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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Lamont’s corruption-plagued port authority still fighting transparency

    You would think that Gov. Ned Lamont, with his administration under multiple criminal investigations focused on hundreds of millions of dollars in public spending, would try to avoid the bad look of hiding things related to the ongoing corruption probes.

    And yet Lamont’s Connecticut Port Authority has been continuing to resist the most basic disclosure of public information, setting up yet another lengthy, expensive, publicly-financed fight before the Freedom of Information of Commission.

    The port authority’s latest resistance to transparency involves a subpoena from the Connecticut Attorney General seeking documents related to a $500,000 “success” fee paid to a consulting company that employed a former authority board member.

    The Connecticut State Contracting Standards Board _ the state watchdog agency that Lamont tried to gut _ has said the “success fee” paid by the authority is possibly the same as “finder’s fees,” which are prohibited under state law.

    The contract for and payment of the success fee spanned the reigns of two port authority chairmen, Scott Bates, who resigned from the agency’s board at the governor’s request, amidst the first round of corruption disclosures at the agency, and David Kooris, the current chairman, who was installed at Lamont’s behest.

    It was Kooris who negotiated the final payment of the success fee and is almost certainly a subject of the attorney general’s wide-ranging investigation of the matter, covering five years of agency business.

    It was therefore troubling when Kooris, back in August, refused my Freedom of Information request for the attorney general’s subpoena to the port authority and the agency’s response to it.

    Kooris at the time told the Connecticut Mirror that the attorney general had asked the agency not to release the subpoena. But in a subsequent story a spokesman for the attorney general contradicted the authority chairman said said the AG never advised the agency not to release it.

    So you have the chairman of the agency under multiple federal and state investigations lying about his refusal to release what are clearly public documents.

    Indeed, the attorney general surely understands that a subpoena issued to a public agency becomes a public document. That’s in Investigations 101.

    Flash forward five months to a meeting before a hearing officer of the Freedom of Information Commission on Jan. 3, when two lawyers representing the port authority argued, absurdly, that they had been waiting all this time for the attorney general to intervene in the FOI case and argue against the release of the documents, which of course never happened.

    Indeed, the two lawyers, including a partner from the mega firm Robinson + Cole _ imagine what they are charging taxpayers _ handed me, right before the start of the hearing, a computer stick with what they said was the material responsive to my request.

    The FOI hearing officer kept the record open to give me time to review what the lawyers finally handed over, five months after it was requested, and only under the pressure of a pending hearing.

    I have since discovered that the many thousands of documents included on the stick are practically useless because they are not organized in the way the attorney general required them to be in the subpoena, grouped as responsive to specific questions and digitally searchable.

    I have since asked the commission to consider reopening the hearing so I can ask for a full response to the request, which is what was provided to the attorney general.

    It is more than troubling that Gov. Lamont, with so many criminal probes swirling around his administration, is letting the subject of an investigation, the volunteer chairman of a scandal-plagued agency, hire expensive lawyers to hide what are clearly public documents.

    I suspect that the inevitable outcome of all the wide-ranging criminal investigations into major spending by the Lamont administration are going to begin to shape the governor’s second term.

    Hiding things at the outset of the new year is not an auspicious start.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

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