Editorial: Four Hours with Former Connecticut Port Authority Head Evan Matthews

in Editorials

Four hours with Evan Matthews on Sunday afternoon and I left convinced that – if the downside risk can be negotiated favorably — the delayed Eversource-Ørsted deal is a good (maybe great) deal for Connecticut. Certainly Matthews – an industry professional with years of relevant experience — believes it’s a good deal and feels blindsided, and aggrieved, by the sudden collapse of the Connecticut Port Authority, in his telling, just as he was hoping to wrap up negotiations on July 1.

It’s the first time that Matthews has spoken publicly since July 12, when he was placed on paid leave and was effectively removed from the quasi-public authority that he had led for the first three years of its existence. He seems genuinely uncertain why exactly he was forced out – whether it was the stated reason, his intemperate comments to the press about Kevin Blacker – or because he embarrassed Gov. Ned Lamont by admitting that the deal, celebrated months earlier at State Pier, remained unsigned.

As Matthews sees it, his accomplishments – birthing an independent authority, securing a million-dollar revenue stream, drafting a strategic plan, signing a memorandum of understanding for a $100 million dollar investment in State Pier – more than outweigh the lapses of his up-tempo, seat-of-his-pants style of managing the port authority.

The Connecticut Port Authority is not the first quasi-public in Connecticut, nor the first to go awry, and it seems obvious in retrospect that the authority would have benefited mightily from a basic template of ethics, accounting and best practices at the start.

In broad terms that’s my takeaway as well from a phone conversation with State Auditor John Geragosian shortly after the release of the October 31 audit – a sense that the identified problems were less a matter of free spending – though there was some of that — than missing rules and best practices.

And even as the authority made progress on matters of revenues and deal making, organizationally the port authority stumbled significantly when Matthews suffered a near fatal stroke on May 26, 2017 that left him hospitalized, unable to drive or effectively lead the organization. Matthews (as have others) further describes a toxic work environment that in part hamstrung the proper functioning of the budding organization.

To his credit, Matthews has agreed to appear and answer questions at a scheduled Transportation Committee hearing on December 4. I believe that the public will benefit from his testimony.