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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Osten, Conley introduce bills impacting quasi-public agencies

    Construction work continues at State Pier in New London Tuesday, January 17, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Barges gather along the Thames River as construction work continues at State Pier in New London Tuesday, January 17, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Construction work continues at State Pier in New London Tuesday, January 17, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Construction work continues at State Pier in New London Tuesday, January 17, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Stemming from the controversies that surround the Connecticut Port Authority and its oversight of the State Pier redevelopment in New London, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, have introduced two bills that would place limits on the authority and other quasi-public agencies.

    One bill would prohibit construction managers hired by a quasi-public agency to oversee a project from applying for any work associated with that project, including but not limited to construction, engineering and operations. This practice is already not allowed in state agencies.

    The Connecticut Mirror reported in November that the port authority allowed Kiewit Corporation, construction manager for the State Pier redevelopment for offshore wind, to submit bids and recommend itself for subcontracts worth roughly $87.8 million.

    Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris told the CT Mirror that Kiewit’s recommendations did not present a conflict of interest because consulting firm AECOM also reviewed the bids and made the same recommendation.

    The other bill would prohibit “success fees” in quasi-public and state agencies. The port authority paid a $523,000 success fee in 2020 to Seabury Capital Group, a New York consulting firm that helped the Port Authority find a pier operator. A managing director at Seabury previously served on the port authority board.

    “We don’t think in publicly related projects there should be success fees at all. It doesn’t make sense; it has no value,” Osten said. She added, “If it’s well worth doing, we don’t need success fees.”

    Conley said she was “shocked that we did success fees” and doesn’t think it’s an appropriate use of public funds.

    Overall, she said “it’s good for the region to be investing in State Pier … however, making sure we keep a close eye on the public funds used is very important.”

    Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Ulysses B. Hammond said in an email statement Tuesday, “From a public policy perspective, the Authority welcomes legislators', and especially Senator Osten's, efforts to clarify procurement policies and best practices for state and quasi-public agencies."

    The State Contracting Standards Board is also looking into success fees, which are not illegal ― but finder’s fees are. At the board’s meeting Friday, member Bob Rinker said if the attorney general’s office says a success fee is not a finder’s fee and was appropriate, the board might want to take the position that the legislature should ban success fees.

    The board’s newly hired research analyst is looking into the legislative intent of various bills pertaining to the port authority, and Osten said Monday the “port authority was not meeting the real intent that was set up for it.”

    While issues with the port authority inspired these bills, Osten noted the legislation would apply to all quasi-public agencies, such as Access Health, Connecticut Airport Authority, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Connecticut Innovations, Connecticut Lottery Corporation, and Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority.

    In even-numbered session years, legislators can only introduce bills related to budgetary and revenue matters, meaning they were limited in what they could introduce pertaining to the port authority last year.

    Osten forwarded the two bills ― which just have short placeholder text for now ― to The Day on Saturday but noted they do not have bill numbers yet, meaning they’re not yet available to view on the Connecticut General Assembly website. Legislators had until Friday to file bills, and Conley said the Legislative Commissioners’ Office was inundated.

    Because of this deadline, Conley said the Transportation Committee ― of which she is a member ― will raise a placeholder bill Wednesday that has to do with the port authority, “in case more issues arise.” She’s also not sure what will come out of the State Contracting Standards Board.

    Osten said Monday morning that while the southeastern Connecticut delegation talked about the port authority in a recent meeting, she had not reached out to anybody aside from Conley about these two bills, and she is not aware of other legislation pertaining to the port authority.

    Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, said later Monday after learning about the bills that she would be a co-sponsor and added, “We need as much transparency as we can have, to make our constituents believe that government is doing the right thing.”

    Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a comment from the Connecticut Port Authority.

    e.moser@theday.com

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