Local organizations address indictments of CMEEC officials serving on their boards
Along with the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, at least three other organizations in the area have grappled with the presence of the same federally indicted officials on their boards of directors.
The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut counts Drew Rankin as vice-chairman and Ed DeMuzzio as treasurer on its board. DeMuzzio is also on the Renaissance City Development Association board, though not its executive committee. John Bilda was vice-chairman of the Norwich Community Development Corporation board.
These three — along with James Sullivan and Edward Pryor — have been charged with conspiracy, theft from a program receiving federal funds, and aiding and abetting the theft from a program receiving federal funds, following a two-year investigation into lavish trips CMEEC officials took to the Kentucky Derby.
The indictments were unsealed on Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court in New Haven. The indicted individuals were promptly placed on unpaid administrative leave or removed from the CMEEC board.
This created an issue for the Norwich Community Development Corp., as its bylaws specify that the general manager of Norwich Public Utilities — which was Bilda — be on its board.
“We were in a bit of a quandary because the position is designated, and so it was hard for NCDC to do anything, and so we had to kind of do it with the [Norwich Public Utilities] commission,” explained NCDC President Bob Mills.
But he said Bilda voluntarily stepped down two weeks ago, and that Chris LaRose — now acting general manager of NPU — is on the board. NCDC updated its website to reflect this change after speaking with The Day on Thursday.
“John [Bilda] has been a huge supporter of NCDC — he has been a fantastic ally for the city through development — and it’s just very disappointing what’s going on,” Mills said.
Like NCDC, Renaissance City Development Association went through its board changes in October, just before the indictments were unsealed. The RCDA board has not met since, and will have its next meeting on Dec. 14.
Linda Mariani, president of the RCDA board, said the board hasn’t decided what will happen with DeMuzzio, and that “we just need to have a meeting and discuss it and take appropriate action.”
She said there isn’t a protocol for situations like this.
“It should be common sense, and I hope that when we convene, that the board will show the common sense that I anticipate they will exhibit, with regard to these issues,” Mariani said, “because to me it seems like a rather obvious choice, but I really do have to wait and see.”
Mariani declined to expand on what she meant by “common sense” and “obvious choice.′
As for the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, President and CEO Tony Sheridan said DeMuzzio has resigned from the board, and they’re trying to reach Rankin. (U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Spector allowed Rankin to take a pre-planned trip to New Zealand and Australia from Nov. 17 to Dec. 7.)
Sheridan said that in meeting on Tuesday — the first in more than a month — the board unanimously agreed to talk to Rankin and have him leave, though he understands Rankin has already decided to leave so it’s not an issue.
As for protocol, Sheridan said, “We have a procedure that we follow for getting people off the board if need be, but generally that’s the procedure that’s to be followed after they’re convicted in court.” He questioned, “What happens if you took someone off the board and they’re found not guilty?”
Sheridan said it’s not about the specific people on the board, but having CMEEC represented.
“People come and go but the company stays, and that’s what we want,” he said. Sheridan said he would “absolutely” want CMEEC to continue to be represented on the board.
He has been an ardent opponent of efforts to abolish CMEEC, saying it saves businesses 15 percent on their electricity rates and that not having CMEEC “would be a major financial hardship.”
“The key here is we have to make sure that CMEEC is able to do their business. They’re a very important company in the region, and should they be required to live by the rules?” Sheridan said. “Absolutely, no question, and that’s an entirely different story.”