Noting his decades of experience in consumer advocacy around the state, state leaders on Thursday introduced David Silverstone as the new consumer advocate for The Metropolitan District customers.
Silverstone, 71 of West Hartford, will begin the role officially on Jan. 1, but said he is planning to “hit the ground running” in the next two months by meeting with officials from the municipal water authority, known as MDC, as well as members of the grass-roots group, Save Our Water CT, who worked with local legislators to create his job.
In 2016, Bloomfield residents were caught off guard when MDC agreed to supply Niagara Bottling, a private water bottling company planning to build a plant in Bloomfield, with up to 1.8 million gallons of water a day and offer discounts. That sparked protests and the formation of Save Our Water CT which says it has over 3,000 members statewide. The group’s work spurred several MDC reform bills earlier this year, including the creation of the consumer advocate.
“This really came about as a result of and really started with grass-roots citizen action,” State Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz said at a press conference Thursday.
Silverstone’s career in consumer advocacy started in 1974 as the state’s first Connecticut consumer counsel — a position he held until 1977. He was the first consumer advocate for the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority from 1980 to 1989 and the president and CEO of the Regional Water Authority from 2001 to 2008. Silverstone will receive up to a $70,000 salary the first year on the job and up to $50,000 in years after that.
“I followed the story, obviously, of Save Our Water,” Silverstone said. “I followed the legislation as it was going through the process and looked at the final result and said this is something that I would like to do.”
Judy Allen, representing Save Our Water CT, said she thinks Silverstone will do a great job.
“I’m hoping that he can help be a conduit between the MDC and us, that he will have access to what a regular old customer won’t be able to get on their own, that he can represent our interests, like on the budget or any sort of planning that goes on,” Allen said. “Hopefully things like Niagara won’t happen because we’ll have someone there advocating.”
Part of Silverstone’s responsibilities will include hosting meetings between MDC and customers and answering questions about things like hookup charges or “peculiar problems” with bills, he said.
“I think a major thrust of the position, though, in addition to handling those complaints is taking a broader view and looking at the budget, deciding whether I think there’s other ways of doing stuff, whether I think that they might try something that might be assistance to consumers,” Silverstone said. “The goal is to have a strong, clear voice on a consistent basis on behalf of consumers.”
Silverstone said he is currently working out whether he will have an independent website, and is in the process of setting up a phone and email address to be exclusively used for the consumer advocate position. In the meantime, consumers are to reach out through the state Office of Consumer Counsel’s website — http://www.ct.gov/occ.