March 24, 2017

Bye Welcomes Committee Passage of Bill Requiring Independent Consumer Advocate For MDC

Consumers served by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) are one step closer to having an independent advocate who will increase transparency and accountability.

Today, the General Assembly’s Planning & Development Committee passed unanimously, and with bipartisan support, House Bill 6008, “An Act Establishing an Independent Consumer Advocate for Metropolitan District of Hartford County Consumers,” which was introduced by Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) and Representatives David Baram (D-Bloomfield) and Derek Slap (D-West Hartford).

The bill requires the MDC to pay for an independent consumer advocate who will be appointed by—and report to—Connecticut’s Consumer Counsel.

“There are other MDC reforms that we need, but this bill is an important step,” Sen. Bye said. “This bill creates the position of independent consumer advocate on the MDC board, someone with public utility law and policy expertise whose sole responsibility is to the consumer. Until now, that is something that has been lacking on the MDC, and now we’ll have somebody.”

Rep. Baram hailed the bill as a way to create transparency and to provide timely information.

“Too often MDC policies are decided without advance notice or public participation,” he said. “Many MDC board members are appointed by the legislature and governor without direct accountability to member towns. An independent consumer advocate cures that deficiency by being accountable to and serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the public only. This is a milestone accomplishment that gives a strong voice to the MDC district towns.”

“There’s no dispute that transparency and accountability must be improved at the MDC,” said Rep. Slap. “This independent consumer advocate will help ensure the public has a voice and that is essential for monitoring rates and safeguarding our water.”

Sen. Bye and Rep. Slap, who both serve on the P&D Committee, voted today to move the bill out of committee; Rep. Baram helped negotiate the proposed legislation. The bill was referred to the Planning and Development Committee for consideration.

The bill calls for an independent consumer advocate to provide the public information in a timely manner about policies, ordinances, agenda, motions and votes, hearings, and other substantive information dealing with water and sewer management and operations of the Metropolitan District Commission so that the public and municipal officials are aware of matters impacting their towns and fellow residents.

HB 6008 has the support of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters. Its Executive Director, Lori Brown, testified that, “Until now, MDC’s member towns have been inadequately informed and consulted on MDC matters that concern them. Major decisions affecting our state’s water resources controlled by MDC must include public involvement. Water planning and decisions about how it is used, sold, protected, and managed must be inclusive. MDC’s failings in the past to work with citizens about these decisions can be partly addressed by having a dedicated, independent consumer advocate in place to ensure accurate and responsive two-way communication between the MDC and the public it is mandated to serve. Passage of HB 6008 is an essential first step.”

Patricia OConnor, a member of Save Our Water and a West Hartford resident, was one of several citizen advocates who testified in favor of the bill, “An objective consumer advocate to keep member residents informed could go a long way toward restoring greater transparency and bridging the chasm of broken trust between the member towns and the MDC,” she said.