Tuesday's hearing on the Connecticut Port Authority (Credit: CT Examiner/Hewitt)

Editorial: Deeply Wrong at The Day

in Editorials

Let’s just say that it is an open secret that something is deeply wrong at The Day, from its wildly gyrating attitude toward the port authority story, to its sometimes snarling headlines, to its willful disregard for context at the expense of the truth. This is not a case of the blind leading the blind, it’s worse—the newspaper of record in southeast Connecticut eyes-wide-open walking off a cliff.

“Gov. Lamont spits on New London” is perhaps the most egregious example of a headline by the paper’s much-read “news columnist,” David Collins. We’re not exactly sure what rules govern a news columnist or whether Collins — unlike average newspaper reporters — is able to write his own headlines, but whoever wrote and approved that choice of language could probably use a bit of paid leave (and introspection).

For all the hyperbole, you would think that the opinion side of the paper had actually advocated for New London’s seat on the Connecticut Port Authority board when the Connecticut General Assembly was mulling the legislation in question — they did not.

Worse than coming late to the table and overcompensating, has been Collins’ coverage which jumped into the Connecticut Port Authority story early, created a great brouhaha over $3250 (or was it $3000?) of artwork, pillorying board chair Bonnie Reemsnyder, while remarkably ignoring Scott Bates, who was chair at the time of the decision.

To the paper’s credit, the intemperate Collins accomplished some good, at first, drawing much needed attention to port authority finances and governance — based less on original reporting than on information widely shared with the press by Kevin Blacker — but the larger downside is that by rushing to report a relatively modest story of nepotism and self-dealing (recused or not), The Day reporting has served to overshadow larger problems at hand regarding the port authority.

Such distraction is amply reflected in the latest editorial by The Day which in its response to Tuesday’s hearings on the port authority, notably sees only the need for Bates and Executive Director Evan Matthews to further testify.

Why not Reemsnyder, the object of such scorn mere days ago? For days the editorial side of the paper, and Collins, have almost studiously avoided the topic of Reemsnyder. That shift, I think, requires transparency and explication.

In fact on the news-opinion side of things, the The Day has turned downright apologetic toward Reemsnyder — opining (reporting?) that “Bates sat silently next to Reemsnyder as the bus rolled over her that day, never saying that he actually approved the purchase of Reemsnyder’s daughter’s photos because she had recused herself.”

If Collins cared a lick about anyone’s reputation, one wonders why he didn’t just wait for his Freedom of Information request to arrive (he sent it about a week after my own) with that information — or if the recusal was truly relevant — you might ask why Reemsnyder didn’t bother to mention it herself at the time?

No offense intended to the actual reporters at The Day, including Julia Bergman, who have done good work, but from the great bulk of writing at the paper you might never know that for years Reemsnyder chaired the finance committee of the port authority, co-chaired the negotiating committee, and served as vice chair at the authority.

At the very least, don’t you think it would be helpful for Reemsnyder to clear the air (we hope) on the significant financial irregularities uncovered by state auditors while she served as finance chair?

Unfortunately, Reemsnyder’s written testimony – which apparently satisfied The Day — did not allow for questions, focused exclusively on the artwork sideshow, and did nothing to explain the salient points. It’s frankly unfathomable that the editorial board of The Day could miss this, so I’m guessing that the editorial board somehow believes screwing up on the little issues is best corrected by compensating on the big ones.

Just as important by testifying, Reemsnyder — who chaired the board at the time when Gerri Lewis was fired from her job as Office Manager and liaison to the Office of State Ethics — could help clarify the reason and process by which Lewis was fired. To be clear: For all of the possible missteps by Bates, he had stepped down and Reemsnyder had taken over when Lewis was fired.

Testimony by Reemsnyder and Matthews could help dispel any appearance that Lewis was fired in (perhaps misdirected) retaliation at the whistle-blower, or in an attempt to cover for ethical lapses. It is notable that Lewis’ firing on July 9 could not be explained at Tuesday’s hearing.

Has any effort been made to discourage Lewis from testifying? Did Lewis make complaints about ethical lapses to officials at the port authority, or other government agencies? Did board members play any role in the firing? It’s remarkable that in its editorial response to the hearing, The Day evinced no interest in such questions.

The Day did – and reasonably so – cover the fact that the state police approached Kevin Blacker shortly before the hearing. It was Blacker whose dogged activism has spurred many of us in the press to take a closer look at the port authority. It was Blacker who first raised attention in emails, which included Collins, to the fact that the agreement with Ørsted remained unsigned even months after it was roundly celebrated in news coverage.

Was the state police interview an attempt to intimidate Blacker or prevent him from attending the hearing and speaking to reporters? Perhaps. And intimidation and the misuse of administrative authority is a very reasonable concern.

However, it is simply disingenuous, and frankly irresponsible, to suggest that (to quote a Collins headline) “Police question Kevin Blacker over email calling Gov. Lamont a wimp.” Collins goes on, bizarrely, to quote only the first portion of the brief subject line. “‘Gov. Lamont is a yellow belly,’ was the beginning of the email’s subject line” – Collins writes. He buries a paraphrase of the latter half shortly after.

At least in this case, the editorial board stepped in after the fact to try to clean up the mess, writing that “While perhaps heavy-handed, the police concern was justified. Over the weekend Blacker had sent out a rambling email whose recipients included the governor and featured the subject line: ‘Governor Lamont is a yellow-belly, My blood will be on his hands.’”

What should have been stated by The Day and Collins – who appears to be using and characterizing his source in a way that should make any responsible editor uncomfortable – is that Blacker, a very nice and well-meaning man, has sent hundreds of emails to reporters and politicians, including Lamont. I have received 200.

These emails are never in themselves threatening – and I am certain that is not Blacker’s intent – but they have nevertheless grown more profane, and more frequent – sometimes six a day – and on occasion feature violent imagery and fears. In fact, Blacker (I told you he was a kindhearted man) acknowledged as much in emails which fretted that he may have cost Matthews his job.

Why neither Collins nor The Day have provided any of this meaningful context, while the bus has rolled over Bates, Matthews, Lamont, and the state police, is unclear.

Meanwhile, at CT Examiner — and I suppose I should acknowledge that Collins does not like us much — we’re trying a different approach, reporting today on $4.77 million dollars of borrowed state money for years sitting in port authority accounts.

Over two million of those dollars are leftover from a project in Old Saybrook on North Cove. $85,436.62 of legacy funding has been sitting in an account since 2011 — three years before the port authority was even created. $256,577.04 is leftover from dredging projects in Old Lyme, and was the object of attempts by the Town of Old Lyme to redirect toward a landing for Hall Road. After speaking with town governments up and down the coastline, Old Lyme notably appears to be the only town that attempted to redirect these taxpayer dollars.

As for that project, Reemsnyder again recused herself. The plan was tabled by the port authority board (perhaps because of press scrutiny). The project was later apparently stymied by Office of Policy and Management — we have yet to see a mention in port authority minutes.

On July 11, the same day Matthews was placed on paid leave, an email to Old Lyme town officials, cc’ed to Reemsnyder, reads in part: “An inquiry was made to the State Office of Policy & Management and their reply was not favorable …. Bonnie said she will make an attempt to get a favorable ruling but she is not hopeful” — which entirely contradicts her recusal in the matter.

Our reporting is a small story — and we are the first to say that we do not know exactly where it will lead — but this story is just beginning.

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