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

Port Authority Consultant Clarifies Contract, Role in Firing Gerri Lewis

in In the Region

An official at the Connecticut Port Authority confirmed Thursday that the organization hired a Human Resources consultant from March to July who helped craft a termination letter for Gerri Lewis, the authority’s office manager and ethics compliance officer who was fired on July 9. 

Andrew Lavigne, manager of business development and special projects at the port authority, confirmed via email Thursday the hiring of HR consultant Diane Wolff of Karoli Consulting in Madison.  

“The CT Port Authority entered into a consulting contract for HR support with Diane Wolff of Karoli Consulting on March, 25 2019. 16.5 hours of HR support was provided from April 2019 through July 2019 at a rate of $70/hr ($1,155 total),” Lavigne wrote. 

In her letter on Wednesday, Lewis mentioned the existence of Wolff and her work, a fact that had not been disclosed throughout the last two months of inquiries about the firing of Lewis, nor at the port authority hearings before the Transportation Committee in Hartford on August 20.

Reached by phone Thursday, Wolff said she had been hired as a consultant to set up HR systems for the port authority. 

“I wasn’t an employee, I was just a consultant that they were using initially. I think they were just hoping to just get a few HR systems set in place so they would have some regular processes set up for HR,” said Wolff. “And, really, I just worked a couple of months for them before they had their issues that ended up kind of changing their whole direction.”

Wolff did not remember the precise dates but estimated her hours were spent in June and July. 

“I worked a couple of months. I think I did work for them in June and July — just a couple of months that I billed them — and it was very little work. Maybe I billed 20 hours total. You know what I mean? It was just very little work,” she said. 

She said Evan Matthews, the executive director of the port authority who is on paid leave until the end of September when he will be terminated, hired her. She said Bonnie Reemsnyder, former chair of the port authority and its finance committee, did not hire her or work with her. 

“Evan Matthews, he was the one who asked me to come and just work with him — they were wanting to get performance review systems set up and review the policy manual. They just had some basic HR-type stuff, that’s what I do,” she said. 

She said she did craft language for Lewis’ termination letter. “I talked with Evan about that and helped assist him with that and I think they also had attorneys that worked on that.”

Wolff said she was also present when Matthews gave Lewis her notice. “Yes, I was there because I always recommend that there’s someone else in the room.” 

In her letter, Lewis said her supervisory duties were removed in June, which Wolff confirmed. However, the rest of Lewis’ job description was unclear, Wolff said. 

“I think [Lewis’ job description] changed — at some point she was supervising someone and they took away the supervisory responsibilities but I think that was the only change they were making,” Wolff said. “They had several copies of job descriptions and so it wasn’t easy to figure out — that was why I was there to try to pull some of that stuff together.”

Wolff said she did not write contracts or job descriptions for Lavigne or for Casandra Berthiaume, the fiscal administrative supervisor, and current ethics compliance officer. Both were hired before Wolff worked for the port authority. 

Wolff said Matthews found her firm through a search rather than connections. 

“They were just looking, just doing a search for someone to do some HR consulting. I think they actually contacted someone I have done work before and he doesn’t do consulting anymore so he suggested me, but he didn’t know them before either,” she said. 

Working for small firms is her speciality, which made the port authority a good fit, she said. 

“That’s primarily what I do is small companies. They’re not going to hire a full-time HR person because they’re too small for that so if you can get someone to come in for a few months to get things set up then it’s a nice way to get your HR stuff done,” she said. 

Wolff said she billed the port authority by the hour and was never on a retainer. Since July, she has not worked for the port authority. 

“I’m not doing any more work for them, at least they haven’t asked me to do any more,” she said. “I just had such a small role there. But you know, it was very short because everything changed very quickly.”

Wolff said she didn’t know anything about the decision to put Matthews on paid leave and was not part of the process in any way. She said did speak with Paul Whitescarver, whom the port authority hired as a consultant during Matthews’ leave. 

“I spoke with [Whitescarver] once. He just called me to see if I was in the middle of working on something and I said I had billed them and stopped working when I realized that Evan wasn’t there, figuring that if they wanted to use me they’d contact me,” she said. “So I didn’t really do very much for them, a couple of months worth of work but not very much.”

David Kooris, acting chair of the Connecticut Port Authority, could not be reached for comment. Also, Lewis’ lawyer, Tom Riley, of Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley & Selinger, P.C in New London, could not be reached for comment.

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