Fasano: Democratic co-chairs of Transportation Committee ignoring requests for another port authority hearing

Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano says the Democratic co-chairs of the state's Transportation Committee have not responded to requests from him and others for another public hearing on the Connecticut Port Authority and is calling on the Republican ranking members of the committee to push forward with an informational hearing.

Fasano, R-North Haven, sent a letter Oct. 9 to committee co-chairs Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, saying there is an "immediate need for further hearings investigating the allegations of untoward behavior" at the port authority, including those made by the ousted office manager of the quasi-public agency.

Gerri Lewis, in a statement sent to The Day and other news outlets in September, claims she was fired this summer without cause by leaders who allegedly spent in freewheeling fashion on meals, drinks and office decorations with scant oversight by the agency's board of directors. Lewis said in the statement that she is "willing to speak to any state or federal entity conducting an investigation into the activities of the authority upon request."

"We have a whistleblower who wants to tell her story. If we're really serious about looking into the port authority, we should listen to what she has to say," Fasano said by phone Thursday.

A second hearing would allow lawmakers to hear from port authority employees, including Lewis, and board members, who did not speak at an earlier hearing, Fasano said. However, he acknowledged that none of them would be compelled to speak at a hearing.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, also had requested a follow-up hearing in a letter to the co-chairs in mid-September. Osten said by phone Thursday that she still is waiting for a response from Lemar and Leone and would be following up with them next week.

"We need to move forward," Osten said. "Right now, we're just standing still."

Following a series of personnel issues and criticism over spending and operating procedures at the port authority, the Transportation Committee, led by Lemar and Leone, convened an informational forum Aug. 20 to discuss the issues.

Lemar said by phone Thursday that he and Leone "made it clear" at the hearing that they would wait for state auditors to finish their current audit of the port authority, which is expected to be complete before the end of the year, and recommendations from the governor's office and legislative leaders from both parties on potential policy changes that could be made to the operation and governance of the port authority, before taking any further action.

"We're not going to respond to political letters," Lemar said. "We're not a body that determines fact or fault, we're seeking policy solutions."

He said he understands the "need" to gather information on the issues surrounding the port authority, but "Republicans trying to make it a political process rather than a smart policy process is frustrating."

Gov. Ned Lamont has put in place various oversight measures over the port authority, and his staff is conducting a review of the agency.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sent a letter to Fasano on Thursday, reiterating what Lemar said, that the committee is waiting for further information from state auditors before scheduling another hearing, at which time "related information such as public comment" could be addressed.

"Your suggestion that the ranking members would convene a hearing circumventing the chairs if the timing does not meet your personal arbitrary deadline is unnecessary, premature and not in keeping with our traditions and normal procedure," House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney said in the letter.

j.bergman@theday.com

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