Norwich Public Utilities board should suspend Bilda without pay
The commissioners of the Norwich Public Utilities have given John Bilda, general manager, a leave of absence with pay. A nice vacation for someone under investigation for theft by taking and using public money.
I speak for the community when I say we are disappointed and saddened. Do the NPU commissioners know something we don't know? The Norwich Bulletin and The Day newspapers have covered this mess for at least two years and now the FBI tells us there is a basis and probable cause for charging him with serious crimes.
All accused people are entitled to the presumption of innocence; however, no one is throwing Bilda into jail, yet.
Bilda has revealed who he is. He has created a presumption of not being trustworthy. The board could have suspended Bilda without pay, which would be consistent with the poorly drafted contract.
The board now says they should have an internal investigation. Where have they been for the past two years? They have done nothing. The public has lost confidence in their elected and appointed representatives.
It has been said by Bilda and others, like suspended Connecticut Municipal Election Energy Cooperative CEO Drew Rankin and members of the Department of Public Utilities Board, that these pilfered monies were not city funds. Let us put that technicality aside for now. Let us see what the indictments result in and whether or not it makes any difference whether it was CMEEC's money or the city's.
Regardless, it makes no difference in determining whether John Bilda should stay as general manager and receive any benefits from his contract or pension. We were told by counsel at the ethics hearing that the mess was like a hot dog roast and nothing more. That is garbage, and yet CMEEC paid his fees. Approximately $400,000 in legal fees have been squandered. Commissioners were expected to do more.
Bilda, unfortunately for himself and the community he was supposed to serve, was right in the middle of this rip-off. He has soiled his reputation as a good engineer and has taken advantage of his neighbors.
When one sees something wrong one should speak out.
Mr. Bilda, you did nothing but joined in as a taker. Commissioners, if you had suspended him without pay, then I believe you would have been justified. One does not have to be lawyer to come to that conclusion.
I urge the NPU and the member towns to bring a lawsuit, attach property and give a message to others who would pilfer public funds.
If Bilda needs an arbitration hearing before he is fired, then let it be done now, but hire a law professor who does not charge exorbitant legal fees for phone calls.
Martin M. Rutchik is an attorney with a long-time practice in Norwich.
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