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CMEEC top leaders ousted in wake of federal indictments

November 9, 2018

The chief executive officer and chief financial officer of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative were placed on unpaid administrative leave and Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda was removed from the cooperative board of directors Friday in the wake of federal indictments on several public corruption charges.

The CMEEC board of directors held an emergency meeting Thursday morning upon receiving notice of the pending indictments and held a conference call meeting Friday afternoon and announced the decision following that meeting.

“CMEEC’s leadership and Board take this matter very seriously,” the CMEEC news release stated. “Effective immediately, CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin and CFO Edward Pryor have been placed on unpaid administrative leave to allow CMEEC to conduct an internal investigation. Michael Lane, CMEEC Director of Finance and Accounting, has been appointed Interim CEO.”

The moves came after several Norwich city officials and state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, publicly called for Rankin, Pryor and Bilda to be removed from leadership positions in the wake of the indictments.

Bilda, Rankin, Pryor and former cooperative board of directors members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton face multiple federal charges in two indictments handed down Thursday. The charges stem from lavish trips the cooperative hosted to the Kentucky Derby and The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia, along with allegations that Sullivan charged nearly $100,000 for travel and other personal expenses to CMEEC from January 2012 through August 2015 while he chaired the board of directors.

“Our intent throughout this process is to serve and represent our members in the best way possible,” the CMEEC release stated. “All staff remains in place and the company is fully operational. CMEEC’s core mission, to energize customers and community prosperity by delivering sustained lower-cost energy solutions, remains unchanged.”

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, Council President Pro Tempore William Nash and the council’s three Democratic aldermen, Samuel Browning, Joseph DeLucia and Stephanie Burnham, all called on Bilda either to retire immediately or be removed from his leadership position.

“I’m like everyone else, extremely angry,” Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said Friday. “I really think at this point in time at a minimum, (Bilda) should be relieved of all responsibilities. He has to mount a defense for himself, and that’s what a person should be concentrating on at this time.”

Bilda, who took a vacation day Friday and could not be reached for comment, announced on Oct. 16 plans to retire in 2019 following selection of his successor at NPU. Nystrom said he would ask the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners to expedite the search for a new general manager as the top priority.

Grace Jones, chairwoman of the Norwich utilities commission, said Friday she has scheduled a special meeting of the commission for 6 p.m. Thursday at NPU headquarters, 16 S. Golden St., for a closed-door meeting to discuss the indictments. She declined to comment on Bilda’s status until the board discusses the situation.

Jones, also a member of the CMEEC board, participated in Friday’s conference call but declined to comment on the CMEEC board’s actions.

c.bessette@theday.com

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