Groton Utilities officials say former mayor knew about Derby trip; she says that's untrue

Groton — Three Groton Utilities officials who participated in a controversial retreat to the Kentucky Derby last May said they told former Mayor Marian Galbraith about the upcoming trip and she encouraged them to go.

GU Director Ronald Gaudet, who attended the trip for one day, GU General Manager of Utility Finance David Collard and Groton Utilities Commission member Edward DeMuzzio said they told Galbraith about the trip during a meeting on Nov. 9, 2015.

But Galbraith on Tuesday told the Groton Board of Ethics that's not true. She said she first heard about the trip in October 2016, when her assistant showed her a newspaper article.

The Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative hosted the trip, which cost $342,330 for 44 participants. The cooperative also hosted an October 2015 trip to the The Greenbrier luxury resort in West Virginia.

"Nowhere did anyone say, 'Well, we're going to take a private jet to (the) Kentucky Derby just like we took a private jet to Greenbrier' and I said go ahead and do it. That's just completely, utterly untrue," Galbraith said.

The participants at the Nov. 9 meeting — Galbraith, the three GU officials and executive administrative assistant Deborah Damm testified at the ethics board meeting on Tuesday. The three officials and Galbraith said they discussed mending hard feelings at the cooperative related to Bozrah Light & Power being added to the cooperative.

But they differed in their memories of what else was said.

After the Greenbrier trip, Gaudet said he was driving with Collard and DeMuzzio and they talked about the trip, how the Greenbrier event had a private jet, golf and horseback riding. 

"I said, 'We definitely need to purge this through the system before we hit the Derby coming up.' I said, 'This is a big deal.' And they looked at me and they said, 'well, it's your ball,'" Gaudet said. So on Nov. 9, they discussed the Greenbrier trip with the mayor, and said the next retreat would be the Kentucky Derby, he said.

"By the time we left that meeting, I was extremely comfortable that I had clear direction that I had to attend," Gaudet said.

Collard said the three started talking about the Derby retreat on the way to the monthly cooperative meeting and discussed it with the mayor on Nov. 9. He recalled they described Greenbrier as a strategic retreat and the next would be the Kentucky Derby. "We didn't go through details of what the Kentucky Derby (retreat) was or what it cost or whatever," Collard said.

Galbraith was probably as surprised as he was to see the cost in the newspaper, Collard said.

After the Nov. 9 meeting was over, "I said, 'Well, the mayor is in support of this so I don't have a problem to go the next time if I'm going to be able to go,'" Collard said.

DeMuzzio said both trips were discussed at the meeting and he assumed Galbraith was aware of activities at the cooperative like the retreats.

But Galbraith said they never mentioned the Kentucky Derby at the Nov. 9 meeting. If they used the word "retreat," it would not have raised a red flag for her, because retreats don't involve private jets, she said. She pointed out that others refute their testimony.

The only other person to attend the Nov. 9 meeting, executive assistant Damm, said a retreat was discussed at the meeting but she doesn't remember the words "Kentucky Derby" being used. She said DeMuzzio said something about Greenbrier, which she remembers only because she didn't know what it was and had to look it up.

Damm recalled that Gaudet mentioned that the next retreat would be coming up in May, that they felt they should go to try to mend relationships at the cooperative and that Galbraith agreed they should go.

The board meets next on Sept. 11 to discuss the testimony and its recommendations.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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