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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    Connecticut Port Authority begins search for new executive director

    The Connecticut Port Authority has set up an informal committee to handle the search for a new executive director after the former head of the quasi-public agency officially resigned Tuesday.

    Evan Matthews, executive director since September 2016, had been on paid administrative leave since July 12 for comments he made to the news media described by the acting chair of the port authority as "unbecoming of a public sector leader."

    The board had authorized acting Chairman David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, to negotiate a separation agreement with Matthews, but Kooris said Wednesday that Matthews did not sign the agreement and instead submitted a letter of resignation.

    The board, at a meeting in New London on Wednesday, discussed how it would go about identifying potential candidates. Board member David Pohorylo, president of New England Shipping Company Inc., who volunteered to be on the search committee, suggested the port authority use a search firm with expertise in the maritime industry.

    "This is a tribal business," Pohorylo said. "A general-purpose search firm is not going to be able to access the talent that's out there." The firm that was used to hire Matthews had no knowledge of the maritime industry, he said, and "I think that was a big mistake."

    Matthews, who previously worked as the port director of the Quonset Development Corp. in Rhode Island, was selected by the port authority following a nationwide search. He made $150,000 for the first several years he worked for the port authority. His salary increased to $154,000 in 2019.

    In addition to Pohorylo, the other participants of the search committee are board members Don Frost, who founded a marine transportation planning and consulting firm; Parker Wise, general counsel with American Cruise Lines Inc./Pearl Seas Cruises LLC; John Johnson of Thames River Properties; and Kooris.

    They will compile a list of potential search firms, and also solicit individual recommendations from other board members, which then will be reviewed by the full board.

    In the meantime, the board is considering appointing an interim executive director. There was talk of retired Navy Capt. Paul Whitescarver, tapped as a consultant by the port authority, taking on this role. Whitescarver's consulting contract expires at the end of January.

    Currently Kooris, as acting chair, has the final say on port authority decisions. He urged the search committee to quickly develop its list of firms and individuals given all the work before the port authority — namely, negotiating an overhaul of State Pier in New London into a hub for upcoming wind projects along the East Coast.

    On that front, the board on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing the port authority to seek bids for a construction manager in connection with the State Pier proposal.

    The port authority held a meeting last month to solicit public comment on the proposal after facing scrutiny about a lack of transparency surrounding the plans. Meanwhile, the agency remains under the oversight of Gov. Ned Lamont's administration, and several reviews of the agency's operations, including personnel and financial policies, are ongoing, including by state auditors who are looking into a whistleblower complaint alleging financial mismanagement.

    j.bergman@theday.com

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