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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Groton, Bozrah utilities commissions want changes to halt future lavish CMEEC trips

    Public utilities commissions in Groton and Bozrah unanimously approved the same two resolutions Wednesday asking for detailed information on so-called “strategic retreats” hosted by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative and for more details about the source of funding for the lavish trips to the Kentucky Derby over the past four years.

    Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, who chairs both the Groton and Bozrah utilities commissions — Groton Utilities owns Bozrah Light & Power — said both commissions discussed the Kentucky Derby trips at their meetings Wednesday. At the Groton meeting, CMEEC Executive Director Drew Rankin addressed the commission to explain the trip, Galbraith said.

    Both commissions — composed of the same members — approved a resolution directing their CMEEC representatives to bring a resolution to the CMEEC governing board that would dictate that all CMEEC meetings, events and strategic retreats be held “in a manner and location which conveys fiscal responsibility and accountability,” Galbraith said.

    The Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners met Tuesday, and despite hearing comments and criticisms from angry residents and city officials, did not discuss the Derby trips or take action recommended by speakers to halt the practice.

    CMEEC has hosted lavish four-day trips to the Kentucky Derby since 2013, with costs escalating each year from the $145,776 CMEEC paid in 2013 to the $342,330 this year. CMEEC paid all but gambling expenses and personal souvenir purchases for all the trips, including providing jet transportation from Groton-New London Airport for the past two years. The trips featured only one group gathering, an awards dinner at an exclusive restaurant, with no workshops, presentations or conferences held.

    Groton Utilities commission member Ed DeMuzzio and Groton Utilities Director Ron Gaudet are the city's representatives on the CMEEC board. Commission member David Collard and Gaudet serve as Bozrah representatives on the CMEEC board. All three were among the 44 people who attended the 2016 Kentucky Derby trip, while Collard also went to the Derby in 2015 with 26 other invitees.

    The second resolution approved by the two utilities commissions Wednesday was twofold. Galbraith said the documents CMEEC has released to date on the trips “lack information.” The commissions are requesting an accounting of all expenditures for CMEEC events and retreats held from 2012 through the present, including all lists of attendees.

    In response to a Freedom of Information request by The Day, CMEEC released invitee lists for the 2015 and 2016 Kentucky Derby trips, but not for 2014 and 2013, which also were requested. Galbraith said the commission resolution Wednesday also seeks more information on the CMEEC Margin fund, which Rankin told The Day on Monday was used to pay for the trips.

    But nearly all sources of revenues from the fund and the entire bottom half of a one-page summary of the fund were blacked out before the document was released to The Day on Monday. Rankin said the information was redacted “for commercially sensitive reasons.”

    Galbraith said she understands why some information and business strategies would need to remain confidential, but the commissions will ask for information on the intended uses of the Margin fund and how those decisions are made. With that information, she said, the two commissions would be able to direct their representatives on how the fund could best be used to benefit the member utilities.

    Rankin said Monday that the CMEEC Margin, which is projected to total $5.57 million in the 2016 calendar year budget and totaled $5.85 million in 2015, consists of revenue from sales of electricity and services to nonmember entities. These include towns in Massachusetts and a management contract to run hydropower facilities for the Metropolitan District Commission, a Hartford-area water and sewer agency.

    CMEEC is owned by six municipally owned utilities in Connecticut, including Groton, Norwich Public Utilities, Jewett City Utilities and three entities in Norwalk.

    The only expense shown on the Margin summary was titled “Delegation Related Expenses,” which Rankin said is the money for the Kentucky Derby trip. Those withdrawals totaled $400,000 in 2016 and $350,000 in 2015.

    Rankin said all the rest of the money in the Margin fund is returned to the six member utilities for rate stabilization to help keep electric utility rates down. Municipal rates fall 10 to 20 percent lower than customer rates in investor-owned utility districts, Rankin said.

    “Nobody denies that CMEEC has done an excellent job providing for our utilities,” Galbraith said Wednesday. “My concern is, is there an appearance of impropriety, or an actual impropriety?”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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