Keeping Taxpayers Informed
Plainville – Sen. Henri Martin (left, at head of table) and Rep. Bill Petit (at far right) talk with area taxpayers during their Nov. 20 “Coffee and Conversation” event at Bolo Bakery.
Martin and Petit, who are currently preparing for the 2019 session of the Connecticut General Assembly, said the regular question and answer sessions with taxpayers help make them better informed lawmakers.
Martin can be reached at 800-842-1421 and Petit can be reached at 800-842-1423.
(Please read and share the attached Norwich Bulletin editorial. Send me your comments at Heather.Somers@cga.ct.gov – include your name and town – thank you.)
Norwich Bulletin Editorial: CMEEC needs an overhaul
The fact the majority of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative’s board of directors chose to disregard the seriousness of the charges brought by the FBI against five of its current and former members is unforgivable.
This week, at its annual meeting, the CMEEC board voted to renew the terms of four individuals who attended the lavish Kentucky Derby trips across four years and to The Greenbrier, a White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., resort and failed to take action that permanently removes CEO Drew Rankin and Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor from their positions. Norwich’s delegation — Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Grace Jones and Vice-Chairman Stewart Peil — voted yes in two, 5-10 roll call votes.
Its actions affirm CMEEC is unwilling to understand its own culpability or empathize with the ratepayers it serves.
It, as State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, says, has lost its way.
Somers has called for a complete overhaul or elimination of CMEEC – a bold move that deserves serious consideration.
CMEEC – a creation of the state legislature – is a nonprofit owned by Norwich Public Utilities, Groton Utilities, Bozrah Light & Power, Jewett City Department of Public Utilities and two utilities in Norwalk. It was established in 1976 as a publicly directed joint action supply agency and manages power supply contracts, financing, acquisition, construction and operation of generating resources.
Somers is asking the Connecticut’s Energy and Technology Committee to take a closer look at the entire CMEEC statute to clarify its role and include much more transparency.
She’s asking the committee to draft legislation that would, among other things, institute oversight of the agency on “behalf of the ratepayers.”
Measures called for include:
• Making all CMEEC documents, including agreements and contracts, subject to the Freedom of Information Act, without redaction, once such agreements and contracts are executed;
• Requiring that CMEEC’s budget and rates be reviewed and approved by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority at least once every two years; and
• Making the state attorney general and state Office of Consumer Counsel parties to CMEEC rate cases.
We believe CMEEC’s administrative overhead should be reduced, leaving more revenue to flow to CMEEC member utilities and their downstream ratepayers.
CMEEC also should be directly regulated by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, like retail electric utilities Eversource and United Illuminating.
Beyond oversight, the state should explore the complete elimination of CMEEC.
During CMEEC’s meeting, South Norwalk Electric and Water General Manager and board member Paul Yatcko asked the board to reconsider its appointments in the wake of the indictments.
He said: “As a board we need to face the reality that we may need to move on without Drew Rankin and that we may have seen the last of him. Even if his acts are not judged to be criminal by the federal court, this board must consider his business judgment and his integrity as demonstrated by his conduct as well as what remains of his credibility…. Reappointing the current incumbents in my opinion is certainly not supportable. CMEEC and its members – all of us and our customers have been victimized by the conduct detailed in the indictments and the resulting crisis.”
It’s a shame that only Yatcko and a small minority of CMEEC officials came to this realization – clearly a sign CMEEC’s original mission is not being followed.
The state Department of Transportation has released a study on what highway tolls in Connecticut would look like. I have attached a copy of the study for anyone interested in reading it. The plan calls for tolls on all limited access highways in Connecticut. In brief, the idea is to toll motorists for the length of their commute, essentially a mileage tax. The tolls would be congestion priced, that is, the price would be higher during rush hour. The cost to residents will vary. Tolls along this model will cost CT residents who drive to work every day hundreds to thousands of dollars every year depending on the length of their commutes. The plan released by DOT estimates tolls would raise nearly a billion dollars in revenue yearly for the state.
Given the new make-up of the legislature, it seems tolls will be coming in some form to Connecticut. During the campaign, Governor-elect Lamont pledged to toll only out-of-state trucks, based on the model enacted in Rhode Island. However, this may not be legal, and the American Trucking Associations has filed a federal lawsuit against Rhode Island to stop it.
As the session approaches and progresses I will continue to update you on the progress of this and other issues.
Please listen to and share my recent interview with WTIC 1080’s Todd Feinberg.
We discuss the possibility of 82 tolls coming to CT and how much those tolls might cost CT drivers.
Send me your comments at Len.Suzio@cga.ct.gov – thank you.
(Please read and share the attached editorial and send me your comments at Heather.Somers@cga.ct.gov – thank you.)
Doesn’t CMEEC get it? It has to change
(The Day of New London Editorial)
Whether it was arrogance, a misguided attempt to do what they considered best for the beleaguered agency or a combination of both, the vote Thursday to reappoint officers tainted by scandal to the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative board was a mistake.
The board missed an opportunity to regain some semblance of public trust and instead returned to the same flawed thinking that it has followed since itsgross misuse of resources first surfaced.
Chief Executive Officer Drew Rankin played the role of the Pied Piper who connived with and convinced those with authority over him that it was somehow OK to expend money on the cooperative’s books to pay for high-cost trips to Kentucky Derby weekends from 2013 to 2016. The mentality also extended to trips to The Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia.
It must have been nice. At least until two years ago when, with preparation underway for a fifth trip to the Derby, the Norwich Bulletin and this newspaper broke the news of the annual excursions.
The public reacted as one might expect: with outrage.
Excuses that the funds used to pay for the Derby trips for CMEEC officers and friends, collectively totaling more than $1 million, did not come from the primary mission of the cooperative — purchasing power for its municipal utility members — but from a “margin fund,” stocked from other transactions, mollified no one.
At that point Rankin should have been fired. But how could the officers on the board do that?
They were accomplices. They had gone on the trips. They had approved them. To dismiss Rankin would be an acknowledgement that they, too, had acted wrongly and should step aside.
How bad was it?
A recent federal indictment alleges that James Sullivan, the former Norwich representative to CMEEC and former chairman of its board of directors, worked with Rankin to charge nearly $100,000 in personal expenses to CMEEC.
So Rankin remained for the past two years and the board changed little, even as ethics commissions in Groton and Norwich — host communities to Groton Utilities and Norwich Public Utilities — ruled these actions violated ethics rules. It took an act of the state legislature to add some degree of accountability and fiscal transparency.
But those federal indictments, the ones that ensnared Rankin and Sullivan when announced Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court in New Haven, are harder to shrug off than a wrist slap from a local ethics commission. Also indicted were CMEEC Chief Financial Officer Edward Pryor, Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda and former board member Edward DeMuzzio of Groton.
The five face charges of conspiracy, theft from a program receiving federal funds and aiding and abetting the theft from a program receiving federal funds. Rankin and Sullivan face a second indictment with similar charges.
Finally, after the indictments, Rankin and Pryor were placed on unpaid administrative leave. Bilda, already removed from the CMEEC board, was placed on paid administrative leaveThursday by the NPU commission. Both CMEEC and NPU seem to be moving cautiously to avoid contractual blowback.
But more change is needed.
CMEEC had an opportunity at its annual meeting Thursday to do just that. Paul Yatcko, general manager of CMEEC member South Norwalk Electric and Water, suggested a slate of officers who did not take part in any of the junkets, with him as chairman.
Misguidedly, the board voted 10-5 for the status quo. Among those re-elected were Chairman Kevin Sullivan, director of utilities for the Jewett City Department of Public Utilities; Vice Chairman Ron Gaudet, director of Groton Utilities and Bozrah Light & Power; and Secretary Louis Demicco of Jewett City. All three participated in the trips to various extents.
Perhaps these reappointments were turf protection for local utilities, but it comes across as a public relations disaster.
This decision should open the cooperative to further legislative action, including potentially bringing it under the jurisdiction of state regulators and the Office of the Attorney General.
Talk of dismantling CMEEC is premature.
It still can play a role in helping keep prices down for municipal utility consumers.
But the board is risking that result with its obstinacy.
Dealership donates van to Meriden vets group, addressing dire need
MERIDEN — The Antique Veterans of Meriden accepted the keys to a new 16 passenger van Friday, courtesy of a local dealership.
The Antique Veterans started as a group of local World War II veterans, but membership is open to all veterans.
They provide honor guards for military burials, having performed more than 1,650 burials to date, according to the city website. The group also participates in parades and other events.
Ed Lynch, event coordinator and van driver, said the group was in dire need of a new vehicle to take members and equipment to events and funerals.
“It’s got (bad) brakes, the transmission is gone, and every time it rains the water leaks down inside the windshield,” Lynch said of the previous van, a 1996 Dodge.
There were also problems with the heating and air conditioning and the van had begun to rust.
Lynch said he put the word out that the group was looking for a solution and was contacted by state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden.
“We started about two months ago, sending fliers out, letting people know,” Lynch said. “We sent one to (Suzio) and he set it up.”
Suzio said he visited the Antique Veterans after hearing about the need for a new vehicle.
He contacted Tod Moynihan at Meriden Hyundai, who has donated vehicles to community groups in the past.
“They talked about how bad the van was and said that it was breaking down,” Suzio said. “I said ‘let me reach out into the business community so we can find a dealer’ and I was thinking of Tod immediately.”
Moynihan said he went in search of a used van for the veterans and found a 16 passenger 2014 Ford E150.
“Len Suzio approached me and said there was a group of veterans that do funerals and charity work and their van was really on the outs,” Moynihan said. “When he came to me with this idea I thought ‘Boy, this is special.”’
I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of the 16th Senate district. It has been an honor to represent you for 8 years. After a difficult election season, it is a consolation that my friend Rob Sampson will be my replacement in the state Senate. The people of Southington, Cheshire, Prospect, Wolcott, and Waterbury are in good hands. Be on the lookout for another post around the New Year. In the meantime, have a happy Thanksgiving!
Please read and share the attached story and map which shows where 82 proposed tolls would be located throughout Connecticut.
Please read and share the attached story and map which shows where 82 proposed tolls would be located throughout Connecticut.
Send me your comments at George.Logan@cga.ct.gov – thank you.