NPU to tell how Derby trip scan­dal won’t hap­pen again

Util­ity lead­ers to re­port planned re­forms to Nor­wich City Coun­cil

The Day - - OBITUARIES - By CLAIRE BES­SETTE Day Staff Writer c.bes­[email protected]­

Nor­wich — Along with re­view of the sep­a­ra­tion agree­ment with for­mer Nor­wich Pub­lic Util­i­ties Gen­eral Man­ager John Bilda and changes to the util­i­ties gov­ern­ing board, NPU of­fi­cials are sched­uled to out­line ad­min­is­tra­tive changes pro­posed to im­prove ethics train­ing, con­trol travel costs and re­view fi­nances when it meets with the City Coun­cil on Mon­day.

The coun­cil will hold an in­for­ma­tional workshop with the Board of Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion at 6 p.m. Mon­day in Coun­cil Cham­bers. The meet­ing is open to the pub­lic but will not in­clude pub­lic com­ment. Util­i­ties board Chair­woman Grace Jones will pro­vide an over­view of the sep­a­ra­tion agree­ment reached on Jan. 22 with Bilda in the af­ter­math of his in­dict­ment on fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges Nov. 8.

Bilda and four other of­fi­cials with the Con­necti­cut Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tric En­ergy Co­op­er­a­tive were in­dicted for their roles in CMEEC’s host­ing of lav­ish trips to the Ken­tucky Derby for four years from 2013 through 2016 and to a lux­ury West Vir­ginia golf re­sort in Oc­to­ber 2015.

The sep­a­ra­tion agree­ment calls for Bilda to be paid $35,000 in sev­er­ance, pay­ment for 864 hours of ac­crued sick time, 296 hours of ac­crued va­ca­tion time and a $1,000 con­tri­bu­tion to his pen­sion. Bilda agreed to re­sign ef­fec­tive Dec. 31 and will be al­lowed to re­tire at full ben­e­fits. He must put in for re­tire­ment no later than April 10.

Act­ing Gen­eral Man­ager Chris LaRose said Fri­day that Mon­day’s pre­sen­ta­tion to the City Coun­cil also will in­clude an over­view of in­ter­nal changes at NPU, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar ethics train­ing, tighter travel ex­pense poli­cies and an­nual re­views of staffing and po­si­tions. Sev­eral of the changes are ex­pected to be pre­sented to the util­i­ties com­mis­sion at its Feb. 26 meet­ing, LaRose said.

The ethics changes in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a hot­line for NPU em­ploy­ees and the pub­lic to make anony­mous re­ports on any eth­i­cal is­sues and con­cerns at NPU. Ethics train­ing for NPU em­ploy­ees and the util­i­ties com­mis­sion would be held ev­ery two years. LaRose said he an­tic­i­pates the hot­line to be op­er­at­ing by early March.

Train­ing in state Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion law will be re­quired for the NPU lead­er­ship team – gen­eral man­ager and di­vi­sion man­agers – and for util­i­ties board mem­bers ev­ery five years. New board mem­bers would re­ceive train­ing upon ap­point­ment.

LaRose said NPU staff is work­ing on a 2019-22 strate­gic plan that will in­clude a “more in­clu­sive, trans­par­ent process to align staff, lead­er­ship and the board.”

Changes were made to NPU staff travel poli­cies in the wake of the Ken­tucky Derby con­tro­versy, which led to ethics vi­o­la­tions found against four NPU 2016 Derby trip par­tic­i­pants and for­mer Mayor De­berey Hinchey, who also at­tended.

LaRose said a draft new travel pol­icy is be­ing fi­nal­ized and will be pre­sented to the board in Fe­bru­ary. All travel would re­quire man­age­ment ap­proval or be in­cluded in a pre-ap­proved bud­get. Meals and in­ci­den­tal ex­penses would be cov­ered in per-diem pay­ments based on govern­ment-al­lowed rates.

“We’ll make sure there will be no ex­trav­a­gances,” LaRose said.

NPU em­ploy­ees are re­quired to travel fre­quently for tech­ni­cal train­ing and con­fer­ences. The Amer­i­can Pub­lic Power As­so­ci­a­tion hosts engi­neer­ing con­fer­ences ev­ery year, LaRose said, and NPU wa­ter di­vi­sion em­ploy­ees travel to Hol­lis­ton, Mass., for wa­ter train­ing. Line work­ers at­tend line worker and tech­ni­cal school in Mas­sachusetts each year.

NPU of­fi­cials over the years have trav­eled to Hart­ford or even Washington, D.C., to tes­tify in govern­ment hear­ings on util­ity is­sues. LaRose said fu­ture travel will “have more em­pha­sis at home,” but if there are crit­i­cal is­sues that af­fect ratepay­ers, NPU might travel to hear­ings, with travel ex­penses based on the new writ­ten poli­cies.

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