Malloy signs CMEEC oversight bill into law

Starting Oct. 1, municipalities that are members of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative will have more say in the operations of the municipal utilities umbrella group, and state officials will get a more in-depth look into the agency's finances over the past five years.

On Friday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law a bill championed by state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, that calls for a five-year forensic audit of CMEEC's finances and allows member cities and towns to appoint members directly to the cooperative's board of directors.

CMEEC is owned by six member municipal electric utilities: Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, South Norwalk Electric & Water and Third Taxing District in Norwalk.

The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, was proposed after public outcry over CMEEC having hosted lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for top staff, board members and dozens of invited guests from 2013 to 2016. Collectively, the trips cost $1.02 million and were paid for using revenues in a CMEEC margin fund that otherwise would have gone to member utilities as rate-stabilization funds.

The new law calls for a five-year forensic audit into CMEEC's finances — a time period that would cover the years of the Kentucky Derby trips — with results to be reported to each member municipality and posted on the CMEEC website.

Going forward, all CMEEC strategic retreats — as the derby trips were called — must be held in Connecticut and must be approved in advance by the CMEEC board, with lists of attendees, agendas and any proposed entertainment or gifts. The derby trips were never voted on by the CMEEC or member utility boards.

The law gives member cities and towns direct involvement in CMEEC operations by allowing each governing body — city councils and boards of selectmen — to appoint a member to the CMEEC board. That person cannot be a municipal or utility employee or hold other official position in the municipality.

The law also requires CMEEC to post board agendas, minutes, motions and votes on its website and submit them to the city and town clerks' offices in member municipalities.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act complaint filed by The Day last fall, CMEEC agreed to post agendas and minutes regularly and has complied with the provision in recent months. But CMEEC operating budgets have not been released in detail and some financial reports have been heavily redacted, with CMEEC officials saying the blacked out details represented proprietary business information.

c.bessette@theday.com

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