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Connecticut Port Authority members seek ethics opinions

New London — Members of the Connecticut Port Authority have sought opinions from the Connecticut Office of State Ethics in response to questions and a challenge issued by The Day Editorial Board about whether certain activities constitute a conflict of interest.

CPA board member John Johnson has asked for a ruling on whether his ownership of a commercial property near State Pier should prohibit him from voting on matters related to the pier. The quasi-public agency now owns and is managing the multi-million reconstruction of State Pier.

Day opinion columnist David Collins, in a recent column, argues Johnson “continues to participate in votes and discussion of State Pier while he stands to profit by industrial property he owns nearby.”

The Day Editorial Board wrote that “what happens at State Pier could have much to do with the future value of Johnson’s property and his business.”

Johnson owns a 35,000-square-foot warehouse at 75 Crystal Ave. that he purchased in 1999, prior to the formation of the Connecticut Port Authority. The assessed value is $1.4 million. Johnson said none of the businesses leasing space on his property have any connection with State Pier or Gateway, the State Pier operator. The businesses there include NorthEast Electrical, defense contractor Curtiss-Wright and Asplundh Construction.

And while Johnson said he has recused himself from board discussions in the past related to State Pier, “whether or not my property is close by… I don’t see where there is a conflict of interest.”

“I’m perfectly willing to have (the Office of State Ethics) look at it. I think it’s an accusation without a whole lot of merit. I think the CPA has been unjustifiably crucified on a lot of these issues, and it’s time this stuff stops,” Johnson said.

The Day has additionally questioned the Connecticut Port Authority about a 2018 contract with Seabury Capital, a group paid in excess of $700,000 for work that included managing the process of finding a new operator and negotiating the final contract.

The State Contracting Review Board, a group looking at CPA contracts, has raised questions about the need to hire the company, which was paid a success fee. The signing of the contract also came three months after Henry Juan III of Greenwich, a managing director with Seabury, resigned from the port authority board.

Collins has argued that the awarding of a contract with Gateway, which also runs the port of New Haven “was engineered by a venture capital firm with insider ties to the port authority.”

Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris, who was not chairman at the time the contract with Seabury was signed, said Juan was not a member of the committee that reviewed and scored RFP responses.

Juan was also not on the board when the recommendation to hire Seabury came to a vote and there is no evidence to show Juan represented the interest of Seabury before the CPA. Generally, Kooris said, a former board member could not represent their company before the board within the year after leaving.

Kooris said he has submitted information related to the Seabury contract and was advised that the Office of State Ethics does not issue advisory opinions on past actions, only on potential future actions. He said it was unclear whether the Office of State Ethics would decide to refer the issue to its enforcement division.

Both Johnson and Kooris said they await further word from the Office of State Ethics.

G.smith@theday.com

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