Connecticut Port Authority places director on paid leave, reason undisclosed

New London — The Connecticut Port Authority has placed its executive director, Evan Matthews, on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons, officials confirmed Thursday. However, they gave conflicting statements on any replacement for him.

The statement from Maribel La Luz, Gov. Ned Lamont’s director of communications, was scant on details and did not mention Matthews by name.

“The Connecticut Port Authority Board has informed the Governor’s office that the current Executive Director has been placed on administrative leave and an interim director has been appointed,” the statement reads.

The Connecticut Port Authority, meanwhile, has not announced its interim director. The authority issued a statement through its public relations firm: "We have a professional staff and a fully populated and qualified board that are more than capable of maintaining the organization’s direction and progress while a single staff member is on leave. During this process, the Chair of the Board is in close contact with the staff," the statement reads.

The Day filed a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this week requesting information regarding Matthews.

Port Authority Chair Bonnie Reemsnyder, who is also Old Lyme's first selectwoman, said Thursday in a phone interview with The Day that she could not clarify who made the decision to place Matthews on leave or why. She also did not specify when Matthews was put on leave, saying the decision "was made by Monday."

Reemsnyder also said she could not provide details about the process. "When it comes to personnel issues, my primary concern is the staff and respecting the staff and assuring that everyone is treated fairly and that they have the support that they need," she said. "Right now that is my focus. (It's) on all of them. (Matthews) is still a staff member right now. He is on paid leave, but he is a staff member."

Because of that, Reemsnyder said the port authority board has not started a rehiring process and that an interim director also has not been appointed by the board, stating that staff can, as needed, reach out to her with their needs and that "there is one contact person that I'm keeping in touch with primarily." She did not specify who that person was.

"I have said to the staff that I am there for them. It works out nicely that I'm in Old Lyme and the Port Authority is in Old Saybrook," Reemsnyder said. "If there are any needs, I can be over there in very short time and I have no problem being in contact with the staff."

When asked whether the Port Authority board was conducting any internal investigations, Reemsnyder said, "I will give all of this information when I have it."

"We will make a determination the right way. We are following the proper processes," she said.

She also said she has "great confidence" that the Port Authority board will be able to function efficiently without Matthews' leadership and will continue to carry out the work still needed for the ongoing State Pier agreement.

The move to place him on administrative leave comes as the Port Authority works to hash out the details of a $93 million investment at State Pier in New London in anticipation of a 10-year lease agreement with pier operator Gateway Terminal and Bay State Wind for wind turbine generator assembly and staging. Bay State Wind is a joint effort by wind giant Ørsted and Eversource.

“This does not impact any of the ongoing efforts to develop the offshore wind facility in New London. The Governor’s office is ensuring that the CPA is continuing its work and has offered any support needed,” La Luz wrote in her statement.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said he was not aware of the details of Matthews’ placement on leave but had been assured that details were being worked out on the development plan at State Pier.

“It’s moving forward. The situation with the executive director is not affecting the overall operations of the Connecticut Port Authority,” Passero said. “They have other staff that have been engaged in this process.

Matthews’ suspension comes one week after he criticized a vocal and frequent critic of the port authority, Kevin Blacker, in comments to The Day's columnist David Collins.

"There is something off about him. He either has autism or there is something about him that is anti-social," Matthews said of Blacker.

The news also comes as the Connecticut Auditors of Public Accounts is beginning its biennial audit of the port authority and other state agencies. John Geragosian, a state auditor, told The Day this week that there has been a whistleblower complaint alleging management misuse of funds at the port authority and that the complaint should be reviewed as part of the audit.

Matthews, who was named executive director in 2016, is the former port director of the Quonset Development Corp. in Rhode Island. At the time of his hire, he was making $150,000 annually to manage the day-to-day activities of the port authority, including business development, marketing, finance and outreach activities.

The port authority is a quasi-public agency responsible for developing and marketing the state's three deepwater ports — New London, Bridgeport and New Haven — and promoting its maritime economy.

Scott Bates had served as the chairman of the authority board from its inception until last month, when the authority appointed Reemsnyder to the position. Bates remains on the board.

Bates was not immediately available to comment Thursday.

m.biekert@theday.com

g.smith@theday.com

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