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Whistleblower complaint by embattled O.C. Power Authority executive to be investigated

Orange County's only clean energy provider has become the site of a bitter power struggle over who should lead it.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Following the release of a grand jury report critical of the Orange County Power Authority’s executive leadership, Brian Probolsky remains the chief executive officer of the community choice energy program.

Authority board member Susan Sonne requested a closed session review of Probolsky’s future with the agency, as well as that of OCPA general counsel Ryan Baron, during a June 29 board meeting.

No reportable action came at the end of it; Probolsky and Baron both stayed on for the rest of the meeting.

Afterward, a public relations firm released a statement on the board’s behalf that noted its decision to continue with an independent and impartial investigation of a whistleblower complaint Probolsky filed on May 31 amid an earlier effort by Authority board members to oust him.

“The board takes the management and governance of OCPA seriously,” said Sonne in the statement. “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.”

In the whistleblower complaint, Probolsky alleged that Authority board member Dan Kalmick plotted a “seat swap” to sack Probolsky with the goal of hiring Mike Posey, his alternate, to lead the agency.

Kalmick, who serves alongside Posey on the Huntington Beach City Council, denied any such scheme in past comments to TimesOC.

“The claims in this complaint are categorically false,” he said at the time. “The notion that I would create a conspiracy to trade for a seat on the Power Authority Board is absurd. My council appointed me to the seat because they know I’m passionate about power policy and want to see good governance.”

In its report, the Orange County grand jury took aim at Probolsky’s hiring.

It noted that Baron presented him as the sole candidate for consideration before the board. Jurors criticized recruitment efforts as “minimal” and deemed the hiring process to be outside the bounds of best practices.

A blistering new report found the hiring of OCPA’s CEO questionable while criticizing the green power agency for lacking financial and governmental transparency.

In January 2021, the board approved Probolsky’s hiring despite his not having any prior industry experience. That, according to the grand jury, put him at odds with the CEOs of other CCEs in the state, all of whom came into executive leadership with more than 10 years’ experience.

Before board members entered closed session, two Irvine residents supported Probolsky’s termination, especially in the wake of the grand jury report.

Doug Elliott, an attorney and blogger for Irvine Watchdog, criticized Probolsky’s whistleblower complaint.

“His attorney’s letter was tantamount to a declaration of war on the organization that employs him,” Elliott said. “The claim that he is a whistleblower is ludicrous.”

Dr. Kathleen Treseder, a UC Irvine biology professor and Irvine City Council candidate, also spoke in support of an executive leadership shakeup at the agency.

“I was a very enthusiastic supporter of OCPA before these issues with Probolsky and Baron came to light,” she said. “I would be happy to recommend that other cities join OCPA under different leadership.”

The green power alternative to SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric recently failed to attract Vista and San Clemente as member cities; both have moved forward with joining Clean Energy Alliance, a Carlsbad-based CCE.

OCPA counts Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Buena Park as its member cities.

But since the roil, most have taken actions critical of the agency and its leadership.

Prior to the Authority board meeting, Buena Park City Council took a vote of no confidence in Probolsky’s leadership the night before and supported an independent audit of the agency.

“We need to send a strong a message that the leadership and counsel for the agency must include significant industry experience and full transparency,” Sonne said during the council meeting.

She also praised the grand jury report as “outstanding.”

During the OCPA board meeting that followed the morning after, Authority board member Don Wagner mentioned that the claims of the report would be taken up at a later time.

“These closed session items that we were discussing are longstanding,” Wagner said. “Not one of them were related to the grand jury report. The grand jury report response will be handled as is appropriate and in open session to the extent appropriate.”

In the meantime, the independent investigation into Probolsky’s whistleblower complaint will be conducted by attorney Jeffrey Wortman. At the end of his probe, he’ll present his findings before the board; Authority board members will evaluate the findings in closed session.

Treseder hopes that the investigation is accurate and thorough so that the question of the agency’s executive leadership can be revisited soon.

“I’m disappointed that OCPA did not remove Probolsky and Baron,” she said. “Anybody who read the O.C. grand jury report should conclude that they are both liabilities to the agency.”

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