The top lawyer for Orange County’s controversial green power agency abruptly submitted his resignation last night just days before board members were about to discuss firing him.
His resignation comes as Irvine City Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder threatened to pull the city out of the OC Power Authority unless its lead counsel, Ryan Baron, was replaced.
In a copy of the resignation letter obtained by Voice of OC, Baron said he was proud of his work over the last two years to launch the agency, but a series of “personal attacks” were driving him out of the position.
“The unprecedented personal attacks on myself have created a situation where the bright future of (Orange County Power Authority) as a leader in California has been put at risk,” Baron wrote. “Given the current situation, I believe that the Board will be better served with another individual in the role of general counsel.”
To read a copy of his resignation letter, click here.
The board was set to discuss firing Baron behind closed doors at a special meeting on Friday, which Jung said would now be a meeting discussing Baron’s replacement.
The idea of firing Baron has been circulating for months, but returned in force after Treseder said she would vote to pull the city out of the agency if both he and controversial CEO Brian Probolsky kept their jobs.
[Read: OC’s Embattled Green Power Agency Considers Firing Top Lawyer]
“I appreciate Mr. Baron is thinking about the good of OC Power Authority and its ratepayers. I agree with his decision,” Treseder said in a phone call with Voice of OC on Tuesday evening.
Irvine is the OC Power Authority’s largest member, with over 110,000 customer accounts receiving power through the new agency.
It remains unclear what’s going to happen with Probolsky, with no agendized discussion for his removal.
A letter from nearly two dozen community and environmental activists on Tuesday also called for Probolsky’s resignation and the firing of Best Best & Krieger, the firm Baron works for, before news of his resignation was made public.
“Time and again over the last two years, Probolsky, BBK, and the OCPA Board failed to deliver a trusted [community choice energy] program for Orange County,” the coalition wrote. “As fiduciaries of your respective municipalities, you have a strict duty to act at all times for the benefit and interest of the residents whom you represent.”
Last year, the OC Power Authority faced a series of scathing audits from multiple agencies. The authority was criticized for a lack of transparency and an opaque contracting process.
[Read: Cloudy Contracts, Audits and Lost County Support: A Rough Year For OC’s Green Power Agency]
While Baron is leaving, Best Best & Krieger will continue serving as the agency’s legal advisors for now, with Baron saying attorney Nicholaus Norvell would be taking over.
But it’s unclear how long that will last.
“I am concerned about keeping BB&K on even as interim counsel because Ryan Baron’s firm is BB&K,” Treseder said. “It’s hard for me to know how much of a change this would really make.”
The board is set to discuss who they want as a replacement at a special meeting on Friday.
Baron was heavily involved since the start of the agency, consulting with Irvine leaders who went on to found the power authority, and was hired as the agency’s first contractor to serve as their chief lawyer.
He currently works at a number of different programs like the power authority according to his resume submitted to the board, including San Diego Community Power. Baron also used to work at Western Community Energy, which went bankrupt in 2021.
According to BB&K’s contract, the agency can walk away at any time they want, and the lawyers have the same rights.
“You, of course, have the right to end our services at any time,” Baron wrote in a letter to the agency’s board when he was hired in 2020. “If you do so, you will be responsible for the payment of fees and costs accrued but not yet paid, plus reasonable fees and costs in transferring the case to you or your new counsel.”
To review the staff report from that meeting, click here.
The agency’s board of directors meet on Friday at 9 a.m. to discuss a search for their next general counsel and appoint an interim counsel in the meantime.
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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