For­mer en­ergy of­fi­cial mum on Derby trips and lob­by­ing is­sues

Ex-NPU, CMEEC chair cites FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By CLAIRE BESSETTE Day Staff Writer

Nor­wich — The long­time for­mer chair­man of both the Nor­wich util­i­ties com­mis­sion and the Con­necti­cut Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tric En­ergy Co­op­er­a­tive board of di­rec­tors would not com­ment Mon­day on sev­eral is­sues re­lated to the con­tro­ver­sial Ken­tucky Derby trips and lob­by­ing con­nec­tions that could raise con­flict of in­ter­est ques­tions re­gard­ing his ten­ure on the two agen­cies.

James M. Sul­li­van, chair­man of the Nor­wich Board of Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion­ers from Jan­uary 2008 through Oc­to­ber 2015, and chair­man of the CMEEC board from De­cem­ber 2013 through Oc­to­ber 2015, said his at­tor­ney has ad­vised him to de­cline to com­ment on is­sues re­lat­ing to his ser­vice.

Sul­li­van cited an on­go­ing FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into CMEEC and its mem­ber util­i­ties, launched in Oc­to­ber, for his si­lence, but said he has not been con­tacted by any fed­eral or lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in con­nec­tion with the Ken­tucky Derby trips or any CMEEC is­sues.

“Un­til such time as that in­quiry has come to a con­clu­sion,” Sul­li­van said, “I will re­spect­fully have no com­ment con­cern­ing this, with re­spect to my time as a board mem­ber of NPU and as a board mem­ber of CMEEC.”

Sul­li­van at­tended the Derby trip at least in 2015 along with his wife,

Linda Sanchez, a sit­ting Demo­cratic con­gress­woman rep­re­sent­ing the 38th U.S. House District in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Con­gress­woman Sánchez at­tended the event in her per­sonal ca­pac­ity as the spouse of a board mem­ber, which is ex­pressly al­lowed un­der House rules,” a spokesman for Sanchez’s Wash­ing­ton of­fice said in a state­ment. “Al­though she was not re­quired to do so, out of an abun­dance of cau­tion she did seek the ad­vice of the House Ethics Com­mit­tee prior to at­tend­ing, and the Com­mit­tee con­firmed that she could at­tend.”

In Nor­wich, the lav­ish trips, which were funded by CMEEC as so-called “strate­gic board re­treats” have been the sub­ject of six ethics com­plaints against cur­rent util­i­ties com­mis­sion Chair­man Dee Bois­clair, Vice Chair­man Robert Groner, NPU Gen­eral Man­ager John Bilda and NPU Divi­sion Man­ager Steve Sinko. Two com­plaints have been filed against Mayor De­berey Hinchey for her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2016 trip.

Sul­li­van also de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about his lob­by­ist con­nec­tions with two or­ga­ni­za­tions that cur­rently do busi­ness with CMEEC and the city of Nor­wich, say­ing only that his lob­by­ing busi­ness is a “mat­ter of pub­lic record.”

Sul­li­van is prin­ci­pal of JMS Con­sult­ing, a fed­er­ally reg­is­tered lob­by­ing firm. Ac­cord­ing to lob­by­ing pub­lic dis­clo­sure records, from 2009 through 2016, JMS Con­sult­ing was paid a to­tal of $867,500 in lob­by­ing fees by the Metropoli­tan District Com­mis­sion in the greater Hart­ford area.

In Septem­ber 2015, one month be­fore Sul­li­van re­signed from both his CMEEC board po­si­tion and from the Nor­wich Board of Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion­ers, the CMEEC board voted to ap­prove the MDC as a “new cus­tomer” of CMEEC to man­age elec­tric­ity sales at the Hart­ford area agency’s hy­dropower gen­er­at­ing plants. Sul­li­van did not at­tend the Septem­ber meet­ing when the vote was taken, and he re­signed his po­si­tions prior to the Oc­to­ber meet­ings.

At­tor­ney R. Bart­ley Hal­lo­ran, who has rep­re­sented MDC for sev­eral years and now also rep­re­sents Sul­li­van in re­la­tion to CMEEC is­sues, said Sul­li­van’s lob­by­ing busi­ness had noth­ing to do with CMEEC’s con­tract with MDC, and also had noth­ing to do with Sul­li­van’s res­ig­na­tion from the two boards.

At the time, Sul­li­van said he was re­sign­ing for per­sonal rea­sons and time con­straints be­tween his busi­ness, which has him com­mut­ing to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. fre­quently, and his pub­lic ser­vice in Nor­wich.

Hal­lo­ran said MDC was told two years ear­lier by Ever­source that the pri­vate util­ity no longer would pur­chase the elec­tric­ity from the hy­dro plants. MDC sought a new buyer and con­tacted CMEEC. Ac­cord­ing to the CMEEC meet­ing min­utes: “CMEEC staff have had a se­ries of meet­ings with the MDC to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of CMEEC pro­vid­ing cer­tain ser­vices to MDC.”

Hal­lo­ran said he did not be­lieve Sul­li­van was even aware of the meet­ings or the pend­ing con­tract be­tween CMEEC and MDC.

But Sul­li­van did vote twice on a con­tract be­tween CMEEC and the so­lar power part­ner­ship of So­larCity and Bright­fields De­vel­op­ment LLC. From 2013 through 2016, Sul­li­van’s JMS Con­sult­ing re­ceived pay­ments to­tal­ing $90,000 from Bright­fields.

The So­larCity-Bright­fields part­ner­ship is de­vel­op­ing sev­eral large so­lar power ar­rays through­out south­east­ern Con­necti­cut for CMEEC, in­clud­ing projects in Nor­wich, Gro­ton and Bozrah. Sul­li­van voted twice on the CMEEC board to ap­prove so­lar projects with the part­ner­ship, on July 24, 2014 to ap­prove a Com­mu­nity So­lar Gar­den Project and on March 26, 2015 to ap­prove a So­lar Gar­den Cou­pled Stor­age Project.

Hal­lo­ran said he could not com­ment on Sul­li­van’s CMEEC board votes re­gard­ing the so­lar projects.

The Nor­wich Board of Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion did not vote on the So­larCity-Bright­fields projects in Nor­wich, but the Nor­wich City Coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion on April 20, 2015, for the So­larCity project at the for­mer Rogers Road Land­fill and a city-owned par­cel across the street.

NPU Gen­eral Man­ager John Bilda, vice chair­man of the CMEEC board of di­rec­tors, then also serv­ing as act­ing city man­ager, signed the con­tract on April 29, 2015.

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