Norwich utilities commission could make acting general manager permanent this summer

Norwich — The city utilities commission will try to reach a contract agreement within a month with Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose to become the permanent new general manager of Norwich Public Utilities.

LaRose, a 21-year NPU employee, has been acting general manager since Nov. 15, when former General Manager John Bilda was placed on paid leave following his indictment, along with four other officials from the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, on public corruption charges. The board reached a separation agreement with Bilda in January.

Board Chairman Robert Staley said Tuesday that the board, after discussing the issue in executive session, authorized him to ask LaRose to provide “reasonable terms” for a potential contract as general manager. No details have been worked out thus far, including length of a contract, salary or other terms, Staley said.

“I am looking forward to continuing to do the job I’ve been doing for the past several months,” LaRose said Tuesday.

LaRose said he hopes to negotiate an agreement with the board within the next month. LaRose, 55, of Salem, started at NPU as a utility engineer in August 1997, was promoted to operations integrity manager and then to assistant general manager. When he was named acting general manager, the board offered him an 8.5 percent raise over his current salary of $188,864, but he declined the raise at the time.

“Right now, we’re very happy with Chris,” Staley said. “We’ve essentially had a six-month audition, and that’s not something you get even in a national search.”

During his brief tenure as acting general manager, LaRose oversaw an extensive ethics training program for all NPU staff, vendors and the board and rescinded a top-level new administration appointment Bilda had made prior to his departure that sparked three union protests claiming it was in violation of the union contract. LaRose also has worked with the board on its own moves to restructure.

"He has been very collaborative," Staley said.

Staley said the board wants to reach a “more balanced” contract with LaRose than it had with his predecessor.

Bilda’s original 2005 contract was widely considered to be one-sided in his favor. In 2014, the board even authorized then-Chairman James Sullivan — also indicted in the CMEEC scandal — to extend the contract without board review or approval. A five-year extension was signed in 2016.

Mayor Peter Nystrom on Tuesday applauded the effort to negotiate a contract with LaRose and praised him for the job he has done since November. Nystrom said the appointment makes sense and would save the “six figure” cost of hiring a search consultant.

“I would absolutely support that,” Nystrom said of appointing LaRose, “his several decades of service to the city, his performance over the past several months. If I had a vote, which I don’t, I would vote for that.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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