Government Opinion

Op-Ed: MDC Reform is Worth Fighting for – Here’s Why

Screenshot from West Hartford Community Interactive recording of MDC meeting, April 10, 2023.

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor has issued a call for new leadership at the Metropolitan District Commission following an independent counsel’s investigation of recent actions involving the organization’s chair and other commissioners.

By Shari Cantor

On April 4, an independent counsel for the Metropolitan District Commission issued a damning report finding serious violations of the MDC Charter and Bylaws by two commissioners, including Chairman Bill DiBella. Among its findings of fact, the report detailed $85,000 of “suspect” legal invoices and raised serious questions about fraud and misuse of public funds. Even the CEO of the MDC, Scott Jellison, told investigators he was “shocked” by what he found out.

I too am shocked by the investigation report and the litany of political abuses that have followed. Here is why this report matters to you, and the steps I am taking as your mayor to demand accountability and restore trust at the MDC.

The MDC manages some of the most critical public infrastructure in our region.  It is a government sanctioned monopoly that provides drinking water and sanitary sewer services to hundreds of thousands of residents.  

The MDC does all of this using your money, relying on three primary sources of public revenue – a water customer service charge; an ad valorem tax assessed on municipalities for sewer services (a cost passed on to residents through the property tax); and a sewer customer service charge. The MDC also receives federal grants and subsidies, all paid for by taxpayers.

Despite the cynical claims of some leaders at the MDC, member municipalities and their residents do have a vested interest in good governance of the MDC. As the leader of a town that relies on the MDC to provide affordable, reliable, and clean water and sewer services, it’s my duty to make sure the MDC has ethical leadership and is acting as a good steward of public funds. 

This is why I am deeply disturbed that leaders of the MDC were uncooperative with the investigation, and by the recent efforts of the MDC Board to stonewall further action. The coverup culminated in a recent MDC meeting that was a disgraceful affront to democratic norms. In an audacious act of defiance, Chairman DiBella refused to recuse himself despite a clear conflict of interest, and the Board then buried the report and cut off all debate on the matter. The meeting was a stunning exercise of unrestrained power.

It really is time for Chairman DiBella to step down. It’s also time for the General Assembly to adopt some commonsense reforms, and I applaud members of the West Hartford legislative delegation for already introducing MDC reform legislation early this session. They have been true champions for the rights of MDC users.

Here are the reforms I would suggest:

  • Provide for the direct popular election of MDC commissioners. Commissioners need to be directly accountable to the public, not the politicians who appoint them.  
  • Make the MDC subject to the State Code of Ethics and give the Office of State Ethics jurisdiction over the MDC.
  • Stop hiding the cost of sewer services in the property tax. Require the MDC to notify every user how much they are paying for this critical service.
  • Provide for the recall and removal of commissioners who commit ethical violations.

In addition to these reforms, I wrote to the MDC Board earlier today to take immediate action on a crucial step that is within its power to do right now: Adopt a policy prohibiting anyone who has been found criminally or civilly liable for corrupt practices from serving as an officer or attorney for the MDC.  

Many of the problems at the MDC seem to stem from putting people with a checkered ethical history in positions of power and trust, and that needs to stop.

I am grateful to all the residents who have reached out to me asking what they can do.  Remember, this is still YOUR public water and sewer authority. As its constituents, you deserve a say in how its run. Contact members of the MDC Board and demand change. Contact legislators and ask them to support and strengthen the reform legislation pending in the General Assembly. The time for action is now.

Shari G. Cantor is the Mayor of West Hartford

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