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With empty board seats, MIRA is unable to vote on key issues

Cloe Poisson
Connecticut Mirror

Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle said Thursday they’re working to fill a number of vacant positions at the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority.

The state’s quasi-public agency handles about one-quarter of Connecticut’s waste. By law, its board is appointed by elected leaders, including members of the state Senate and House.

But Tom Kirk, the agency’s president and CEO, said Wednesday those leaders have left four positions vacant on the agency’s board.

“Eight affirmative votes are required to approve any resolution … for long-term contracts or procurements over $50,000,” Kirk said. “It’s a very debilitating issue to not have eight board members available for decision making.”

Currently, MIRA’s board of directors has seven members.

The shortage follows the departures of East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc and John Adams in recent weeks. Other members who recently left include Dick Barlow and Scott Shanley.

During a meeting Wednesday, the board struggled to gather a quorum of six members needed to hold its meeting. The agency eventually got the meeting started late once the final member joined the Zoom call.

“We have four members who have been off the board for one to six months,” said MIRA board Chair Don Stein. “We have some very important decisions to make, and … we had trouble getting a quorum today.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter is responsible for filling one seat. The other three each fall to Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora.

Todd Murphy, a spokesperson for Ritter, said in an email Thursday that Ritter recently appointed one member to the MIRA board: Ed Bailey. But he said, “We were not aware of the resignation of Mayor Leclerc until noon today.”

“Speaker Ritter will reach out to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to search for candidates that meet the requirements outlined in the appointment,” Murphy said. “He will then have to interview candidates before making an appointment.”

Kevin Coughlin, a spokesperson for Looney, said, “Sen. Looney has a number of resumes under consideration and is still speaking with potential candidates.”

Republican leaders said Thursday they are also working on the issue.

Nicole Rall, a spokesperson for Kelly, said, “The prior appointment was made by the former Senate Republican leader, and Sen. Kelly is now looking to fill the vacancy giving due diligence to the selection process.”

“Rep. Candelora is aware that he has a vacancy to fill due to a resignation of an existing appointee and he is actively working to do so,” Bryan Sundie, Candelora’s spokesperson, said in an email. “As you may know this particular appointment requires a person with ‘high-level experience in the environmental field.’”

MIRA is slated to close its Hartford trash-to-energy plant in a few months.

The agency said it is working to contract with private haulers while it works toward the possibility of transforming the burn plant into a transfer station for garbage.

But it won’t be able to execute future high-level contracts unless it gets its board seats filled.

“It would be nice to have a full board again,” said Stein, MIRA’s chair. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be appointing people.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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