Teflon William A. DiBella, chairman of a regional water and sewer agency and former state senator, sat and listened as several Metropolitan District Commissioners and two members of the public spoke Wednesday about how they think he should resign as a result of a jury verdict in a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit.
But in the end, nothing seemed to stick.
Members of the MDC voted 16 to 11 against a no-confidence vote and 17 to 10 against asking him to resign as chairman.
DiBella supporters said it was premature to even discuss such an action because the judge has yet to render an opinion and besides the commission has no authority to call for another commissioner’s resignation. But those calling for DiBella’s ouster said it’s a matter of right and wrong, and what DiBella did by broking a tainted investment deal was wrong.
“Doing what’s right doesn’t always mean you’re going to be rewarded,” Kevin Deneen, a Republican MDC member from Windsor said. Other Republicans like Jeff Wright of Newington said the MDC shouldn’t get caught up in the details of the lawsuit. “The bottomline is the jury has ruled and found Mr. DiBella liable on all counts,” he said.
The jury found last week that DiBella took a $374,500 finders fee from former State Treasurer Paul Silvester through a politically motivated investment of state pension funds in violation of securities laws. The judge has yet to rule.
DiBella said the easy way out would have been to settle the civil lawsuit and pay the fine, but “I strongly felt I did nothing wrong.” He asked the members of the MDC not to “rush to judgment,” and reminded them that: “If I thought I was damaging this organization I would step down.”
He said the worst part about the meeting Wednesday was that it was “truly politically motivated.”
As the MDC prepares to move forward with a $2 billion project to separate its storm drains from its sewers, Wright and other members of the MDC wondered if the public would continue to trust the agency with DiBella at the helm. He reminded commissioners that the Securities and Exchange Commission that brought the lawsuit against DiBella will have to sign off on the bonds for the project.
Susan Kniep, president of the Connecticut Federation of Taxpayers, who spoke during the public portion of the meeting said the MDC has a chance to prevent being labeled as an organization that supports corruption if it decides to go forward with the no-confidence vote. She said again the feds had to come in and clean up Connecticut’s “culture of corruption” and again, “the feds got their man.”
MDC Commissioner Bud Salemi of East Hartford, said at one point during the discussion that the motion against DiBella was beginning to “sound like an indictment of the whole MDC,” and the MDC is more than one man. He also said public confidence in the agency is good because the referendum on the first piece of bonding for the project was passed overwhelmingly by voters in the districts eight member municipalities.
But he neglected to say the agency would have been required to complete the project regardless of public approval based on a settlement agreement it reached with the Justice Department for violations of the Clean Water Act.
MDC Commissioner Alvin Taylor echoed Salemi’s remarks by saying “this place is not just Bill DiBella.” But anyone who has attended an MDC meeting will find DiBella, at least, has the most seniority with more than 30 years as a board member and commands the respect of almost all the MDC members and staff.
DiBella has “one of the best public policy minds I’ve ever seen,” Taylor said.
Regardless, MDC Commissioner Mark Pappa said “If this was a publicly traded company this conversation wouldn’t even happen because there’s no question Mr. DiBella would not be sitting here.”
The Hartford City Council appointed DiBella to represent it on the board and it looks like it’s the only entity that can remove him from the board.
Kevin Brookman, a Hartford resident who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting said DiBella shouldn’t even be appointed to the MDC because he doesn’t live in Hartford. He said the lawsuit, in addition to campaign contributions DiBella made over the years, list his home address as Old Saybrook. DiBella is registered to vote in Hartford where he owns property.