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Municipal electric utilities advocate to hold public forum Wednesday

October 8, 2018

Norwich – The state advocate for municipal electric energy ratepayers has been in his position since January, and as required by the state law, Bill Kowalski will hold a public forum Wednesday to review his activities and seek input from the public on what areas he should be addressing.

The Municipal Electric Consumer Advocate Annual Public Forum will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative headquarters at 30 Stott Ave. in the Norwich Business Park.

At the forum, Kowalski said he will present a slide show with some elements taken from his January 2018 introductory presentation to the CMEEC board of directors, emphasizing the public benefit aspects of CMEEC in the legislation that created the cooperative in 1976. Kowalski, a 25-year senior counsel at Aetna and former attorney for the state Office of Consumer Counsel, was appointed to his position in December 2017 by state Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz.

CMEEC is owned by six municipal electric utilities, including Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities, Bozrah Light and Power and two utilities in Norwalk. The cooperative is not covered by state utility regulators. But in response to a public outcry over lavish trips the cooperative hosted to the Kentucky Derby from 2013 through 2016 for dozens of top staff, public officials and guests, new legislation put stricter controls on the cooperative.

Kowalski has weighed in on several key issues involving CMEEC during the past several months, including a push to rebid a state-required five-year forensic audit of CMEEC’s finances after the cooperative’s regular annual auditor had been awarded the bid initially. Kowalski said the new auditor, CohnReznick LLP, hired in June by CMEEC, is working on the audit now. Kowalski said he talked to the firm’s representatives and some financial accounts to examine, but there is no deadline for the report to be completed.

When it is completed, the forensic audit report must be published on the CMEEC website and on the website of the ownership utilities’ municipal websites.

Kowalski also has advised CMEEC on issues to improve public transparency, worked with CMEEC staff to update its internal ethics code and bylaws, including a new provision restricting when CMEEC staff, officers or board members would be indemnified — with legal costs covered — for alleged ethics violation or misconduct.

Following his overview, Kowalski said he will take questions and comments from the audience.

“I hope to get feedback,” Kowalski said. “The goal is two-fold, to report on what I’ve done and to get feedback from the public on what else they want me to look into.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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