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Lamont rebukes lawmakers for changing school contracting rules

Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, supported a section of a bill that would relax the rules for
contracting on school construction projects. CREDIT: CT-N

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a multimillion-dollar spending bill into law on Thursday, but he openly reprimanded lawmakers for adding a section to that legislation that allows companies that oversee local school construction sites to also bid on subcontracts for those public works projects.

The governor said the bill, which authorizes the state to borrow more than $308 million over the next year, was too important for him to veto, but he made it clear to lawmakers in a letter that he did not approve of the changes they made to the contracting rules for school construction projects in Connecticut.

Those changes could enable construction managers — the companies that supervise school projects — to also compete for and win subcontracts to build portions of the same schools.

Lamont’s administration convinced lawmakers to ban that type of contracting in 2022 after federal prosecutors subpoenaed records related to Connecticut’s school construction office and the man who ran that program for more than six years, Konstantinos “Kosta” Diamantis.

“In 2022, my administration proposed and the legislature passed a law barring construction managers from bidding any work on municipally administered school construction projects they oversee,” Lamont wrote in his letter to lawmakers. “The removal of that provision permits construction managers to select themselves to complete subcontracting work on school construction projects.”

Documents reviewed by The Connecticut Mirror show Diamantis, who was recently arrested on federal charges and accused of soliciting bribes from construction companies, advocated repeatedly for construction managers to be allowed to bid on subcontracts for schools.

In one instance, in 2018, Diamantis nearly succeeded in pressuring local officials to follow through with that type of contracting setup for a school renovation in Bristol.

Lamont argued in his letter to lawmakers that allowing construction managers to bid on the subcontracts that they oversee was a bad policy and would harm local school projects, not help them.

“That process, known as ‘self-performance,’ can lead to a lack of competition, a lack of transparency, higher costs, a higher risk of self-dealing, and exclusion of smaller subcontractors from the market,” the governor said.

That statement from the governor stands in stark contrast to the arguments that state legislators used to justify allowing construction managers to bid on subcontracts for schools.

Rep. Jeff Currey, the legislator who pushed for the contracting change this session, argued that empowering construction managers to build portions of the schools would save the state money — something Diamantis also claimed.

“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,” Currey told the CT Mirror in the final hours of the 2024 legislative session.

Currey, a Democrat who represents East Hartford, did not respond to a call seeking comment about the governor’s letter on Thursday.

Lamont, who is in his second term as governor, made it clear, however, that he does not want the contracting change to stand.

“I am of the strong belief that construction managers should not ‘self-perform’ any subcontractor work in school construction projects,” Lamont said.

Originally published at CTMirror.org, June 6. Republished with permission.

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