Brian Probolsky is hanging onto his seat as CEO of Orange County’s green power agency as an outside investigator looks at the claims in his whistleblower complaint, despite some board members calling for his termination.
Some board members have been trying to call a meeting to discuss firing him for a month, including Huntington Beach Councilman Dan Kalmick and Buena Park City Councilwoman Susan Sonne, whose cities have both approved votes of no confidence in Probolsky’s work.
Their attempts to call a special meeting earlier this month were thwarted by the agency’s chief legal counsel Ryan Baron, who said Kalmick’s appointment to the board was handled improperly.
After they called for a meeting to discuss Probolsky’s employment, he released a whistleblower complaint alleging Kalmick and Huntington Beach Councilman Mike Posey, who previously served as the city’s representative on the board, were engaging in double dealing and corruption.
A grand jury report earlier this month backed up the board members seeking to remove Probolsky, which repeatedly questioned his expertise and said the agency displayed a troubling lack of transparency.
When the board finally met to discuss the issue on Wednesday morning, they spent an hour and a half behind closed doors before ultimately reporting no action.
In a news release sent out a few hours after the meeting ended, the agency announced it chose to “continue an independent, impartial investigation of whistleblower claims brought by OCPA’s CEO,” and said the investigation was being run by Jeffrey Wortman of the Seyfarth Shaw law firm.
“The Board takes the management and governance of OCPA seriously. After consultation with OCPA’s counsel, the Board made the critical decision to continue the investigation in compliance with its legal obligations and best practices,” Sonne said in the release.
The news release also confirmed that the findings would be discussed behind closed doors by the board, leaving it unclear if the public would ever see the results of the investigation.
Probolsky didn’t comment on the issue at the meeting and did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC.
Kalmick declined to comment on what happened in the closed session, and did not respond to further questions.
Sonne did not respond to requests for comment, but at a Buena Park City Council meeting on Tuesday night, she called for a vote of no confidence in both Probolsky and Baron.
“In order to represent the highest interest and well being of the residents of Buena Park, we need to send a strong message that the leadership and counsel for the agency must include significant industry experience and full transparency – as I have worked for since joining the OCPA as the Buena Park director,” Sonne said.
But Probolsky staying on opens up questions over whether every city in the agency will stay on.
Huntington Beach City councilmembers approved an official vote of no confidence in Probolsky earlier this month, and Buena Park councilmembers asked for city staff to bring a similar motion back to them at their next meeting.
Buena Park Councilman Connor Traut agreed with Sonne, who pinned many of the agency’s issues on Probolsky.
“I believe OCPA’s instability is largely to blame on its executive leadership and that the transparency issues and lack of experience from its executive leadership have helped lead to its current state,” Traut said.
Irvine mayor and board member Farrah Khan declined to comment, referring reporters to the board’s statement.
The agency also doesn’t have many other cities looking to join, with leaders from some cities saying they’re hesitant to jump in while Probolsky is onboard.
“I know there are other cities like us who’ve been looking for some time and naturally want to join Orange County Power Authority but are unable to because of the concerns we have with management with the organization,” said Laguna Beach Councilman George Weiss when he spoke during public comments at an Irvine City Council meeting this month about the agency.
Weiss said he was also concerned about Probolsky’s honesty.
“My own interactions with Brian Probolsky early on when he took this office were troubling,” he said. “I don’t feel we have a person here who can deal with people in a way that’s respectful and honest.”
Right now, San Clemente City councilmembers are looking at joining the Clean Energy Alliance, a similar program based in San Diego County, rather than join the OC Power Authority.
The interest in joining the power authority was low when the council originally discussed it in October of last year, with then Councilman, now Mayor, Gene James saying he had “no interest in going north and dealing with that Irvine crap.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.