Corruption claims, transparency concerns and a divisive CEO at the helm of Orange County’s new community choice power authority might spur a leadership change before the agency even begins to supply homeowners with the clean energy it promised them.
Brian Probolsky, the agency’s CEO, has come under fire by residents and elected officials who have pointed out his lack of experience in the electric utility industry and have raised concerns of a lack of transparency surrounding the agency he runs.
Some board members of Orange County’s Power Authority (OCPA) have even considered firing Probolsky.
Facing criticism, questions about his qualifications and efforts to fire him, Probolsky released a whistleblower complaint alleging Huntington Beach Councilmen Dan Kalmick and Mike Posey, who previously served as the city’s representative on the board, were engaging in double dealing and corruption.
Board members held off on firing Probolsky at their meeting on June 29, choosing instead to continue an “independent, impartial investigation” into the CEO’s allegations.
Questions remain on whether an agency riddled with transparency concerns from residents and elected officials will release the results of that investigation to the public.
In a news release sent out after the decision, the agency 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.
It is also unclear when the closed door discussion will take place or when the investigation will conclude. Board members are expected to meet on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
“I want that answer as well,” said Kalmick in a Friday phone interview. “Since our last meeting, I’ve asked, but got no response, as to when that investigation will be complete. It should be, because it’s baseless. It should not take more than two weeks to wrap this up.”
Asked why it might, Kalmick guessed, “logistics,” or an “issue of capacity” because the agency’s legal counsel, Ryan Baron of Best Best & Krieger, is general counsel to several other joint powers authorities, including San Diego Community Power, Desert Community Energy and Butte Choice Energy Authority.
“I’m not defending anybody. This needs to get done,” Kalmick said.
Farrah Khan, Irvine’s representative and Mayor, claimed to have no knowledge when asked about a public release of the power authority’s findings and abruptly hung up the phone on Friday.
Asked again over text, Khan wrote, “I do not know yet.”
Fred Jung, Fullerton’s Power Authority representative and mayor, said in a phone interview Thursday that he is in support of releasing the findings of an investigation into the whistleblower complaint that alleges corruption on the board.
“When the independent investigation has concluded, I will be advocating for its public release,” he said, adding that he hopes the findings are released before the next meeting but that the investigation is a comprehensive one.
“I’d rather have a thorough investigation that dots all the I’s, crosses all the T’s, rather than something incomplete.”
Jung was one of four board members, including Kalmick, to call a special meeting in June to consider firing Probolsky.
Probolsky did not return a request for comment Friday.
Neither did Power Authority Board Members Mike Carroll, Don Wagner and Susan Sonne.
Elected officials and residents aren’t the only ones questioning the agency’s leadership and transparency.
A grand jury report released last 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.
Probolsky pushed back on the findings of that report through the agency public relations firm listing 13 instances where power authority staff alleged the grand jury improperly represented the agency’s work.
And at this point, all four Orange County member cities in the power agency have supported an audit into the power authority by Irvine – the city who spearheaded the agency’s creation and is its primary investor.
Fullerton City Council members were the latest to join in support of the audit at their meeting last week but did not issue a vote of no confidence in Probolsky.
Council member Ahmad Zahra expressed his disappointment and his concerns about the credibility of the agency at the meeting.
“We brought this forward with the city of Irvine. We joined them in good faith that this is going to be as it was painted a very positive and rosy thing and provide for our environment and options for our residents. Only for it to come to this point,” he said.
The city council members also directed the city manager to write a letter to the Orange County Power Authority stating their concerns about the agency and questions they have.
Zahra said the letter should demand accountability and transparency.
Other council members also spoke out against the power agency during the meeting.
“It’s kind of a created government disaster,” said Councilman Nick Dunlap. “I think we’re expecting this agency to do something that perhaps it is not capable of and that’s righting itself.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Jung said that the core value of what the agency is trying to achieve, which is to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, is still very important.
“I should hope that the proponents and the advocates of change recognize the value of the Orange County Power Authority and that regardless of all the negative short history of it, that there is a positive long term effect.”
“I would request that they be patient and be supportive.”
Noah Biesiada contributed to the reporting in this article.
Hosam Elattar 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 @ElattarHosam.
Brandon Pho 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 @photherecord.