Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reality and Perceptions of Reality

It's been ten days or so since The Bulletin offered a front page above the fold story "Bilda, Hinchey went on $340,000 trip to Kentucky Derby" that sparked a lot of words and may yet precipitate something even louder, action.

The story by Ryan Blessing outlined how (two) commissioners of the Norwich Public Utilities as well General Manager John Bilda, and Norwich Mayor Deb Hinchey along with three dozen other folks spent a luxurious weekend at May's Kentucky Derby (for over $340,000), participating in a retreat paid for, by neither taxpayers nor ratepayers of the utility, but rather by the nonprofit energy company that includes NPU as a member.

The eighteen online comments (when I looked Saturday) offered by readers were, as is almost always the case, nearly as revelatory about the posters as they were reactions to the story itself (including five from the same poster).

My favorite one had the folks in the story holding their retreat right here in Norwich, with what sounded like some good times at great savings (I already own bowling shoes and could have been sparkling company for one and all. Or not.).

One of the things I enjoy about living in a small town like Norwich is when I don't know what I'm doing there are plenty of other residents who do. However, in this case, it seems NOT a lot of other people had any knowledge of the trip, before, during or afterward, and, let's face it, as they say in the advertising game, in reading the accounts in the paper 'the optics on this aren't good.'

About a decade ago, I was fortunate to work with very dedicated Norwich residents, among them then-alderman Larry Goldman, who created our town's code of ethics.

I, for one, could not agree more with his concern about appearances offered as a member of the Board of Public Utilities Commission, in a follow-up story a couple of days later followed Sunday with yet another story, this time a conversation with the former chairman of the city's ethics commission, Rabbi Charles Arian, expressing astonishment that Mayor Hinchey didn't ask the commission for an advisory opinion before going on the trip.

The Bulletin's editorial last Tuesday "Luxurious Trip Doesn't Help Ratepayers" got right to the heart of the matter wondering how the money spent on the retreat "might otherwise have been used." Each reader, I suspect, had more than a few suggestions.

In this situation, a cynic might throw up his hands and say "rules are for people who don't know better" but then how could I finish typing this column?

Sometimes the things we do often speak so loudly I can’t hear what we’re saying. Often in reacting to behavior by those in the public eye, silence is seen as the best course and recourse but I hope in this case no one makes the mistake of perceiving silence as approval or agreement. We need to fully understand no one can ever treat a public trust like a private trough.
-bill kenny

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