Monday morning — I hadn’t gotten in to work yet — instead I was out on a rocky overlook at Selden Creek Preserve chatting on the phone with State Auditor John Geragosian about the Connecticut Port Authority audit.
He was reassuring. While not characterizing the contents of the referral to the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General, he emphasized that a referral was statutory requirement and routine… don’t read too much into it. Geragosian said had no complaints about the remaining board and staff, whom he described as helpful and responsive.
Two days later, a Wednesday, in a meeting room at Fort Trumbull, I sat through a glum performance of transparency by the Port Authority board meeting, for a small audience of press, maritime officials, and Kevin Blacker. It isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time to volunteer for a board only to be caught up in a scandal and pilloried, if only vicariously or by proxy.
Most of the meeting, with an agenda stretching 20 items, had little to do with Ørsted or audits, involving rather a small parade of officials — CT Pilot Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, etc. — and sensible programs like free stickers for small boaters and paddlers that each year could prevent dozens of unnecessary search-and-rescue missions when the small craft wash up or wash away in a storm.
If there were fireworks, they came as part of a discussion of what sort of qualities and experience would best serve the next executive director, after the last one, Evan Matthews, was fired in the wake of a scandal of still uncertain scale and dimensions.
No-nonsense U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Whitescarver, who was brought on as a consultant, didn’t mince words. Putting aside experience with the maritime industry and economic development, Whitescarver said that last summer’s fiasco at the Port Authority taught us that the next executive director most of all has to be capable of sound management and statutory compliance.
I couldn’t help wondering whether the organizing principle of the Port Authority was somehow inherently flawed — how else could a small-town first selectman of Old Lyme, with no obvious financial or maritime expertise, find herself with direct oversight over potentially billions of dollars of maritime economic development?… simply to better balance the needs of small and large harbors?
After it was adjourned, Acting Chair David Kooris came over to explain the $220,000 in “contributions from developers,” mentioned in the auditor’s report. Kooris said that the amount was a reimbursement negotiated and included in the May memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Port Authority, Gateway, and Eversource-Ørsted. Kooris, who is very good at this part of his job, chatted freely and took questions.
Port Authority hearings?
Skipping down beneath the oddly off-kilter headline — Do port authority’s woes need another airing, or is it time to move on? — CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf can’t seem to find anyone — Democrat or Republican — willing to say on record that it is time to move on.
The editorial board of The Day responded to the announcement on Friday of a “second informational forum” on December 4, by asking that Reemsnyder, and former Port Authority board Chair Scott Bates, be required to appear and to testify under oath.
Recapping the elections
Tuesday was a triumph of local concerns over national trends or party affiliations, with Democrat Mary Bylone joining a clean sweep by her party and beating two-term incumbent Republican First Selectman Art Shilosky in Colchester, and Republican Tim Griswold unseating four-term incumbent Democratic Selectman Bonnie Reemsnyder in Old Lyme.
In East Lyme, popular incumbent Republican Mark Nickerson won in a relative squeaker, and the local Republicans lost control of the Board of Finance, after news broke that the town was struggling to cap costs of a new public safety complex.
In Stonington, Danielle Chesebrough took the seat of retiring Republican First Selectman Rob Simmons, with an impressive ground game that had Republicans privately conceding the race as early as lunchtime on Tuesday. Chesebrough is unaffiliated, but will caucus with the Democrats.
Democrats flipped seats in East Haddam and Madison. Republicans flipped seats in Clinton.
Behind the scenes in Old Lyme
In Old Lyme, where privately many expected the Democratic ticket to do well despite the burden of the Port Authority scandal on the top of the ticket, the Republican slate swept every contested seat in what is expected to be highest turnout in the state, and in local memory for a purely municipal election, at 56 percent — that’s roughly 23 percent higher than the state average.
No doubt the Port Authority was an issue, but it was abundantly clear at the selectmen’s debate prior to the election that relative youth and numbers could not entirely obscure the fact that on issue after issue — from sewers to Halls Road to police regionalization — the Democratic slate was on the defensive. And it would appear that the election likely turned less on party politics –Democrats and Republicans are nearly evenly matched in Old Lyme — than on unaffiliated voters and concerns about development.
Our expectation is that Republican voters — including absentee voters — outpaced Democrats by about 5 percent, while unaffiliated voters likely broke 60 – 40 for the Republicans.
Interestingly, we hear that the Republican candidates gave up canvasing for Democratic votes by early September, but on the Wednesday before the election — and one day before the audit was released — the Democratic ticket sent a mailer making an appeal to Republican women. The Republicans, at least, think that backfired. And the rest is, as they say, history.