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    Thursday, November 30, 2023

    Norwich utilities commission reappoints board leaders despite ethics violations

    Norwich — The city utilities commission bucked recommendations from the city Ethics Commission and reappointed Chairwoman Dee Boisclair and Vice Chairman Robert Groner to their board leadership positions despite public outcry that followed news of their participation in a controversial lavish trip to the Kentucky Derby last spring, hosted by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative.

    The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners voted 4-1 to reappoint Boisclair as chairman — Boisclair voted in favor — and 3-1 to reappoint Groner as vice chairman, with only Republican member Steve Becker voting against the appointments. Groner voted for Boisclair but recused himself from voting on his own position.

    Boisclair, Groner, NPU General Manager John Bilda and NPU Division Manager Steve Sinko, along with Mayor Deberey Hinchey, were among the 44 participants in the 2016 Kentucky Derby trip paid for by CMEEC.

    Utilities commission member Grace Jones nominated Boisclair and Groner for their officer reappointments Tuesday, saying it was important to retain veteran leadership on the commission. Jones also said the utilities commission has not yet deliberated on the Ethics Commission report and its recommendations.

    The Ethics Commission submitted its report with the City Council on March 6, which forwarded it to the utilities commission the next day. The Ethics Commission also recommended that Boisclair and Groner not be reappointed to their utility commission leadership positions and that they reimburse the city for 25 percent of the monetary value of the trip for themselves and their spouses. The report also said they should be replaced as the utility's representatives on the CMEEC board of directors.

    The utilities commission did not discuss the ethics report Tuesday.

    New commission member Stuart Peil — appointed to the utilities commission last week by the City Council to replace Democrat Larry Goldman, a critic of NPU management and the Kentucky Derby trips — voted in favor of the two officer appointments.

    The appointments were made at the start of Tuesday's meeting prior to public comment, and drew immediate fire from speakers following the vote. Resident Linda Bertelson said the commission is doing “a very poor job” of assuring the public that it took the ethics violations seriously and would make changes. Bertelson said Boisclair and Groner should step down entirely from the utilities commission.

    “You can no longer be trusted to serve in the best interest of the city of Norwich and the ratepayers of this utility,” Bertelson said.

    Bertelson also said the trip participants all should have to pay full reimbursement for the value of the trip.

    “You obviously don't care what we think,” said Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick, who said she was speaking as a ratepayer. “You have slapped us in the face once again. ... You have betrayed the public trust.”

    “I have to pinch myself to believe this is not a dream,” said Alderman Gerald Martin, who served on the committee that wrote the city ethics code.

    “You took other people's money and went on vacation,” Martin later said.

    The Ethics Commission ruled on Feb. 13 that the four NPU officials, along with Mayor Hinchey, violated the city ethics code for attending the May trip, described by CMEEC as a board strategic retreat but with no business meetings, workshops or presentations.

    The Ethics Commission recommended that Bilda and Sinko reimburse the city for full value of the trip, for themselves and their spouses, minus the $50 allowed gift limit in the city ethics ordinance, for a total of $15,510 each. The commission recommended Boisclair and Groner pay 25 percent of the value of the trip for themselves and their spouses, also minus the $50, calculated at $3,877.62, and that Hinchey pay 25 percent minus $50 of the value of her trip, $1,945. The Ethics Commission used 25 percent, because NPU owns about 25 percent of CMEEC and that amount was deemed the city's share of the revenues used.

    Hinchey paid that amount to the city's general fund on March 15.

    The City Council is expected to discuss the Ethics Commission reimbursement recommendations and other aspects of the Ethics Commission report at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday.


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