CMEEC board ex­tends un­paid leave

CEO and CFO will re­main un­in­volved un­til in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­pleted

The Day - - REGION - By CLAIRE BESSETTE day Staff Writer

Nor­wich — The Con­necti­cut Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tric En­ergy Co­op­er­a­tive board voted unan­i­mously Thurs­day to ex­tend its ini­tial 30-day un­paid leave for the two top of­fi­cials in­dicted Nov. 8 on fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges in con­nec­tion with lav­ish trips to the Ken­tucky Derby.

CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Ed­ward Pryor will re­main on un­paid leave un­til an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion or­dered by the board of di­rec­tors is com­pleted. The ini­tial sus­pen­sion would have ended Fri­day.

The ex­ten­sion was rec­om­mended Wed­nes­day by the five-mem­ber Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee es­tab­lished Nov. 20 to re­ceive the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port be­ing done by at­tor­ney Eileen Dug­gan, an em­ploy­ment law spe­cial­ist. The move was nec­es­sary once the com­mit­tee de­ter­mined that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion would last longer than the ini­tially an­tic­i­pated 30-day pe­riod.

The cur­rent sched­ule has the com­mit­tee meet­ing to dis­cuss Dug­gan’s find­ings and to dis­cuss rec­om­men­da­tions to the full board, in­clud­ing Rankin’s fu­ture em­ploy­ment, on Jan. 23 and will make its find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions avail­able to the full CMEEC board “as promptly as pos­si­ble there­after.”

Rankin and Pryor were among five CMEEC of­fi­cials charged with fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges of con­spir­acy and theft from a pro­gram re­ceiv­ing

fed­eral funds in con­nec­tion with CMEEC’s host­ing of four lav­ish trips to the Ken­tucky Derby, from 2013 to 2016, for util­ity and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials, their fam­ily mem­bers and guests.

Rankin, Pryor, Nor­wich Pub­lic Util­i­ties Gen­eral Man­ager John Bilda and two former CMEEC board mem­bers, James Sul­li­van of Nor­wich and Ed­ward DeMuzzio of Gro­ton, were charged in one fed­eral in­dict­ment, while Rankin and Sul­li­van face sim­i­lar charges in a sec­ond in­dict­ment al­leg­ing they con­spired to re­im­burse Sul­li­van for nearly $100,000 in per­sonal ex­penses us­ing CMEEC funds.

With the sus­pen­sion ex­tended through De­cem­ber and into Jan­uary, it’s pos­si­ble that Pryor would not re­turn to his po­si­tion re­gard­less of the find­ings. Pryor an­nounced in sum­mer plans to re­tire at the end of De­cem­ber. Cur­rent in­terim CEO Mike Lane is listed in CMEEC’s 2019 slate of ex­ec­u­tive staff as the new chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer for 2019. That same list in­cludes Rankin as CEO.

Rankin’s cur­rent em­ploy­ment con­tract runs through Dec. 31, 2023. A ter­mi­na­tion clause in the con­tract lists causes for ter­mi­na­tion in­clud­ing “any vi­o­la­tion by Mr. Rankin of any law or reg­u­la­tion which is ma­te­ri­ally re­lated to the busi­ness of CMEEC; Mr. Rankin’s con­vic­tion of a felony, or any per­pet­u­a­tion by Mr. Rankin of a com­mon law fraud; or any other will­ful mis­con­duct by Mr. Rankin which is in­ju­ri­ous to the fi­nan­cial con­di­tion or busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion of, or other­wise in­ju­ri­ous to the CMEEC or any of its sub­sidiaries or af­fil­i­ates.”

The CMEEC board on Thurs­day tabled a draft char­ter that would spell out the au­thor­ity and pro­ce­dures for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mit­tee to fol­low. CMEEC Gen­eral Coun­sel Robin Kip­nis asked for the de­lay to al­low time to ad­dress con­cerns ex­pressed dur­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mit­tee meet­ing Wed­nes­day over a pro­vi­sion that Kip­nis — a CMEEC reg­u­lar staff mem­ber — would serve as li­ai­son to Dug­gan, the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

State Mu­nic­i­pal Ratepayer Ad­vo­cate Bill Kowal­ski said CMEEC em­ploy­ees and board mem­bers need to be able to talk di­rectly to Dug­gan to as­sure full in­de­pen­dence of Dug­gan’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Kip­nis said she did not an­tic­i­pate a prob­lem with that ar­range­ment but needed time to ad­dress it with Dug­gan be­fore the board votes on the com­mit­tee’s char­ter.

The full CMEEC board is ex­pected to vote on the char­ter at its reg­u­lar Dec. 20 meet­ing.

Fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s spe­cial meet­ing and vote, Lane is­sued a state­ment in a news re­lease re­gard­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Board’s ad­vance­ment of the Spe­cial Com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions is an im­por­tant step to en­able a thor­ough, in­de­pen­dent re­view process,” Lane said in the state­ment. “We are tak­ing this mat­ter ex­tremely se­ri­ously and look for­ward to con­sid­er­ing the Spe­cial Com­mit­tee’s find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions at the con­clu­sion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

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