Irvine is set to stay in the OC Power Authority – for now – after Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder announced she was killing plans to have the city council discuss leaving the controversial agency.
Her reversal comes after a power authority board meeting on Wednesday when agency leaders suggested making some major shifts to the power authority’s structure, opening the door to some of the reforms pushed by activists and county auditors for years.
After the agency’s board members shot down her request to hire special counsel to look at firing CEO Brian Probolsky, Treseder said she lost faith in the agency and thought Irvine should pull out.
“That has signaled to me the board is not prepared to make the necessary changes,” she said on Feb. 10 after the board’s special meeting. “I’m devastated by today’s decision.”
City leaders were originally set to discuss pulling out last Tuesday night, but delayed that discussion after Councilman Mike Carroll announced he had to leave the meeting early.
But after the power authority’s Wednesday board meeting, Treseder reversed course, announcing the city would no longer be discussing the issue.
“I’m no longer concerned about the direction of the agency,” Treseder said in a phone interview. “I can see that (the board) seems to have similar objectives in terms of renewing trust.”
Over the past two years, the agency has faced repeated questions over a lack of transparency, miscommunications with residents and poor contract oversight that saw the county government vote to pull out at the end of last year.
[Read: Cloudy Contracts, Audits and Lost County Support: A Rough Year For OC’s Green Power Agency]
Now, the agency’s leaders are talking about making some of the changes residents and clean energy advocates have asked for, but it remains unclear just how far they’re willing to go.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, board members announced they’d decided behind closed doors to begin looking for a new law firm after their previous chief legal counsel Ryan Baron resigned earlier this month.
[Read: OC Green Power Agency’s Top Lawyer Resigns Before Possibly Being Fired]
The board also rearranged its organizational chart so their legal counsel would report exclusively to the board and not the CEO.
Treseder said the decision to look at hiring new lawyers was one of the reasons she changed her mind, adding it was a “multi-step process,” to change the agency.
Fullerton Mayor and board chair Fred Jung also proposed creating board bylaws in the near future, which would establish new rules on the makeup of the board, the CEO’s position, board committees and a host of other issues.
One of the specific recommendations was to remove CEO Brian Probolsky as the board’s secretary and manager of records.
Typically in government agencies, the CEO or city manager are not responsible for handling records.
Board members also suggested potentially changing or removing rules regarding weighted voting, which can replace the board’s voting system with one that instead gives each member city a vote equal to how much power they purchase.
Under the current weighted voting system, Irvine makes up nearly 48% of the agency’s power usage, meaning the city’s board members could largely make decisions independent of the other cities.
Treseder brought up that the board needed to update the voting shares, since under their existing rules they’re updated once a year, but board member and Buena Park Councilman Jose Trinidad Castaneda criticized the decision and said it pushed out smaller cities.
“I do not feel the city of Buena Park has a voice,” Castaneda said. “We are routinely ignored and dismissed, and it embarasses us when you do things like this.”
While the board ultimately voted to continue with the weighted vote system for now, they agreed to discuss making amendments to the program at a later date.
The discussion on new bylaws is scheduled for the board’s April meeting.
But there have still been no public discussions over whether or not to replace Probolsky, which Treseder said was a requirement for her to vote to keep Irvine in the power agency.
When asked about it, she said that change was going to be a “multi-step process,” and that she felt they were now headed in the right direction.
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.
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