Saturday, August 10, 2019

Abolish the Port Authority



The sole political purpose of the Port Authority is to deprive local authorities in Connecticut of their rightful authority over their own ports.

The power grab may be plainly seen in the scandal unfolding in New London, covered by the watchful New London Day. Perhaps the most efficient way of depriving The Day of its reportorial authority would be to set up a “journalism authority” to superintend stories and editorials in the paper. Of course, no self-respecting reporter or commentator would agree to such an overarching authority, and any state government that proposed one would be marched in tar and feathers to, say, Venezuela, where newspapers are written under the watchful eyes of Nicolás Maduro, a once and, one hopes, future bus driver.

The Port Authority, just to begin with, is a quasi-public governmental organ, somewhat like a centaur, half man, half beast – neither one nor the other. It is a transcendent political organ, the political errors of which cannot be corrected by the usual democratic means – vote the bums out! – and therefore is, by its very nature, quasi-democratic. Like most quasi-public agencies, the Port Authority is easily used by clever politicians as a political walk-around. If a governor of Connecticut should wish to fiddle while the port of New London burns, he can do so certain that no one will be clamoring for his head. In fact, no head of any quasi democratic agency will roll off the public guillotine, because such “Authorities” transcend the usual democratic process. When mistakes are made at the Port Authority, which part of the centaur – the quasi part, or the public part – will be held liable by the voting public?

Over the years, the Port Authority has become pox-marked with such “errors.” Dave Collins of The Day has now uncovered a doozy centering on Scott Bates, once board chairman of Connecticut’s Port Authority, involving the purchase of six photographs, at an eye-popping cost of over $3,000, taken by the daughter of then-authority chairwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who resigned from her position in July. Reemsnyder is Old Lyme’s first selectwoman. Bates, presently deputy secretary of state in the Lamont administration, authorized the $3,000 purchase of the photos, listed in public records as “wall hangings.”

Bates was also an indispensable player in securing a marketing and communications contract for Dealy Mahler Strategies at a cost of $78,000. The contract was party sub-contracted to “McDowell Jewett Communications, the Connecticut firm that did public relations for the governor's election campaign.”

The general public should bear in mind that the chief purpose of such “communications contracts” is to sell the public what has sometimes been called “a pig in a poke.” The “pig” in this case is the offshore wind industry.

Once Collins’ reports began to appear across the state in different news venues, heads rolled at the quasi-public Port Authority. Lamont declared through his flack catchers that the head-rolling was necessary “to ensure continued success of the quasi-public state agency under the highest standards of transparency and fiscal best practices; [to] consummate a historic partnership with the offshore wind industry to make Connecticut the hub of renewable energy development in the Northeast; and [to] provide continued access for traditional maritime commerce in New London and throughout Connecticut’s other ports.”

Indeed, elevating Bates from the Port Authority to deputy secretary of state, Lamont praised Bates exuberantly. According to the Hartford Courant, “Lamont made no mention of the photos. He said Bates was the ‘driving force behind recruiting the offshore wind industry to Connecticut’ with the negotiation of a port operations contract to draw private investment to the State Pier in New London.” The governor’s own budget director and secretary of the state Office of Policy Management, Melissa McCaw, has been directed to “oversee the port authority’s finances.”

Of course, this is, by way of a preventative measure, the usual case of the fox being put in charge of the hen house. As Port Authority chairman, Bates was indeed the “driving force behind recruiting the offshore wind industry to Connecticut" – for Lamont, who has now suspended all port business with the exception of the off shore wind project, leaving undisturbed and intact the position taken by Bates and the Port Authority before its “work” had been suspended. By transferring to the governor's office financing for three of Connecticut's largest ports and exercising operative control of the ports, Lamont has effectually exercised eminent domain over three major cities. New London in particular may remember the tale of "The Little Pink House." 

Nice trick. It’s not likely to fool Collins or other wide awake reporters and commentators in Connecticut. Lifting the Port Authority rock, Collins had publicized a swarm of politically compromising e-mails unearthed through an FOIA request made by, Collins tells us, "Kevin Blacker, the citizen critic who port authority Executive Director Evan Matthews once offered a consulting contract before finally threatening him with a police investigation." Collins may not be as fortunate in future requests now that the whole Lamont initiated operation has been absorbed by the Lamont administration. 

But Collins’ efforts do point to a solution. If port operations in the state can be democratized, the state would have no need of a quasi-public authority, the principle political purpose of which is to serve as a pig-hiding poke. Since Lamont already has seriously compromised the Port Authority’s always artificial  provenance over the ports, why not abolish the Port Authority altogether and once again allow port cities such as New London, New Haven and Bridgeport to direct their own affairs?   

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