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Gov. Lamont shamefully defies FOI laws

It's been more than a month since I asked Gov. Ned Lamont, under the terms of Connecticut's Freedom of Information laws, to provide a copy of the memorandum of understanding he signed after great fanfare and a televised news conference in May, laying out plans for negotiations for a $93 million remake of State Pier in New London.

I got nothing beyond an acknowledgement of the request in response, not even a reason for not complying or a comment, which I asked for when I finally filed a formal complaint this past week with the Freedom of Information Commission.

Obviously, the governor is planning to have what remains of the gutted, scandal-ridden Connecticut Port Authority approve any final deal that grew out of the secret signed memorandum long before the FOI Commission can rule on his bold defiance of FOI law. The contents of the memo will be moot by then.

Plans were announced this past week for the authority to approve the final pier deal at its next meeting Jan. 21, laying out an agreement to forever change the use and makeup of the city's historic port, without giving the people of New London even a glimpse of the secret contract with a rich Danish wind giant before it is ratified.

Maybe we won't even see it afterward. After all, we still have no idea how much more the state has agreed we should pay for the Danish-generated wind power and may not until we actually get the higher bills in the mail.

I guess this is the sort of arrogance you get when you elect as governor someone who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Actually, the governor has grossly misled the state about the New London pier plans from the outset, which is why all the state's major news outlets reported it last May as the done deal it still isn't.

"Governor Ned Lamont today announced that the State of Connecticut and its partners have reached an agreement on a harbor development plan for State Pier in New London," the governor's news release that day said, not mentioning that only a memorandum was signed, with all sides evidently merely pledging to try to reach an agreement.

The release went on to wildly exaggerate: "(it will) establish the region as a central hub in New England for the developing offshore wind industry."

Not only is there still no signed deal, but even if one finally is ratified this month, it probably won't even create the biggest wind hub in Connecticut, given the unfolding plans for Bridgeport, never mind the wind ports being developed all along the East Coast.

It was former port authority Executive Director Evan Matthews who first confirmed, in a July phone interview with me, that there was still no signed development deal for State Pier, saying only a memorandum of understanding had been signed before the governor's big announcement and bragging news release. Talks still were underway, he said.

I reported what Matthews told me in a column with the headline: "Is the governor's wind deal for New London in jeopardy?"

Matthews was placed on leave the next day, never to return to the job.

Lamont's port authority rescue team, busy offering hush payments to quiet the scandals and rescue the pier deal, later said Matthews was placed on leave because of disparaging remarks about agency critic Kevin Blacker he was quoted making in the same column that reported on his disclosure of the unsigned wind deal.

Given that the Lamont administration eventually sent state police to question Blacker in an intimidating, closed-door interview just before the start of a General Assembly hearing on the troubled port authority, I doubt anyone was that concerned about Matthews' comments about him in my column.

If that July column was the reason for Matthews being placed on leave the day after it was published, as the Lamont team has testified, I would suggest it was much more likely because of his disclosures about the State Pier deal not being signed, revelations about ongoing negotiations which the governor had kept secret since May, and not comments about Blacker.

They have produced only two documents related to Matthews' leave, in response to an FOI request for all related documents and correspondence, and neither explains the reason for the suspension.

Another authority-related complaint I have pending before the FOI Commission is for lack of any compliance with my request for emails from the associate of the former Chairman Scott Bates. Bates had arranged for the associate to be hired on a $6,500-a-month public relations consulting contract, and I think people should see exactly what the associate did, or didn't do, for that money.

The FOI Commission hearing officer who heard my complaint about the authority's refusal to provide any of the consultant's emails — not one — called the agency's lack of compliance "outrageous" and said it was the worst violation she has seen in the 14 years she has worked for the agency.

At its Jan. 22 meeting, the full commission is expected to consider her proposed order demanding compliance.

I always thought the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy was, at best, cavalier toward FOI compliance.

Little did I know the hallmark of the Lamont administration would be bold defiance of FOI laws and a disregard for the truth.

Ah, for the good old days.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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