GOP’s blueprint: Sound plan for quasi-publics

March 2, 2020

Republican-American editorial

In recent months, Connecticut government’s quasi-public agencies have generated controversy. A Feb. 17 Republican-American story indicated the Democratic-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont are planning to make changes. Minority Senate Republicans have offered a comprehensive reform plan. It is worthy of adoption by the full legislature and Gov. Lamont.

Quasi-publics are “state-chartered, privately run organizations that have been created to serve a variety of public purposes,” the Republican-American reported. The last nine months have witnessed troubling revelations about several of Connecticut’s 15 quasi-publics, most notably the Old Saybrook-based Connecticut Port Authority (CPA). At the heart of the debacles was a lack of accountability.

Feb. 11, the Senate Republican caucus unveiled a reform agenda. “Our proposals will overhaul the oversight of state quasi-publics and turn over a new leaf when it comes to transparency and accountability,” said Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven. The GOP package would provide badly needed fixes.

The first provision would “require submission of quasi-public agency separation agreements and contracts with an annual cost of over $50,000 or a duration of five years or greater to the (state) attorney general for review and comment before entering into or renewing any such contracts.” One cannot understate the importance of such oversight. In October, an uproar ensued after Gerri Lewis, who was fired as CPA’s office manager just before the scandals became public, revealed she had been offered a severance agreement in exchange for keeping quiet about CPA. (Ms. Lewis declined to accept the offer.)

Senate Republicans also would “eliminate the State Code of Ethics carve out for quasi-publics regarding contracts with immediate family members.” This presumably is a response to one of the most notorious controversies: CPA’s $3,000 purchase of photos taken by the daughter of board member Bonnie Reemsnyder.

But the best thing about the Republican plan is it would establish a larger oversight role for the state comptroller, Connecticut government’s chief fiscal guardian. At present, quasi-publics provide the comptroller’s office checkbook data on a voluntary basis only. Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo has encountered trouble in getting CPA to provide basic data; Mr. Lembo had little leverage. If Sen. Fasano and company have their way, the quasi-publics will be required to provide the comptroller their financials, for disclosure to the public. In a Nov. 25 editorial, we called for an increased oversight role for the comptroller. The Senate GOP also would give oversight roles to the governor’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM), the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) and relevant legislative committees. Roles for the comptroller and legislature are especially important.

The lack of basic controls on Connecticut’s quasi-publics is appalling. However, Sen. Fasano and his caucus have presented a solid blueprint for turning the page. There is reason for optimism that it will come to fruition. As the Republican-American detailed, Gov. Lamont’s administration meets regularly with quasi-public heads and has required the quasi-publics to file quarterly financial reports with OPM.

Gov. Lamont and Sen. Fasano agree quasi-publics have a place in Connecticut government, CT News Junkie has reported. For the quasi-publics to stay in operation, change is urgent. Senate Republicans’ plan stands to provide it.