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John Marshall Lee Seeking answers from Port Authority

February 12, 2019

The seal of the city of Bridgeport prominently shows a three-masted sailing vessel and the water and bridges emblematic of our port, one of only three deep-water ports in Connecticut. Let’s look at the “port” of Bridgeport rather than bridge history for a change and see what has been happening behind the scenes. Actually, the state of Connecticut owns the port because the land under the water is technically the port while the land above water’s edge is Bridgeport property and owned by whoever has title to the property. In 1992, the city of Bridgeport created the first Port Authority, a separate and distinct body from the city itself under state law and sponsored a commission that has state-conferred powers. The mayor appoints members (three) in addition to (two) automatic city department heads from the Office of Planning and Economic Development and Harbormaster.

Everyone has heard the economic advice: “buy low” and “sell high” as a path to success. Unfortunately, the minutes of the Port Authority have not been accompanied by financial records along with minutes for the past decade during which back office financials have been taken over by city officials. I attended an August 2016 PA meeting with a written critique of this practice, included in those minutes after reading minutes of that time. At the meeting I asked Tom Gill, director of OPED, whether he, as a former banker and corporate board member, found it unusual for a body to have no financial records available for such a long historical period at each meeting? Millions at risk? Millions borrowed? Waterfront property?

At the most recent PA meeting, January 2019, Ken Flatto, city finance director, included a financial summary report that was not included with the minutes when the board voted to adjourn. Allegedly, the summary purported to be the record of the Port Authority from (1) a time when the Carpenter/Derecktor property was acquired by the PA, continuing through a period (2) when other funds were granted to the PA and spent by the PA to remediate, enhance and develop the site, and to the point (3) where most of the PA property has been sold. Without footnotes, backup documents and more fully explained comments, the summary fails to provide a comprehensive and accurate public accounting, in my opinion.

Period 1: PA was attempting to purchase Carpenter Tech for $2.5 million with the power of eminent domain. The first Ganim administration stepped up to ask if the deal could be settled by adding $6.8 million to the offer for a total of $9.25 million. Where did the money to close the deal come from? Where are appraisal documents at each step of purchase or sale? What do documents from that time to Ganim say as to professional advice?

Period 2. An additional $6.4 million was spent for improvements between the Ganim offer and title closings in 2017 and late 2018 increasing the “base” for accounting purposes to more than $15 million.

Period 3. The city of Bridgeport sold all of the remaining PA land during 2017 and near the close of 2018 except where the Water Street office sits for the sum of $10.7 million. Do you view this as an example of “buy high” and “sell low”? Or is it a loss of more than $5 million? How does Ganim financial and operational management of our port and property look today?

Why hasn’t the voice of the PA, with independent legal and accounting representation, been heard including a formal audit for the PA? Ganim, when he came back into office in 2016, did not question the OPED payoff of a $930,000 note to Titan Capital. Why not? And today, the 2017 and 2018 closings under Ganim seem to complete yet another lousy deal for the city taxpayer. Where are the appraisals? Where are the closing documents? Legal expenses paid should show all opinions at each step of the way. Shouldn’t actions receiving informed approval by unconflicted and independently appointed PA members with full financial representations available to them and included in authority minutes and records be the order of the day? Time will tell.

John Marshall Lee lives in Bridgeport.

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