Norwich utilities commission rescinds added perk in Bilda's contract

Norwich — The city utilities commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to rescind an amendment to suspended Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda’s contract, signed in November by board Chairwoman Grace Jones, that awarded Bilda an additional $18,500 in deferred compensation.

The contract amendment never was reviewed or approved by the full Board of Public Utilities Commissioners and was rescinded on the advice of the board’s attorney, NPU spokesman Chris Riley said late Tuesday.

Details of the amendment were unavailable late Tuesday, including whether Jones signed the contract before or after Bilda was indicted on federal corruption charges Nov. 8. He was placed on indefinite paid leave by the commission on Nov. 15.

The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners also solidified contract terms and the salary for NPU Acting General Manager Chris LaRose, at his request rescinding an 8.5 percent raise approved in November and removing him from the NPU labor union during his tenure as head of the utility. He will keep his current salary of $188,864 and will receive a $750 per month vehicle stipend instead of using an NPU vehicle.

During his tenure as acting general manager, LaRose will be “outside” of the labor union, Riley said, with a provision that he could return to the union “should he not be retained as general manager.” At NPU, only the general manager is not a member of a labor union.

LaRose was named acting general manager Nov. 15 after Bilda was placed on indefinite paid leave pending an internal investigation into a federal indictment of Bilda and four other Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative officials facing corruption charges.

LaRose also will take Bilda’s former seat on the CMEEC board of directors. The CMEEC board had removed Bilda Nov. 9, one day after the indictments were handed down in New Haven federal court.

Bilda, CMEEC CEO Drew Rankin, CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor and former CMEEC board members James Sullivan of Norwich and Edward DeMuzzio of Groton were indicted on charges of conspiracy and theft from a program that received federal funds. The indictments stem from CMEEC’s hosting of lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby for four years for top cooperative staff, board members, their spouses and other family members and dozens of invited guests.

The trips cost well over $1 million, and CMEEC also hosted trips for staff, board members and spouses to a luxury golf resort in West Virginia and paid for souvenirs for participants.

Rankin and Pryor were placed on unpaid leave by CMEEC pending an internal investigation by the cooperative’s board of directors.

c.bessette@theday.com

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