Norwich utilities commission gives acting GM a raise, contract terms pending

Norwich — The utilities commission Wednesday approved a contract offer to Norwich Public Utilities acting General Manager Chris LaRose to lead the utility during an internal investigation into a federal indictment of current General Manager John Bilda.

The offer includes an 8.5 percent raise, which would bring LaRose's salary to $204,917, and a vehicle allowance.

Bilda was one of five Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials charged in federal indictments for conspiracy and three counts of theft from a program that receives federal funds for CMEEC’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years and to a luxury golf resort in West Virginia. He was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave by the Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners on Nov. 15 while the board conducts its investigation.

Assistant General Manager LaRose was named acting general manager at the same time, with terms to be negotiated.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday to make LaRose’s raise retroactive to Nov. 15 and provide a vehicle allowance of $750 per month.

Terms of the agreement still are being negotiated, including the expected duration of LaRose’s acting general manager position, NPU spokesman Chris Riley said, and should be completed by the end of the year.

“I feel very positive about the positive action by the board tonight,” LaRose said.

LaRose said he will continue to meet with NPU employees in small groups and will meet with community “stakeholders,” including the City Council and the Norwich Community Development Corp. He also has taken Bilda’s seat on the NCDC board of directors.

In one of his first actions, on Nov. 19, LaRose rescinded a unilateral promotion and raise Bilda had given to Division Manager Steve Sinko, a move that led to three labor union complaints against Bilda. The union withdrew the complaints with LaRose’s action.

LaRose said he has yet to meet with officials at the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative. The CMEEC board removed Bilda from the board on Nov. 9, when CMEEC placed indicted CEO Drew Rankin and Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor on unpaid leave while the co-op's board conducts its investigation into the indictments.

CMEEC is owned by six municipal utilities, including NPU, and the top managers of each member utility serve on the CMEEC board. LaRose has not assumed Bilda’s position on that board.

Along with Bilda, Rankin and Pryor, former CMEEC board members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton were indicted in the two-year FBI investigation into the Kentucky Derby trips and accompanying gifts and souvenirs to participants.

c.bessette@theday.com

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