Under pressure from Gov. Ned Lamont, port authority board chairwoman resigns

The chairwoman of the board of the Connecticut Port Authority has resigned, citing the need to allow the organization to move forward and focus on its important work.

"In the interests of the future of the CPA, the (Harbor Development Agreement) at State Pier, and this board, I am resigning as chair," Bonnie Reemsnyder, who also is Old Lyme's first selectwoman, said Wednesday at a special meeting of the board in Hartford.

The move came after Gov. Ned Lamont called for her resignation Wednesday morning before the board's meeting and said in a statement later that "recent events have been a sideshow and distraction to this organization's critical mission, and that is something I won't tolerate. It is critical that the Connecticut Port Authority has a clear vision with strong and accountable leadership."

Republican Sens. Len Fasano, Paul Formica of East Lyme, and Heather Somers of Groton, in a joint statement said they hoped the move by Lamont would restore confidence in the agency, and that they've advocated for greater transparency of the state's quasi-public agencies.

David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development and vice chair of the port authority's board, will serve as acting chairman until the board meets again on Aug. 7 to choose a new leader.

Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state, 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.

Reemsnyder's resignation follows news that the port authority paid her daughter $3,000 for photographs hanging on the walls of its Old Saybrook offices, and her decision, after consulting with the port authority's legal counsel, to place Executive Director Evan Matthews on leave. Reemsnyder, nor other officials, have disclosed the reasons for that move and the decision was not made public.

The Day has a pending Freedom of Information request for information regarding Matthews.

Reemsnyder said her daughter will buy back the photographs "at original cost," so the port authority "can move ahead and focus on the work at hand."

As for Matthews, the board went into executive session Wednesday to discuss "the performance and evaluation of authority personnel." After coming out of executive session, it adopted a resolution approving Reemsnyder's decision. Matthews remains on paid leave.

Asked about the status of another employee of the port authority, office manager Gerri Lewis, Kooris said Lewis "is no longer employed by the organization" as of about two weeks ago. He declined to discuss further the reasons surrounding her and Matthews' departure.

Meanwhile, 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 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.

All of this comes as the port authority continues 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 electric utility Eversource.

The port authority also went into executive session Wednesday to discuss the Harbor Development Agreement being negotiated by the three parties. The agreement covers the terms of the State Pier lease and the work to be done to the facility.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to allow the port authority to hire as a consultant newly retired Navy Capt. Paul Whitescarver, who most recently was the commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base. The expectation is for Whitescarver to serve as a consultant for about four to five months for an amount not to exceed $50,000, Kooris said. He will report to the board and work closely with port authority staff on day-to-day operations and management functions, as well as technical aspects of the port authority's activities, Kooris said.

Kevin Blacker, a vocal critic of the port authority, was the only person to offer public comment during the meeting. He criticized the port authority for not being transparent and questioned the commitment to the deal to revitalize State Pier for the exclusive use of the offshore wind industry.

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version clarifies comments made by Kevin Blacker during the meeting.

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