Nearly a year after its creation, the Orange County Power Authority is without an approved conflict of interest code as county supervisors repeatedly push debate on the issue back, while the proposed plan lets the CEO set some transparency rules.
But now, the agency will consider rewriting its entire conflict of interest code, adding half a dozen new positions that were never mentioned before and restricting some of the CEO’s power.
The main sticking point has been on what the agency’s consultants will have to disclose.
In the original plan, the CEO could pick and choose what each contractor is required to file on a case by case basis unilaterally without the board’s approval.
Under the proposed new plan, consultants working in power procurement, customer outreach, scheduling, and data and risk management will be required to file any sources of income from local property sales or other entities that service the power authority.
However, none of those consultants provide those services, meaning the disclosures from consultants could remain almost entirely unchanged.
So far, a large majority of the agency’s work product has come from consultants. The only staff members currently hired are CEO Brian Probolsky, COO Antonia Castro-Graham and legal counsel Ryan Baron, who is part time and works as a partner at Best Best & Krieger.
The conflict of interest code also introduced half a dozen new upper management positions in the agency, who will have to disclose all investments in businesses that provide services to the agency.
These changes will still have to pass through the OC Board of Supervisors, which signs off on all conflict of interest forms for the various agencies in Orange County.
The agency’s board of directors approved its original guidelines unanimously in February and sent them to county supervisors for a final sign off. That approval is generally a quick process, but the discussion of the power authority’s code has now been delayed three times by two different supervisors.
Despite the months-long delay, the agency’s staff didn’t inform board members about the issue.
Fullerton City Councilman Fred Jung, who serves as the city’s representative on the panel, said staff never told him about the problem, and learned of it when Voice of OC reporters asked for a comment.
“I’m certainly now curious to find out all the information about it. I was unaware it was delayed at all,” Jung said in a phone call with Voice of OC on Wednesday. “I had no idea, this is all news to me.”
Power authority board members Susan Sonne, Mike Posey, Mike Carroll and Farrah Khan did not return requests for comment.
The agency is a public utility that allows an option other than Edison for people to buy power from. Depending on how the utility chooses to purchase its power, it can offer more renewable energy to customers and potentially lower their electricity bill.
Currently, the cities of Irvine, Buena Park, Fullerton and Huntington Beach have all signed up for the agency, while other cities throughout the county are studying the issue and deciding whether or not to sign up.
Probolsky, the one who would ultimately control consultants’ disclosure requirements, has already come under the microscope as clean energy advocates questioned how he got hired with no background in electricity and multiple ethics investigations during his time working for the county government.
[Read: Orange County Power Authority Criticized For Lack Of Transparency]
Probolsky is not required to file disclosures under the agency’s own conflict of interest code, and is the only employee not listed.
That public scrutiny also appears to be turning some of the board against him, as Jung said he was open to replacing Probolsky if it restored public faith in the agency.
“I think the concerns the public has are legitimate, they will be addressed in a timely manner — and if that requires a change, then change will happen,” Jung said. “Their concerns are not falling on deaf ears.”
Jung also said there was a lack of applicants for the position and that, “when options are limited, your choices are as well.” He declined to state the number of applicants the board interviewed.
Supervisor Katrina Foley pulled the conflict of interest code from the board’s agenda before two different meetings, saying she wanted the agency’s staff present to explain why only the CEO and COO were subject to the disclosure rules but consultants would be on a case by case basis.
“They only had two individuals subject to the conflict of interest, so I wanted to understand better if they are going to have employees or consultants,” Foley said in a phone call with Voice of OC last month after the first delay. “More disclosure is always better.”
At the board’s last meeting, Supervisor Andrew Do pulled the item at the start of the meeting without explanation, pushing it back another two weeks.
The power agency meets next Tuesday at 10 a.m. If approved, it would then be sent onto the county supervisors’ and scheduled for a future meeting.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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