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    Wednesday, February 21, 2024

    Contracting Standards Board taking public policy approach to Port Authority

    While the FBI investigates criminal matters and the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General handles violations of state law, members of the State Contracting Standards Board indicated Friday they’re taking a public policy approach to the embattled Connecticut Port Authority.

    The board had announced at its December meeting it would investigate how Kiewit Corporation, construction manager for the State Pier redevelopment in New London, recommended itself for more than $87 million in subcontracts on the project. The Connecticut Mirror reported in December on this arrangement, which the Port Authority allowed.

    The board is also looking for an opinion from the attorney general’s office on public-private partnerships, and AG spokesperson Elizabeth Benton said Friday the requested opinion is currently being drafted.

    In response to a question about the scope of the office’s investigation into the Port Authority, Benton said, “The Office of the Attorney General is conducting investigations concerning whistleblower allegations and allegations relating to anti-competitive conduct involving the Connecticut Port Authority. We have interviewed multiple witnesses and issued subpoenas, resulting in the production of over 43,000 documents. The investigation is open.”

    The State Contracting Standards Board is also looking into success fees, because if a success fee is considered a finder’s fee, it is illegal under state law. The Port Authority paid a $523,000 success fees to Seabury Capital, a New York consulting firm.

    But board member Bob Rinker said if the attorney general’s office comes back to them and says a success fee is not a finder’s fee and was appropriate, the State Contracting Standards Board may want to take the position that the legislature should ban success fees.

    At Friday’s meeting, board member and Groton resident Lauren Gauthier gave an update from the board subcommittee looking into the Port Authority. She said since December’s meeting, members took an initial look at statutes that might be relevant.

    They “found that there perhaps is a gap in the enabling statutes of the Port Authority that allows for them to move forward without utilizing standard procurement practices that the rest of the state does,” Gauthier said.

    Members then provided a list of questions to Samson Anderson, the board’s newly hired research analyst. Rinker provided the questions to The Day, which ask about the intent of the legislature in establishing the Connecticut Port Authority in 2015, modifying the CPA statutes in 2018, and passing a bill on CPA oversight and transparency in 2021.

    The board has other questions that pertain to various documents, such as the memorandum of understanding between CPA and the Department of Administrative Services, the Kiewit contract with CPA, and different reports required by state statute.

    Gauthier said Anderson is digging deeper into the legislative history and intent to see if issues are persistent among other quasi-public agencies “or just localized to the Connecticut Port Authority.”

    Anderson said he is looking not only at the enabling statute for the Port Authority but also the bill that led to the statute, staff analyses and news articles. He hopes to soon have a response to the questions he received.

    Board member Stuart Mahler said he thinks Anderson’s work will be critical in getting answers from the attorney general’s office.

    Rinker said the board’s work will be easier to do with new staff joining the board. In addition to Anderson, the other new staff members include Executive Director Greg Daniels, Chief Procurement Officer Jonathan Longman, staff attorney T. Christopher Weishaupt, accounts examiner/auditor Paul Netland and trainer Carmen Hufcut.

    Offering public comment toward the end of the meeting, Port Authority critic Kevin Blacker commented, “I think for a long time things were looking pretty hopeless, pretty sad, pretty down and out for you guys” but “it’s a really uplifting story of volunteers and faith and hope that you guys are getting the staffing that you deserve.”

    e.moser@theday.com

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