Sound ethics ruling in Derby scandal

The process was too slow and the outcome remains uncertain, but the significant penalties recommended by the Groton Board of Ethics in the Kentucky Derby trip scandal shows it took seriously its role of setting ethical boundaries for local officials.

For four years, culminating in 2016, the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, which is jointly owned by several municipal utilities, including Groton Utilities and Norwich Public Utilities, sponsored extravagant, costly trips for Derby weekend. Attending were utility and other local officials, sometimes with spouses. The 2016 trip cost $342,330 with 44 participants.

No meetings were held or business conducted.

The Groton Board of Ethics decision comes nearly a year after local newspapers broke news of the Derby trips.

The board recommends that Groton Utilities Commissioner Edward DeMuzzio resign or be removed from his position by year’s end. The board concluded DeMuzzio, who attended, knew the nature of the junket and had an obligation as commissioner to challenge it.

It also recommends that DeMuzzio and GU General Manager of Utility Finance David Collard, who attended, pay $100 fines and contribute $7,500 each to nonprofit groups.

Also recommended for a $100 fine — the maximum amount under the ethics’ rules — was GU Director Ronald Gaudet, who attended for just a day. The ethics board recommended the council make him contribute $3,250 to a nonprofit.

How to proceed rests with the council. The three men have their right to make their case. But lacking any new evidence, the council should follow the ethics board’s recommendations.

The high profile of this local scandal and the significant actions recommended by the ethics boards in Groton and Norwich should make other local officials think carefully before accepting gifts or other handouts that could compromise their ability to act other than in the best interest of the public.

In Norwich, the ethics commission found two utility executives and two utilities commissioners in violation of that city’s ethics rules. The two commissioners resigned. However, the NPU Board of Utilities Commissioners has yet to act on the recommendation that the four make restitution.

Only Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey, who attended, reimbursed the city in accordance with the ethics panel’s ruling.

Any final decision in Groton or Norwich could face legal challenges focused on whether the actions involving the energy cooperative fall outside the scope of local ethics boards. But whatever the outcome, a message has been sent.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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