CMEEC names Milwaukee energy consultant as new CEO

Norwich — A Milwaukee energy consultant, former executive for a North Carolina energy cooperative and attorney specializing in energy was named Wednesday as the new chief executive officer at the regional energy cooperative at the center of a scandal involving lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby that led to federal corruption charges levied against five former officials.

David Meisinger, 50, an energy industry consultant now living in Milwaukee, is expected to take over as CEO at the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative on Jan. 6. His starting salary will be $315,000, CMEEC board Chairman Kenneth Sullivan said Wednesday.

Meisinger was selected after the CMEEC board of directors conducted a national search for the position following the May firing of former CEO Drew Rankin, who had planned the Kentucky Derby trips. Rankin and four other CMEEC officials were indicted on federal charges Nov. 8, 2018.

Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Meisinger said he is excited to take on the top position at CMEEC. He said he has read news clippings of the Kentucky Derby controversy but wants to focus on moving the nonprofit energy cooperative forward.

"I'm excited to get started, and I look forward to partnering with CMEEC employees, board member and stakeholders generally, and to continue to deliver on CMEEC's core purpose," Meisinger said.

Meisinger grew up in Rhinelander, Wis., and earned a bachelor's degree in economics at the University of Minnesota and a law degree at the University of Wisconsin. He was a private practicing attorney specializing in energy and utilities issues from 1997 to 2014, when he became vice president of power supply and regulatory affairs at EnergyUnited Electric Membership Corp., which describes itself as North Carolina's largest nonprofit utility cooperative.

Meisinger said that position was phased out in July 2018, when he started doing independent energy consulting. He currently is working on a liquified natural gas project in the Boston area.

He and his wife, Kathleen, have two grown children, ages 23 and 25.

Meisinger said he was not familiar with CMEEC before finding the open CEO position and contacting the search firm. But he said the Norwich-based nonprofit wholesale electric energy provider is similar to the North Carolina cooperative. EnergyUnited, however, was a retail energy provider, while CMEEC sells wholesale power to its member utilities.

Meisinger said he plans to come to Norwich next week to start preliminary meetings with CMEEC staff and board members. In January, he will work with the board of directors and staff on an initial action plan, which will include meetings with member utilities and municipal leaders.

In his LinkedIn profile, Meisinger described himself as “experienced executive and legal professional with two decades of demonstrated success in the Energy & Utilities industries. Skilled in Legal Services, Regulatory Affairs, Leadership, Management and Strategy.”

At the Nov. 21 CMEEC board annual meeting, the board authorized offering a contract to the selected finalist without naming him. Sullivan said he received the signed contract from Meisinger on Wednesday. Also at the annual meeting, the board elected new officers, none of whom attended any of the controversial trips to the Kentucky Derby or a luxury West Virginia golf resort also cited in the federal indictments.

In Wednesday’s news release, new board Chairman Kevin Barber, general manager of the Third Taxing District of Norwalk, said the hiring of Meisinger, selection of new board leaders and governance and operational changes made at CMEEC will allow the nonprofit cooperative to move forward past the controversy.

Barber said CMEEC will continue its mission “to provide its members and their ratepayers with reliable, low-cost electric service.” CMEEC is owned by six municipal utilities: Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities and the Third Taxing District and South Norwalk Electric and Water, both of Norwalk.

Barber also thanked interim CEO Mike Lane, who will return as CMEEC’s chief financial officer on Meisinger’s arrival. Barber said Lane “kept a steady hand on CMEEC during the previous year and who helped rebuild the brand and regain the trust of the communities and ratepayers CMEEC serves.”

Along with Barber, new CMEEC board officers starting in January will be Groton Utilities commission member Jeffrey Godley as vice chairman, Groton municipal representative and former town manager Mark Oefinger as secretary, and NPU General Manager Christopher LaRose as treasurer.

CMEEC had hosted the Derby trips from 2013 through 2016 for dozens of top staff, board members their families and invited guests. Described as strategic retreats, the trips had no cooperative business agendas or presentations. The trips collectively cost more than $1.2 million, including deposits made for a scrapped 2017 Derby trip. CMEEC’s independent investigation into Rankin’s actions as CEO also revealed local lavish spending on golf outings, office furnishings and meals.

After the Kentucky Derby controversy became public in fall of 2016, the state legislature enacted changes to the state law that created CMEEC, adding municipal ratepayer representatives to the board, creating a state ratepayer advocate position and dictating that all board retreats be held in-state and have business agendas.

CMEEC made similar changes to its bylaws to limit strategic retreats and adopted numerous recommendations made by a special committee that had overseen the investigation of Rankin and CMEEC’s governance and operations.

c.bessette@theday.com

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