The second in command at Orange County’s new green energy agency has abruptly resigned after being overheard during a public meeting broadcast on Zoom in what seemed to be an intense exchange between her and the CEO.
The abrupt departure of Antonia Castro-Graham, the agency’s chief operating officer, comes at a critical time, just months before it switches customers from their traditional electric utility to a government program.
Castro-Graham, was one of the first employees hired to help run the county’s flagship green energy program late last year, with goals of launching a public electric utility for the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, Buena Park and unincorporated Orange County.
Officially named the Orange County Power Authority, the agency was set up following requests from environmental advocates and aims to give county residents a choice over where their electricity comes from.
However, it’s been marred by questions over a lack of transparency, cost-effectiveness and expertise since day one.
One city, Lake Forest, decided to pull out months ago and San Clemente opted to go with a different program in San Diego County.
Castro-Graham’s Friday resignation comes after a hot mic at an agency meeting picked up her sharing concerns over CEO Brian Probolsky’s behavior — who himself has been criticized for not having experience in the utilities field or a college degree.
Probolsky -who is paid a $239,000 salary by the green power authority- is currently attending Brandman College to obtain an undergraduate degree in business according to his LinkedIn page.
Despite those concerns, Probolsky enjoys full support from the power authority’s board, with the agency’s chair Irvine Councilmember Mike Carroll saying in past interviews that he’s a strong executive and his lack of academic training is outweighed by his experience in government.
Probolsky did not respond to requests for comment on Friday evening and board members aren’t talking about her resignation.
At the board’s Nov. 9 meeting, Castro-Graham stepped out of the chambers to call board clerk Shauna Clark in the hallway, who was administering the meeting remotely.
The board meeting video didn’t pick up any footage of the conversation between Probolsky or Clark, but Clark’s mic was still on and captured her end of the call — along with scattered comments from Castro-Graham.
“Brian’s totally flipping out,” Castro-Graham could be heard saying on the clip.
“You’re not going to get fired, he needs to talk to me,” Clark replied.
A moment later, Clark’s mic cut out, and the screen showed both Probolsky and Castro-Graham missing from the board meeting table.
Probolsky reentered a moment later while Castro-Graham spoke in the background on the phone, and was seated again by the time the camera showed the board room again.
The interaction didn’t go unnoticed.
During public comment, multiple OC residents took aim at Probolsky minutes later in the meeting over the interaction.
“It looked like Mr. Probolsky followed her out there and yelled at her? I don’t know, it was hard for me to read,” said Kathleen Treseder, an environmental advocate who was one of the power authority’s biggest proponents when Irvine officially launched it last year.
“I couldn’t see any pipeline for reporting conduct like this, and it also made me wonder what about current employees, do they have a way to report any potential misconduct?” Treseder asked power authority board members.
No one responded to Treseders’ question, and the clerk moved on to the next commenter. Speakers also brought up the incident at the board’s second November meeting to no avail.
Women for American Values and Ethics, an Orange County based progressive group, sent a letter to the agency’s board members asking for the incident to be investigated. Treseder also sits on WAVE’s advisory board as one of 19 members who signed the letter.
Probolsky has also come under intense criticism from Treseder and others asking how he got his job at the power authority despite no experience running an electric utility, pointing to questions in multiple investigations surrounding his work for county supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett.
Castro-Graham was widely known as one of the program’s biggest advocates years before it even launched, helping set up the working group of cities that would become the power authority in 2017 when she worked as assistant to the city manager in Huntington Beach.
She sent her resignation letter to the agency’s board of directors on Friday, where she mapped out her vision for the program that stretched back to 2017 and that she was leaving “with a heavy heart.”
When asked about her resignation, Castro-Graham referred reporters to her resignation letter.
“This has very much been my “baby,’” Castro-Graham wrote. “When I was offered this position, I was overjoyed as it was my dream job. Sadly, I can no longer work at a place where I am not respected, thus I have chosen to seek employment elsewhere.”
Steven Shepherd, an environmental advocate and member of the agency’s community advisory board, met Castro-Graham for the first time over four years ago and said it was shocking to hear she was leaving.
“I think she’s fabulous, knowledgeable, passionate about community choice energy but certainly about sustainability,” Shepherd said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “I’m kind of stunned. This is really a gut punch.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Castro-Graham as former assistant city manager of Huntington Beach when her position title was assistant to the city manager, in charge of managing energy and sustainability projects. We regret the error.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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