Lavielle: Port Authority audit highlights serious problems
WILTON - State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143), Ranking Member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee and member of the Transportation Committee, has expressed grave concerns about the results of a 44-page state audit of Connecticut’s Port Authority, which revealed serious management and ethical issues.
During an informational hearing on the audit held Wednesday, Dec. 4, by the Transportation Committee, legislators had an opportunity to question former Port Authority management on the audit’s findings, which included failure to keep accounting records, undocumented expenses, a poor procurement process for major contracts, incomplete employment policies, and questionable ethics.
After the hearing, Lavielle crticized the Port Authority for “gross mismanagement,” saying it was hard to tell if it was a case of “incompetence or malfeasance.”
She also expressed disppointment with the Port Authority’s board. “It was very disappointing to hear that the people who were appointed to lead the board of this quasi-public agency — because, one hopes, of their extensive experience and familiarity with common management procedures and governance —felt unable to recognize the gaps and deficits in procedures, practices, and ethics highlighted by the audit and the responsibilities they had to call attention to them and find remedies. The State Auditors of Public Accounts themselves said that they had never seen a quasi-public agency in such disarray. These conditions should have triggered loud cries of alarm from board members, particularly the chairs, but that did not happen until the auditors released their first report earlier this year,” she said.
She said it was important to restore the trust of taxpayers and mandate rigorous stewardship of the Port Authority and other quasi-public state entities.
“Given the questionable management practices of the past four years, it is also essential that the $93 million wind energy agreement negotiated by prior management be carefully reviewed by the legislature and, if possible, the State Contracting Board. These same issues must not be allowed to occur anywhere else. Meanwhile, I hope that a full public hearing on the Port Authority’s audit will be scheduled in short order, as state law requires,” she said.
The Port Authority is a quasi-public agency and was established in 2015 to oversee deep water ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London and is responsible for developing, marketing and promoting Connecticut’s maritime economy.
The first report by the state auditors was published in May 2019 and covered fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The subsequent report covering fiscal years 2018 and 2019 was released on Oct. 31.
In the wake of the publication of the first report, the two former board chairs of the Port Authority resigned, and the Lamont administration has appointed an acting board chair and taken measures to increase administrative oversight of the agency.
The Port Authority came under fire earlier this year for a number of decisions that were made public.
Bonnie Reemsnyder, chair of the Connecticut Port Authority’s board, resigned following news reports about the authority’s expenditure of $3,250 to purchase photographic office art from her daughter through a decorator. Scott Bates, who approved the purchase of the art and also serves as Deputy Secretary of the State, also resigned his seat on the board. The $3,250 was refunded and the artwork was returned to the artist, according to the audit.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle represents the 143rd House district, which includes parts of Wilton, Norwalk, and Westport. An Assistant Minority Leader, she is Ranking Member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee and a member of the Education Committee and the Transportation Committee.
This story includes additional reports by the Connecticut Post.