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Attorney General Tong argues to keep whistleblower complaints secret

It would have been troubling, even if he weren't protecting a prominent fellow Democrat, to see Attorney General William Tong argue against the public disclosure of whistleblower complaints about management misuse of state money.

But it was especially unfortunate for me, given the obvious politics at play, to have to argue against Tong's deputies last week, as they fought during a Freedom of Information Commission hearing to prevent the disclosure of whistleblower complaints against the management of the Connecticut Port Authority run at the time by a well-connected Democrat.

After all, these whistleblower complaints — we know from accounts by state auditors, not the attorney general — generally describe management misuse of funds at the authority at the time it was led by Scott Bates of Stonington, the deputy secretary of state who has also served on the Democratic State Central Committee with Justin Kronholm of Chester, director of policy for the attorney general.

We now know a lot of the story that is probably contained in the substance of the whistleblower complaints, that the port authority, under Bates' leadership, gave no-bid contracts and jobs to friends, allowed the executive director to lavishly spend authority money for personal uses, and ultimately gave control of State Pier in New London, without even meeting with one of the applicants, to a competing operator in New Haven who was politically connected.

Bates was ultimately asked to resign from the port authority board by Gov. Ned Lamont but then lied to a General Assembly committee about the governor's resignation request.

It looks to me like Attorney General Tong is still trying to clean up Bates' reputation.

After all, Democrats in Washington not long ago impeached President Trump based on the allegations of a whistleblower complaint. Even the Republicans who run Washington let it out.

Here in Connecticut, Democrats, at least those associated with Attorney General Tong, are seeming to try to sweep allegations of government malfeasance under the rug.

To follow Tong's reasoning in this case, whistleblower complaints would never be made public. Those in charge, usually Democrats in Connecticut, could review and dismiss the allegations of wrongdoing, and the public would never be the wiser.

That sounds pretty good if you are the party in charge and can get away with it.

The General Assembly, in its wisdom in writing whistleblower laws, never said, though, that whistleblower complaints should be withheld from the public. Indeed, why should they be?

Isn't the whole point of blowing the whistle to alert the public of wrongdoing?

And yet the legislature did write into the law protections for the identity of the whistleblower and for materials related to any investigation of the whistleblower complaints that ensue. Fair enough.

But Tong's attorneys argued, without specific evidence, last week before a Freedom of Information hearing officer, that disclosure of three separate complaints filed about management misuse at the port authority could lead to an identification of the whistleblowers.

They made this argument even though one of the whistleblower complaints was made anonymously by email, and there was testimony that no one in the attorney general's or auditors' offices who handled it knew who filed it.

If lawmakers wished to exempt whistleblower complaints from disclosure they would have written the law that way.

I can only hope the Freedom of Information Commission, a last check on unlimited political power, sees it that way.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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