which Mounds testified led to the governor's request for his resignation.

The secretary of the state's office also later sent me a copy of a text message from 9:49 the evening of Aug. 8 in which Duff says to Bates he accepted the resignation in a conversation that afternoon and asks for a letter from Bates to memorialize it. This squares with the timeline in Mounds' testimony.

I don't know who else believes Bates' version here, that no one asked him to resign, but it looks like the secretary of the state must. These are the folks assuring fair and honest elections in Connecticut.

I can label another answer Bates gave to lawmakers Wednesday a lie, because, in this instance, either he is lying or I am.

Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, asked Bates about a column in which I reported Bates had come up to me at the water fountain at the Mystic YMCA, at about the time I began writing critically about the port authority, and suggested, knowing I am interested in historic buildings, that he knew people connected to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and could help me get appointed to their board.

Bates testified Wednesday it didn't happen, suggesting the senator learn to distinguish between opinion and fact.

If you believe Bates, that I made up the offer that he denied Wednesday, you might as well stop here and find something else good in The Day to read.

I only reported the Bates flattery and offer to get me on the board of an organization I like — it would be wildly inappropriate for a journalist to accept — because it seemed interesting in light of what I would call a bribe that was offered to Kevin Blacker, an authority critic.

"If we are successful in getting the State Pier redeveloped, would you be interested in consulting for us to help with the Thames River plan," port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews wrote to Blacker in April. I reported it in July.

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, asked Matthews on Wednesday whether he ever offered Blacker a job and he answered with a definitive no. A while later in the hearing, Devlin was given permission to ask one more question, and by then she had a copy of the email offering Blacker a consulting deal and asked Matthews about it. He then parsed the difference between the words job and consulting.

It was a gotcha moment.

I don't have a smoking gun to call one of the most significant things Bates testified to Wednesday a lie, but his lack of memory on the subject was hard for me to believe.

We don't know whether the stalled deal to remake State Pier in New London into a wind assembly facility will ever be signed, seven months after it was announced, but it is clear that the Bates-led authority will have a long-lasting impact on the port, having turned control of it over to the owner of the competing port in New Haven, Gateway Terminals.

Sen. Martin made it clear Wednesday that he believes this new monopoly, in which Gateway will shut down the highway salt business in New London, leaving New Haven as the only source, will mean local municipalities will have to pay much more for road salt.

Gateway also plans to close New London to most other traditional cargo and focus on the wind business. Some shippers have already moved their business to Providence.

In response to direct questions from Sen. Martin about whether other bidders proposed accommodating wind, Bates said not "to my recollection."

When on Friday I asked Frank Vannelli, senior vice president of Logistec Stevedoring, the international port operator that lost its bid for State Pier to Gateway, about Bates' testimony, he said it was not accurate.

"Our bid did include an extensive section on our wind handling capabilities as we handle wind in 8 of our North American ports," he wrote back.

Logistec was proposing accommodation of traditional cargo while building an innovative floating terminal to receive the wind components.

It's too bad the deputy secretary of the state's memory failed him on this important matter.

It was Bates' port authority that signed the state's significant asset in New London over to a competitor, giving it a monopoly on shipping and virtually closing the port here, while drafting the outline of a wind deal that, for reasons no one will explain, can't seem to be consummated.

And he doesn't remember the significant components of the deal they turned down, the one that would have allowed the historic port to continue to handle traditional cargo?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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