Orange County’s new green power agency set to control electricity rates for over 700,000 county residents, moved last year to grant their CEO vastly expanded purchasing powers without board review, and this week the public got a look at some of the contractors he approved for the first time.
In January 2021, OC Power Authority board members granted the request of CEO Brian Probolsky for a $125,000 spending limit without board review for contracts on “goods and services,” according to a recently-released agency staff report.
That policy also notes that the public won’t see public contracts on regular agendas if the spending is less than $50,000. Probolsky also has the power to make changes to the written contracts at will without having to speak to the board under the policy.
Probolsky established at least five such contracts in just over the first half of 2021 according to OCPA records obtained by Voice of OC via the California Public Records Act.
His contracting powers came up for the first time in nearly a year on March 1, when the agency’s board of directors approved three, two-year contracts with a series of public relations and project management firms.
The contracts ranged in size from $120,000 to as much as $590,000, and was the first public discussion on the contracts since they were initially granted by the CEO in May of last year.
Three of the contracts created by Probolsky in 2021 were with Golden Communications, Zodiac Solutions and Reveille Inc., the contractors whose authority was just expanded by the board.
Their original three contracts were all for up to $50,000, but it’s unclear how much that money was spent. As of July 2021, Reveille was paid over $37,000 of their contract, while Zodiac was paid $12,325. Any payments to Golden were not included in the records released to Voice of OC.
The original contract with Golden also didn’t appear on any board agenda posted to the agency’s website before the contract was signed, despite starting in December of 2020 before the board granted Probolsky power to approve such contracts according to the agency’s records.
It’s unknown whether or not the contract was discussed during the agency’s December meeting because they were not recording their discussions at the time.
Probolsky’s record has come under public scrutiny from environmentalists and community advocates since he was first hired by the OC Power Authority in 2020, with many pointing to his lack of experience in the energy sector and previous experience as a political aide to county Republican leaders as reasons for concern.
Probolsky, who oversees a $34.5 million budget and receives a public salary of $239,000, does not currently have a college degree, though he is seeking a bachelor’s degree in business from Brandman University according to his LinkedIn page.
Questions on Probolsky’s conduct resurfaced when OC Power Authority Chief Operating Officer Antonia Castro-Graham resigned from the agency at the end of last year following a public spat with Probolsky during a board meeting.
“This has very much been my “baby,’” Castro-Graham wrote in her resignation letter. “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.”
The spending authorization handed to Probolsky won’t go toward power purchases but will offer the CEO the ability to spend on contracts and goods without a board vote or any public discussion.
The broad spending authorization plan can also be expanded to other senior members of the agency at Probolsky’s discretion, granting them the power to sign $50,000 contracts as long as he signs off on it, this week’s staff report stated.
Mike Carroll, chair of the authority’s board and vice chair Fred Jung did not respond to requests for comment on the policy from Voice of OC Monday afternoon.
Typically in public agencies, city councils and other boards cede the day to day management of the agency to a city manager or CEO, who’s given the power to approve low level contracts that fall within existing budget limits.
Most cities max out that authority around $50,000, though larger agencies typically have a cap of around $100,000.
By comparison, county CEO Frank Kim, who manages a $7.7 billion county budget according to the county’s 21-22 budget, has to go to the county board of supervisors for any cost that runs over $250,000 for commodities and $75,000 on sole-source contracts.
The power authority’s annual budget is $35.4 million, though the agency’s next budget is expected to be larger as the agency begins to provide power to customers in April 2022.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the move to expand Probolsky’s purchasing power took place at the March 1, 2022 meeting. Probolsky’s spending powers were attached near the end of an 84 page agenda report for that meeting with no timestamp or reference to the fact the issue had been approved or discussed by the board previously. We regret the error.
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