Lamont announces more oversight of troubled Connecticut Port Authority

Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday announced greater oversight by his administration of the Connecticut Port Authority, which has been beset with challenges, including putting his budget director in charge of the port authority's financial decisions and directing an independent audit of the agency's finances and management practices.

The governor also announced that he has accepted the resignation of port authority board member Scott Bates, who is also deputy secretary of the state.

David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development and acting chair of the port authority's board, will oversee the selection of an independent firm to perform the audit. In addition to looking at financials and management practices, the audit will include a review of the board's bylaws, conflict of interest guidelines and the agreement that led to the port authority taking control of State Pier from the state Department of Transportation. Lamont also expects the audit to lead to recommendations to make the port authority a model of "good governance, accountability and transparency."

The governor also is directing Kooris, and other members of his administration who are ex-officio members of the board, to hold off on any business that doesn't involve the offshore wind deal in the works for New London until after the Harbor Development Agreement associated with the deal is signed, and after the independent audit and a separate review of quasi-public agencies by his staff are complete.

"This will ensure timely review and execution of an historic partnership that will make Connecticut the center of the Northeastern offshore wind industry and greatly increase economic potential at the State Pier for decades to come," Lamont said in a statement via David Bednarz, a spokesman for his office.

Lamont has asked Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw to "have active involvement in and oversight of" any financial decisions made by port authority staff while the audit and the review by his office are ongoing.

Bates, who served as chair of the board from its inception until June, was "instrumental" in the formation of the port authority and in the "major successes" it had in its first few years, including leading negotiations that lead to a long-term agreement with New Haven port operator Gateway to manage the operations of State Pier in New London, Lamont said.

Asked for a comment, Bates said by email that "A new era in the development of Connecticut's maritime economy is emerging and with it will come new opportunities and new leadership for the CPA and the maritime sector. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to serve."

His resignation is the second of a board member in the span of a month. Meanwhile, the port authority's executive director has been on paid leave for nearly a month for undisclosed reasons.

Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who replaced Bates as chair, resigned last month, under pressure from Lamont, from both her role as chair and position as board member after reports that the port authority purchased a series of photographs from her daughter to hang in its office. Hundreds of pages of emails that The Day obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request show that Bates approved the purchase in 2017, and that he knew the money was going to Reemsnyder's daughter.

Lamont, in conjunction with legislative leaders, is reviewing the makeup and oversight of the board, and potential changes in current membership. Under the port authority's bylaws, the governor appoints four members to the board.

j.bergman@theday.com

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