Norwich utilities employees to undergo ethics training

March 6, 2019

Norwich — All Norwich Public Utilities employees will undergo comprehensive ethics training starting in mid-March, including dialogue on realistic scenarios of gift offers and hypothetical exchanges with vendors or other outside parties, and all vendors will receive letters clearly stating the utility’s policy on gifts and invitations to company outings.

“The healing has begun,” said Kerri Kemp, NPU human resources division manager. Kemp reviewed the ethics training plan and presented an overview of the utility’s staffing plan for the coming year Tuesday with the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners. The commission will take the training, as well.

Kemp said NPU employees’ morale has suffered with the negative publicity surrounding former General Manager John Bilda, who was indicted on four federal corruption charges Nov. 8 in connection with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby and a luxury West Virginia golf resort.

The FBI investigation started in October 2016 and took two years to complete. During that process, NPU received at least two subpoenas as a CMEEC member utility, and Bilda’s role as a CMEEC board leader put him in the center of the controversy. Bilda’s wife and parents attended derby trips, as well.

Bilda was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 15, and Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose was named acting director. The commission approved a separation agreement with Bilda Jan. 22.

Kemp said the controversy has been wearing on NPU employees, who have borne the brunt of jokes and teasing in the field.

“They go to a house to work on someone’s water heater and hear ‘Hey, did you go to the derby?’” Kemp said.

NPU spokesman Chris Riley said the controversy centered on CMEEC, but NPU employees still were affected by the bad publicity.

Kemp wrote the new ethics training plan based on the city’s ethics code and wrote the letter to be sent to all NPU vendors. NPU employees will start taking the ethics training in two weeks and should be finished by mid-April.

The new ethics hotline and an anonymous email will be available to NPU employees and the public by mid-April, as well, Kemp said. The letter to vendors will be sent three times a year. Employees will undergo the ethics training every two years, with new employees taking the training as part of their orientation, Kemp said.

NPU currently has 142 employees, with a plan to fill four positions for the 2019-20 fiscal year: a new assistant general manager or general manager, GIS analyst, a senior water distribution technician and a field service technician.

In response to board questions, Kemp said morale “has been more stable” over the past few months since Bilda’s departure.