State FOI Commission rules NPU General Manager John Bilda's notes are public

Hartford — The Freedom of Information Commission voted 3-0 Wednesday that three pages of notes taken by Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda in the investigation of a 2015 sexual harassment complaint against then-utilities commission Chairman James Sullivan should be released, as requested by The Day.

NPU settled the complaint and paid the employee a $35,000 settlement using utility funds in May 2016.

The commission affirmed Hearing Officer Lisa Siegel’s proposed final decision that three of the four pages of notes taken by Bilda do not meet the attorney-client privilege exemption in the state Freedom of Information law. The commission took the vote following a 25-minute recess in Wednesday’s commission meeting to review the three pages of notes Bilda had made in his review of the complaint filed to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities by an NPU employee.

NPU attorney Sarah Gruber said following the meeting that NPU has not yet decided whether to appeal the commission ruling to court.

During the discussion, Gruber argued that the notes were taken by Bilda at the direction of the utility’s attorney for the means of providing advice to Bilda in the legal review of the complaint. She said the notes were “inexplicably connected” to that advice, and releasing them would have a “chilling” effect on attorney-client discussions, forcing everything to be done verbally.

But Siegel and the commission ruled that the first three pages of notes describe the alleged sexual harassment incident. The fourth page was ruled confidential under the attorney-client privilege exemption.

The Day filed an FOI complaint in September 2017 that resulted in the release of a four-page settlement that included a $35,000 payment by NPU to an employee who had filed a sexual harassment complaint in September 2015 to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against Sullivan. The name and position of the NPU employee was redacted from the settlement released.

The Day’s FOI complaint included a request for the NPU investigation report into the allegations that led to the negotiated settlement. NPU officials initially testified that there was no internal investigation report but following the hearing revealed the discovery of Bilda’s notes.

The Day filed a subsequent complaint seeking release of the notes as the apparent sole written record of the internal investigation that led to the settlement payment.

c.bessette@theday.com

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