Port Authority chairman plans tax-funded trip to Europe

With multiple criminal investigations into the Port Authority of Connecticut underway and overruns on its flagship construction project running into the tens of millions of dollars, you’d think the agency would be scrupulously careful about discretionary spending.

That’s why I was so surprised to learn that the scandal-ridden authority, which started making headlines years ago, with lucrative contracts with friends and reckless expense accounts , plans to spend around $4,000 to $5,000 to send its president to Copenhagen. .

Authority board chairman David Kooris described the planned trip, according to the minutes of a July 19 finance committee meeting, as a chance to “get a better understanding of port operations” by Europe and to see firsthand the wind turbines that will be assembled at the new State Pier in New London and the barges that will eventually work here.

I would call the trip a junket, a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe that seems totally pointless. It’s not a lot of money at stake, but a principle is at stake.

After all, if an inspection trip was planned years ago, before Governor Ned Lamont wrote a blank check to build New London as a wind power assembly port, at all costs, he might have It might have been logical to go and see what was on offer. .

But there is apparently no turning back now with the New London project and its staggering cost overruns.

What if President Kooris traveled to Copenhagen and found the working wind assembly port, is there one horrible, loud, ugly thing we would never want here?

The port authority will essentially be the landlord, owner of the new port facility, and not directly involved in its operation. So why does anyone at the Port Authority have to learn anything about how the facility will be run?

If the port authority became the owner of a pizzeria, would the chairman of the authority have to travel to Italy to learn how pizza is made?

I did not hear, in any of the committee or board discussions of the Port Authority’s participation in a trip that will also include utility delegates Orsted and Eversource, how many people the agency plans to attend. ‘send.

But when I posed that question and a few others in an email to Kooris and executive director Ulysses Hammond, Hammond replied to say there would be a “single participant” of authority.

I assume it was Kooris, who told the finance committee that he intended to go.

Hammond also said _ when I relayed a question raised by a board member about whether the agency will increase its travel budget to accommodate the trip _ that it will be paid for from the marketing budget and business development.

Marketing? Oh good? Maybe President Kooris will wear a Connecticut Port Authority t-shirt on his Copenhagen tour?

Some board members said they support the trip because there is no substitute for in-person meetings.

There was, fortunately, a general consensus in the meetings that the authority should not accept travel money from its private partners, the wealthy public services.

Board member John Johnson, who continues to vote regularly on State Pier issues despite a Connecticut State Ethics Office ruling that he shouldn’t, noted that charging for the trip by private partners would be a “bad perspective”.

Johnson offered the strongest endorsement from authority on the trip, which he said will ultimately cost more than the estimate, calling the trip idea “absolutely crazy.”

But board member David Pohorylo, who raised what he said was poor optics in port authorities paying to send someone to Europe, said he wanted to see more documentation of the value of the travel and why some Zoom meetings wouldn’t be enough.

It was Pohorylo who requested a report on whether the authority’s travel budget would be increased.

I would love to hear from Connecticut legislators on this.

Do they all think it’s a good idea for a scandal-ridden agency, under investigation by state and federal authorities, to use taxpayers’ money to send someone to Europe in a company that in the least one board member considers unnecessary travel.

Do lawmakers agree that sending someone to Europe is a good use of the port authority’s marketing budget?

Come on legislators, get involved. Otherwise, your silence on Port Authority management and outrageous spending continues to be deafening.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

Mary I. Bruner