CPUC Fires Top Executive; Stebbins Claims It's Retribution

The news from Monday's CPUC meeting comes a month after a state investigation found that the commission hired 17 of Alice Stebbins’ former co-workers — in some cases over more qualified candidates in appointments of “highly questionable legitimacy.”

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This story first appeared on CalMatters.org.

One of the top officials at the California agency that regulates utilities including PG&E and AT&T was fired this week amid concerns that she used unethical hiring practices — but executive director Alice Stebbins says the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is kicking her out for whistleblowing.

The news from Monday’s CPUC meeting comes a month after a state investigation found that the commission hired 17 of Stebbins’ former co-workers — in some cases over more qualified candidates in appointments of “highly questionable legitimacy.”

Stebbins said she is being ousted for revealing the commission’s failure to collect $200 million in utility-owed fees, and she alleged that PG&E and AT&T lobbied the commission to remove her. Two views:

  • Karl Olson, Stebbins’ attorney: “I think there’s been a pattern at the (commission) for a long time, which Ms. Stebbins was trying to break … of the (commission) being extremely cozy with the entities that it’s supposed to regulate.”
  • Marybel Batjer, president of the commission: “None of us ever ignored or attempted to slow down or interfere with (Stebbins’) work in any way.”
In addition, the Sacramento Bee reported that the CPUC president told Stebbins: “You took a series of actions over the course of several years that calls into question your integrity.” Batjer previously served as Government Operations Agency secretary in former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration before Newsom appointed her to her current role. 

The Bee also reported: “In response to the firing, Stebbins, through her attorney’s office, announced that she is filing a claim of whistleblower retaliation, a precursor a lawsuit. Stebbins seeks lost wages and damages, the recovery of her attorneys’ fees and to be reinstated to her position. ... Stebbins at the hearing also alleged the commission held clandestine meetings over text message, in violation of the state’s open meetings law, to discuss removing dismissing her.”

The CPUC has recently come under heightened scrutiny as one of the agencies Gov. Gavin Newsom is holding accountable for last month’s rolling blackouts. It has also faced criticism for lax regulation of PG&E, whose equipment caused wildfires that killed at least 107 people in the last 10 years. The utility, which recently exited bankruptcy, also instituted blackouts last year to reduce fire risk.

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