Norwich City Council rejects amendments to CMEEC ratepayer ordinance

Norwich – One month after the City Council approved an ordinance creating the state-mandated city ratepayer representative position on the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, the City Council Monday considered and rejected wholesale amendments, including a requirement that the appointee provide quarterly reports to the City Council.

Most of the changes proposed by freshman Democratic Alderman Samuel Browning were reworded sections of the ordinance approved Jan. 2, when the council named former Republican Board of Education member Rashid Haynes to the position. Aldermen voted 4-3 along party lines, with the four Republicans voting against Democrat Browning’s amendments after a public hearing Monday.

Republicans said the amendments were unnecessary so soon after the original ordinance was approved, and objected to the requirement of quarterly reports, saying the mayor and council can request a report, whether in writing or orally, at any time.

Browning’s amendment spelled out the requirement for quarterly reporting to the City Council, whereas the original ordinance did not specify reporting requirements. Browning’s amendment also limited a specific appointee to no more than five consecutive two-year terms, while the original language stated only that “the same person may be reappointed to additional terms.”

Browning also proposed eliminating a requirement that the ratepayer appointee be current on NPU bills. Browning said no other city appointment makes that requirement, including members of the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners.

Democratic Alderman Joseph DeLucia, who supported the ordinance changes, said he was looking for three things, that the appointee complete city ethics training, be qualified to review and act upon complex CMEEC issues and report periodically to the council. Democratic Alderwoman Stephanie Burnham said the changes amounted to improved transparency to the council and the public.

But Republican Alderwoman Stacy Gould also objected to several further amendments Browning proposed on the council floor, saying she wanted more time to review any such changes. Gould opposed the proposed term limits and wording changes that she said would call for appointees to be qualified only to review CMEEC managerial issues. She wanted any appointee to also “get up to speed” on financial and energy procurement issues handled by CMEEC as well.

Republican William Nash said the changes did little to improve the ordinance, and he too opposed term limits.

The ordinance governing the residential or commercial ratepayer appointee to CMEEC was created in response to a state law that took effect Oct. 1 strengthening state and local oversight of CMEEC in reaction to public outcry over the cooperative’s annual trips to the Kentucky Derby from 2013-2016. CMEEC paid a combined $1.02 million for the trips attended by dozens of CMEEC top staff, board members, their families and business associates and public officials from throughout the state.

The ratepayer representative receives the same per-meeting stipends paid to other CMEEC board members by the cooperative.

c.bessette@theday.com

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