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Connecticut Port Authority tries to right the ship

In response to scrutiny of questionable financial and hiring decisions, the Connecticut Port Authority is taking steps to implement an ethics policy and develop guidelines that would govern future spending at the quasi-public agency.

The port authority's board, which met Wednesday in New London, also authorized acting Chairman David Kooris to negotiate a separation agreement with Executive Director Evan Matthews, who's been on paid leave since July 12 for comments he made to the media "unbecoming of a public sector leader."

The board is requesting that Matthews resign, effective the end of September, and that he not be paid a severance, Kooris said. Matthews would have to agree to those terms.

Deputy Treasurer for the State Linda Savitsky was the only board member to vote against authorizing Kooris, who is also deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, to negotiate the separation agreement on behalf of the port authority.

"The Office of the Treasurer feels the process has gone on long enough and the Executive Director should be terminated immediately. Given the well documented challenges of the Authority, the Board's attention should be refocused on the important work at hand and restoring confidence in the Port Authority," Jackie Primeau, an Office of the Treasurer spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The board spent much of its meeting Wednesday in training led by the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and the Office of State Ethics, and also selected an ethics compliance officer. The port authority's fiscal administrator now will serve in that role, which was previously held by the office manager, who left the agency on July 9.

State auditors found that the port authority, which receives about $400,000 annually in state appropriations, did not have basic accounting practices in place, nor did it have written procedures covering personnel practices, for example. The auditors are currently investigating a complaint received by the office in late May related to mismanagement and misuse of funds at the port authority.

In addition to the money from the state, the port authority gets revenue from leasing State Pier, a state-owned facility that it controls, in New London.

The controversy, which prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to direct further oversight of the port authority and a broader review of all of the state's quasi-public agencies, comes as a major deal is being negotiated to turn State Pier into a staging area for the offshore wind industry.

The port authority, involved in the negotiations, will unveil details of the State Pier project to the public on Sept. 17 at the Holiday Inn in New London. An exact time is being finalized, but the event is expected to take place in the early evening.

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that the port authority has control over State Pier, a state-owned facility.

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