Republicans Cite Democrats For Using Bonding Bill To Undermine Key Protections Against Construction Malfeasance

May 24, 2024

Republicans Cite Democrats For Using Bonding Bill To Undermine Key Protections Against Construction Malfeasance

CT News Junkie

With the indictment of Kosta Diamantis on corruption charges still in the headlines, Senate Republicans on Tuesday highlighted the removal of some key language from legislation pertaining to school construction projects and the authority for certain administrators to submit bids.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding, along with Sens. Henri Martin and Eric Berthel, released a statement citing the change in the language of the legislature’s omnibus bonding bill, which was passed by the Senate and the House on votes of 35-1 and 134-8, with eight absent or not voting, respectively.

Referencing the grand jury indictment of Diamantis – the former director of the Office of School Construction Grants and Review – Republicans said that loosening language regarding school construction is the opposite of what should be happening.

“In light of the embarrassing, national news-making school construction bidding scandal, the State of Connecticut should be strengthening its rules, not relaxing them,” they said. “Rolling back reforms sends exactly the wrong message. Senate

Republicans will introduce legislation in the next session to change the law back to its current form.”

The change – which would remove language from lines 6170-6172 of the bill and alter current statute in the process – would seemingly allow regional construction managers to once again submit subcontract bids on elements of school construction projects.

The line that would be removed reads: “…the construction manager shall not be eligible to submit a bid for any such project element…” The change was originally made in House Bill 5347, which was voted through by both the Finance and Education committees unanimously.

The change was proposed by Rep. Jeff Currey, a Democrat from East Hartford who co-chairs the Education Committee. Currey did not immediately respond for comment on this story, but he previously told the CT Mirror that he believes there are “enough safeguards” in place to make sure that nothing will be “out of compliance” with state law.

“We are trying to contain costs when it comes to school construction, and I think that this is one of the ways in which you can do that,” he told the Mirror.

The language – which would be removed should the bill be signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont as is expected – was originally added to the statutes in 2022 with Public Act 22-118.

The language was put into place because of concerns about conflicts of interest and “compromised independence” in the bidding process of school construction contracts, according to one state official.

In its 2022 audit of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the State Auditors of Public Accounts said that they had made clear to DAS that it had concerns about possible threats to independence in the School Construction Grant Program’s processes:

We reviewed the audit reports and available workpapers for three school construction grants. The audit reports indicated that the engagements were performed in accordance with government auditing standards. However, the audits did not meet the independence requirements, because we determined that the department’s School Construction Grant Program examiners were not organizationally independent. During our initial walkthrough of policies and procedures in October 2020, we informed the department about this threat to independence and other identified weaknesses with compliance to government auditing standards. DAS should ensure that the school construction audit unit is organizationally independent. The department should also ensure that school construction audits comply with generally accepted government auditing standards established by the U.S. Government Accountability Office if those audits indicate they are being performed under those standards.

State Auditor John Geragosian said Wednesday that before the report was made public his office made its findings clear to DAS, and that those recommendations eventually influenced the policy of removing construction managers from being allowed to submit bids for subcontracts.

“At that point, the agency began to understand the scope of what was happening in school construction and they focused on instituting our recommendations,” he said via text.