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NPU, General Manager Bilda working on separation agreement

January 11, 2019

Norwich — The utilities commission met for nearly two and a half hours behind closed doors Thursday to negotiate a separation agreement with Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda but emerged without a final agreement.

Board Chairwoman Grace Jones said the board hopes to resolve all issues by its regular meeting on Jan. 22.

Following another two-hour, closed-door session on Dec. 28, the board had authorized Jones to sign a term sheet outlining a framework for a separation agreement. But NPU spokesman Chris Riley said after Thursday’s meeting that changes were made to that document that are still being negotiated with Bilda’s attorneys.

“Where we are tonight is that we do not have a document in order to release any details,” Jones said. “It’s still in the process. Our attorney has helped us a great deal. We will continue to work to have a document, and look forward to our next regular meeting to have closure.”

The board met behind closed doors with board attorney Anthony Palermino to discuss the proposed agreement. Bilda and his attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, did not attend Thursday’s session, but Riley said they made calls to Bilda’s attorneys.

Bilda, 54, was one of five Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials indicted Nov. 8 on federal corruption charges for their leadership roles in CMEEC’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years. A month before the indictments, Bilda had announced his plans to retire sometime in 2019 following a transition process.

Bilda, the former vice chairman of the CMEEC board of directors, was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 15 by the Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners in the wake of the indictments. Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose was named acting general manager the same night.

Bilda, CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor and former CMEEC board members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton face one count each of conspiracy and three counts each of theft from a program receiving federal funds. Rankin and Sullivan face the same charges in a second indictment involving alleged reimbursement by CMEEC for nearly 1.1 million for travel, lodging, tickets and expensive gifts for participants.

The indictments also pertained to CMEEC’s hosting a board retreat to The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia in October 2015 that also included expensive gifts — including 35,000 settlement with NPU funds to an NPU employee in a sexual harassment complaint filed against Sullivan, who was serving as Norwich utilities commission chairman at the time.

Ethics complaints were filed against Bilda, Hinchey, Division Manager Steve Sinko and utilities board Chairwoman Dee Boisclair and Robert Groner, all of whom attended the 2016 Kentucky Derby trip. All five were found in violation of the city ethics code. Hinchey paid the city the 15,000 — the estimated cost of the 2016 derby trip for him and his wife — to the Thames Valley Council for Community Action for fuel assistance to low-income families.

In September, a month before Bilda announced his plans to retire in 2019, the AFSCME Council 4 union representing NPU supervisors filed three state labor complaints against Bilda for allegedly threatening the union president and for negotiating a new high-level supervisory position and raise for Sinko without going through the union.

Acting General Manager LaRose rescinded both the raise and the promotion for Sinko as one of his first actions, and the union withdrew all three complaints.

c.bessette@theday.com

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