Wallingford had a few big news stories in 2013 ... and many little ones. The little stories may have taken a lot of space in this newspaper, but despite the number of words devoted to them, despite how sensational they were at the time, they remained little stories. They didn’t matter much in the long run. To be big, a story needs to be about something unusual. The reported occurrence must impact many people or involve a lot of money. And, the story must have reported an event that was a game-changer.
The biggest story in 2013 was about the Wallingford Electric Division (WED). Wallingford residents have had lower electricity rates because WED buys power wholesale from the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (CMEEC), a cooperative that purchases and re-sells power to about seven governmental entities in Connecticut. After months of investigation, however, and after a 20-year relationship with CMEEC, the Public Utilities Commission last year decided to seek competitive prices for wholesale power procurement services.
In response, CMEEC submitted proposals for three different levels of services, the most economical of which was an “agency model.” Another firm, Energy New England (ENE), also submitted an attractive proposal for an “agency model.” The PUC never publicly discussed how CMEEC’s proposed services and fees for the “agency model” stacked up against ENE’s. On May 14, 2013, the PUC nevertheless voted for a new, five-year arrangement with ENE, and it thereby decided to wind down its long relationship with CMEEC.
The rationale behind the change was that ENE’s brokerage fees would be less than the fees CMEEC had been charging. CMEEC, however, claims that in the future, ENE will charge more than what CMEEC would have charged. It claimed it knows this because it owns 20 percent of ENE. (ENE’s proposals are now a matter of public record.)
When confronted with this information, WED didn’t deny that CMEEC would have been cheaper, but it shifted its reasoning. It said ENE was more experienced. The PUC also recently revealed that it is bound by contracts with CMEEC that might allow the cooperative to charge WED administrative fees for years to come.
Now, Wallingford objects to the amounts. What’s the cause of this dispute? Were those contracts too loose? No one is talking publicly. The PUC hired a lawyer to fight these potential liabilities, which the PUC estimated at $8 million. The council authorized $255,00 to pay legal bills. If not settled amicably, the matter will be decided in arbitration.
Another big story was the municipal election on November 5. The fact that William W. Dickinson Jr. won again isn’t what made this story big, however. It’s big because of the transformative nature of the vote. Jason Zandri, the mayor’s opponent, waged a vigorous campaign, spending about $37,000. He had a good resume and excellent name recognition. He was well spoken and had broad knowledge of town affairs. Republicans and Democrats alike were stunned, therefore, by the mayor’s margin of victory: 64% to 36%.
Because of the mayor’s convincing victory, it is unlikely any Democrat with political savvy will challenge the mayor in 2015 or beyond. They’ve learned; and they will wait until he retires. If Zandri couldn’t win, they may figure no one can win. Not only did the mayor soundly defeat Zandri on November 5, councilor Nick Economopoulos lost his re-election bid, too. With both Zandri and Economopoulos off the council, it will be a different place for the next two years, at least. Council Democrats may emphasize bipartisan action rather than question conventional thinking or speaking truth to power. Additionally, the “reserve” of potential Democratic council candidates could become discouraged and dwindle, as a Democratic majority seems remote anytime soon. Part of that big story, therefore, is the future of the Democrats in Wallingford.
Have a happy New Year, everybody, and keep looking for stories that could be big in 2014 !
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”