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Norwich utilities labor union withdraws complaints involving Bilda

November 19, 2018

Norwich — The union representing supervisory workers at Norwich Public Utilities has withdrawn three labor complaints against NPU General Manager John Bilda, and NPU on Monday rescinded a unilateral promotion and raise Bilda had arranged for an NPU division manager that prompted the complaints.

The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to place Bilda on indefinite paid administrative leave following a 2 ½-hour closed-door session to discuss a federal indictment of Bilda and four other officials from a regional electric cooperative on four criminal counts of public corruption. NPU Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose was named acting general manager Thursday.

Separate from the controversy that has swirled for the past two years around the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, the AFSME Council 4 in September had filed the three formal labor complaints with the state Board of Labor Relations on behalf of affiliated Local 1303-042, which represents 45 supervisory employees at NPU. The complaints alleged that Bilda violated the union agreement by unilaterally creating a new supervisory position for Division Manager Steve Sinko with a raise and allegedly threatened the union president.

An informal labor board hearing had been scheduled for Monday on the complaints.

Council 4 AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman said Monday that the union notified the state labor board that it has withdrawn the complaints.

“We believe the change in management at Norwich Public Utilities provides us with an opportunity to move forward in a renewed spirit of cooperation and teamwork,” Dorman said in a written statement. “Pursuing the complaints would be detrimental to that spirit. Our bargaining unit members are proud to serve Norwich ratepayers and look forward to working with new NPU management to continue fulfilling their utility’s vital public mission.”

LaRose, who also is a union member, said Monday he was pleased that the union has withdrawn the three complaints.”

“Both the additional responsibilities and differential pay for Mr. Sinko have been rescinded, effective today,” LaRose said in a written statement. “NPU considers this matter to be closed.”

LaRose was not available Monday to discuss his new role as acting general manager.

Bilda, CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor and former CMEEC board of directors members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton were charged Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court in New Haven with one count each of conspiracy and three counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds. The indictments claim the alleged co-conspirators conspired to use CMEEC and member ratepayer funds to pay for lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby, a West Virginia golf resort, gifts and souvenirs for dozens of participants and to conceal the costs from the public and utility officials.

Rankin and Sullivan were charged with similar counts in a second indictment for allegedly reimbursing Sullivan for nearly $100,000 in travel and personal expenses with CMEEC funds.

Rankin and Pryor were placed on unpaid leave by the CMEEC board Nov. 9, but in its annual meeting Thursday, the CMEEC board voted 10-5 to reappoint the current slate of board officers and CMEEC top staff for 2019, including Rankin as CEO. Pryor, however, had announced in summer of 2018 he would retire effective Jan. 1. Bilda also was removed from the CMEEC board.

c.bessette@theday.com

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