NEW LONDON — For the duration of the search for a new executive director of the Connecticut Port Authority, and possibly longer, the quasi-public agency will use and pay for the services of the Connecticut Airport Authority to supplement port authority staffing. That decision comes at the recommendation of the Office of Policy and Management, which was directed by Gov. Ned Lamont in July to take a direct role in restructuring the port authority.
At a Tuesday meeting, board chair David Kooris explained the decision as a matter of efficiency rather than consolidation.
“This would free the port authority and the staff to focus on their mission, which I think should be one of our objectives,” Kooris said.
The sharing of resources with airport authority, which was established in July 2011 to “develop, improve and operate Bradley International Airport and the state’s five general aviation airports,” does not mean that the two organizations will become one, said Kooris.
“I just want to assure folks, this is not a step toward consolidation, it’s not a step toward a merger, it’s not a step toward being subsumed. This is a fee-for-service operational support. I don’t think folks realize the airport authority has several hundred employees and very robust back-office capacity, the kind we will never replicate at an authority of our scale,” he said.
Jeffrey Beckham, undersecretary for Legislative Affairs at Office of Policy and Management and a board member of the port authority, who attended Tuesday’s meeting by phone, said the airport authority would take over the role of OPM consultant Bob Dakers, whose contract overseeing financial aspects of the port authority was ending.
Beckham said that based on the last draft memorandum of understanding he had seen, the airport authority’s role would be to oversee compliance of financial decisions made by the port authority, assist and maintain compliance and business practices, implement transparency, governance and accountability best practices that have been identified, maintain internal controls and policies to prevent corporate use of funds and ensure consistent reporting, attend board meetings and provide appropriate support to the board, among other duties.
Kooris said that the additional support is especially needed at a time when the port authority is missing several staff members.
Among those departing is retired Navy Captain Paul Whitescarver, who was hired in July as a senior executive consultant when former Executive Director Evan Matthews was placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired. Whitescarver’s contrac tis due to expire this month.
Andrew Lavigne, the port authority’s special projects manager, is on paternity leave. Kooris said that the position of receptionist would also be reduced to part-time at the end of the month.
“This leaves a gap in capacity as it relates to operations as well as back office support, which is exacerbated in just the short-term with Andrew out on paternity and with the expiration of Capt. Whitescarver’s contract, and so we have talked with OPM about ways in which we can use the MOU to continue to give us some support, really at least until we have a new executive director on board,” he said. “
A new executive director is expected in the spring or summer, Kooris said, and Industrial Search Partners has been engaged to lead the search.
Beckham said he estimated the port authority will work with the airport authority for the next six months.
“I believe the secretary at the public hearing at the general assembly last month indicated an expectation that we be involved this way for probably at least the first half of the year, through June 30.”
The board unanimously approved the arrangement, which is conditioned on airport authority approval. The two entities will also must agree to a maximum dollar amount for the contract, which Kooris estimated at $75,000.
Beckham said there was still work to be done before the port authority could become independent and until then it would remain under OPM’s oversight.
“We’re still in reaction mode to the events of last summer,” he said.
In other business, Kooris said the port authority was working to fulfill three Freedom of Information Act requests that had been received since December from David Collins at The Day.
“Our initial search and our query of our board has resulted in over 26,000 pages of potentially responsive material. We have to go through every single one of those pages. We have been recently, appropriately, called out for legal expenses, so we’re also trying to find the most cost-effective way to do that,” Kooris said.
Kooris said he secured an agreement in December with the Department of Economic Community Development to lend its capacity to the request.
“That has dramatically upped our pace of review at a much lower costs,” he said. “We have thus far shared the first batch of responsive materials, with I would say very modest redaction, constituting about 1,400 pages and we continue to go through the rest.”
Kooris said he will appear before the FOIA commission regarding Collins’ requests on Wednesday.