City leaders at the head of Orange County’s green power agency are moving to oust their controversial CEO, Brian Probolsky – a politically-connected power broker – just as he’s filed a whistleblower legal complaint alleging board members themselves are double-dealing to take over the agency.
The chaos is just the latest dramatic development at the agency since Probolsky took over in 2020 with residents, city council members and climate activists pointing out his lack of any experience in the industry as the head of an electric utility or even a college degree.
Officially called the Orange County Power Authority, the idea behind the initiative is one championed by climate activists across the state attempting to set up local utilities that can generate power in sustainable ways.
Yet the agency has faced transparency and accountability issues since its inception.
Board member Dan Kalmick, also a Huntington Beach city councilman, said one of the key issues behind the move to discuss firing Probolsky is community trust.
“Residents and businesses don’t know who we are and other elected officials aren’t interested in doing business with us,” Kalmick said in a phone interview. “We tend to operate as a rather opaque organization.”
Questions surrounding the CEO have only continued to mount following the abrupt resignation of chief operating officer Antonia Castro-Graham last December, a price hike with the agency’s rollout after it was promised it would be cheaper than Southern California Edison, and most recently the California Public Utilities Commission fining the agency $1.9 million for failing to purchase additional electricity required by the state known as resource adequacy.
[Read: OC Clean Power Agency’s First Year Sees an Executive Resignation, Transparency Concerns]
While the board ordinarily wouldn’t meet until June 29, board members Kalmick, Farrah Khan, Susan Sonne and Fred Jung called a special meeting for next week to discuss Probolsky’s “potential dismissal/release.”
On Wednesday afternoon after this article was published, the board announced they would be meeting tomorrow behind closed doors to discuss “potential litigation,” but it’s unclear whether or not it’s related to Probolsky.
Kalmick said that he got told about the meeting earlier this afternoon with no explanation on who called the meeting or the topic, and all his calls to the agency’s legal counsel Ryan Baron had gone unreturned.
Power authority dealings are also getting a closer public look in the wake of an FBI probe that triggered the resignation of Irvine Mayor Khan’s political consultant, Melahat Rafiei.
[Read: Irvine Mayor Distances Herself From Former Top Democratic Party Official Involved in FBI Probe]
Just last week, Kathleen Treseder, an Irvine city council candidate and one of the leading activists who helped start the agency, wrote a widely circulated private letter alleging that Rafiei told her the agency was run by a group of political brokers including Probolsky and Khan, who Treseder says was promised political favors if Probolsky was kept as CEO.
“The public has a right to know. I am concerned about the safety of OCPA’s customers if the people in charge of their power supply are not prioritizing customers,” Treseder said in a text to Voice of OC.
Khan categorically denies all of Treseder’s claims, saying they didn’t make sense and that it was “kind of ridiculous,” that she would need favors from Probolsky.
“It seems like every time we try to make some progress with OCPA (Treseder) comes in and tries to throw a wrench in it,” Khan said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “There is no cabal…these are pretty outlandish statements she’s coming out with.”
Rafiei’s spokesperson Ann Solomon declined to comment on the letter.
After announcing a meeting to address the issue would be next Tuesday, Sonne and Kalmick said that date will have to be rescheduled so the entire board can attend. A date had not been chosen as of Wednesday morning.
But on the heels of Kalmick calling that special meeting, Probolsky filed a whistleblower complaint against Kalmick and former board member and current Huntington Beach Councilman Mike Posey.
In a letter from his lawyer Megan Lencek, Probolsky is asking for whistleblower protections and alleging that Kalmick and Posey violated the Brown Act and conflict of interest laws to lead a coup against him.
Probolsky pointed to the recent appointment of Kalmick to the board, and says that because the Huntington Beach City Council originally agendized plans to reappoint Posey, the council broke the law by putting Kalmick in instead.
To read the letter, click here.
Probolsky also claimed that Posey met with fellow board member and county Supervisor Don Wagner, a “former vendor of the OCPA” and Paul Simonds, an associate with the lobbying firm Curt Pringle & Associates, where Posey said he wanted to become the agency’s “Chief Business Officer” – a position that doesn’t currently exist.
“Posey and Kalmick’s attempt to subvert the state’s open meeting laws is part of an attempt to not only self-deal in violation of their fiduciary duties, but also to create an oral employment contract for a non-existent position,” Lencek, Probolsky’s lawyer, wrote.
Lencek claims they learned about the plan after Sonne called Tiffany Law, the agency’s Chief Financial Officer on Sunday, and told her what was happening.
“Sonne outlined that ‘there will be a special meeting, there are votes to fire Brian, bring in management from Marin, and hire new Executives,’” Lencek wrote. “The cover of Brian’s lack of experience is nothing more than a cover story for Posey, Kalmick, and Sonne to attempt to carry out their conspiracy to take control of the organization.”
Posey did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC.
Voice of OC reached out to Wagner for comment on Tuesday afternoon, but he said he never received a message and contacted reporters after the article was published saying he had no comment on the issue.
Probolsky did not return requests for comment.
While it hasn’t started providing power to homeowners yet, the OC Power Authority started providing power to businesses throughout the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park earlier this year, with the goal of offering more renewable power to residents at a slight markup from Edison.
Kalmick was just appointed to the board two weeks ago after Posey stepped down.
Posey said his term on the city council was nearing its end and he wanted to give someone else a chance to get familiar with the role.
Kalmick said he wants to discuss making a change because of the “perception problem,” that faces the agency, and called Probolsky’s claim “categorically false.”
“The notion that I would create a conspiracy to trade for a seat on the Power Authority Board is absurd,” Kalmick said in a Tuesday text message. “My Council appointed me to the seat because they know I’m passionate about power policy and want to see good governance.”
Kalmick said he’s had a hard time getting information about how the agency is running, despite his role as a board member.
“I can speak for myself but I don’t think I have proper visibility into everything that’s going on in the organization,” Kalmick said in a Tuesday phone interview. “When I asked some questions of other board members about certain things coming down the line they had no idea it was a thing and the rest of the community choice energy community are working very hard on these things.”
When asked if he felt Probolsky was responsible for those issues, Kalmick said “as the quarterback, yes.”
While no official conversations have taken place, Kalmick said that he spoke with representatives at other community choice energy programs including Marin Clean Energy about coming to help out if they choose to fire Probolsky.
“If the board were to do something we won’t be stuck and have to scramble,” Kalmick said.
Kalmick said he reached out to Mike Carroll, chair of the board and an Irvine City Councilman, about scheduling the special meeting last Thursday, but after not getting any response he instead got a board majority to schedule the special meeting.
Carroll did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Sonne, another board member, said she was responding to the questions from activists and residents about Probolsky’s work.
“I’ve never stopped wanting to improve that and I’m happy we’re going to sit down and talk about the best way to go about ensuring its being managed in a transparent way that makes our customers, our residents, our constituents, feel comfortable,” Sonne said.
When asked about the conversation between Law and herself where Probolsky alleges Sonne said there were votes to fire him, she declined to comment.
Khan declined to comment on Probolsky’s performance ahead of the closed session, but said that if a majority of the board wanted to discuss it she was onboard.
Jung, who also serves as Fullerton’s mayor in addition to his role on the board, declined to go into specifics because it was an employment matter, but said he supported “transparency and good governance.”
“There is an employee or two or three that may be at issue here and they should be afforded due process,” Jung said in a Tuesday phone interview. “We owe the employee or employees that concerted due process to have it in closed session.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story used the word public to describe a widely circulated private letter by Kathleen Treseder raising questions about OCPA. Treseder did not publish the letter, but it was privately shared with multiple people.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Start each day informed with our free email newsletter.
And since you’ve made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, with no paywalls and no popups. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But this work not free. It depends on donors like you.
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.