Why San Diego Community Power’s Top CEO Pick Can’t Take the Job – Voice of San Diego

Artwork by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego’s new government-run electric utility, which began providing service to residential customers on Tuesday, tried in 2020 to offer its leadership position to an employee beloved by clean energy advocates in the city. region.

But a state ethics watchdog ruled her ineligible because she helped set up the organization’s bylaws.

Now, leaders elected to the board of San Diego Community Power, or SDCP, are launching a second national search for a permanent CEO. Still, advocates are upset because they want Cody Hooven, the agency’s current chief operating officer who set up the agency as interim chief executive, to take the job after serving as the the agency’s first choice after a national search in 2020.

It all started when Hooven went to the City of San Diego Ethics Department to get an opinion on her interest in applying for the job, confirmed Joe Mosca, Encinitas City Councilman and Chairman of the Board of Directors. of the SDCP. The city said there was an issue involving state code, Mosca said, so SDCP attorneys decided to ask the state to bebefore the agency acts on its CEO selection.

The Fair Political Practices Commission – a watchdog agency that regulates campaign finance, conflict of interest, ethics, and lobbying statewideincludeduding advising local governments on these issues – issued a letter in August 2020, advising the agency that state code prohibits hiring Hooven as CEO because she held an executive position when the agency’s bylaws were written. It does not pass the state code test of whether she was involved in drawing up a contract for herself.

State code prohibits public officials or employees from participating in the making of contracts in which they might be financially interested. The purpose of the rule is to detect cases of “irregularity… or the appearance of irregularity,” according to the commission. In other words, it applies regardless of whether actual fraud or dishonesty has taken place. The commission noted in its decision that Hooven had taken steps to insulate itself from the CEO hiring process by turning the recruitment effort over to an outside consultant and the board.

“This finding does not suggest improper motive on the part of Ms. Hooven,” the FPPC wrote. “The rule operates primarily as a preventative measure to protect the honor of well-meaning officials and safeguard the public interests they serve.”

The bylaws in question are called the Joint Powers Authority, a legal document that sets out rules for the jurisdictions that joined the agency — City of San Diego, La Mesa, Imperial Beach, Encinitas, National City and San Diego County — will follow as a single electric utility.

Yet defenders favored his leadership so much that they asked the board to change the agency’s bylaws to allow him to serve.

Our community asked the SDCP board to amend the JPA agreement and resolve the barriers to allow all qualified candidates to be able to be CEO, but we believe the board did not do this or explain the reasoning. said Tara Hammond, a member of the agency’s Community Advisory Board and co-founder of a pro-solar energy group called Hammond Solutions. “We just want the best candidate to be CEO of the state’s second-largest Community Choice Energy Program.”

In its letter, the commission pointed to a similar case in the city of Los Altos where a member of the city council ran for the position of CEO of Silicon Valley Clean Energy after representing his city in crafting a similar JPA agreement. . But because the articles of association did not contain an express obligation to hire a CEO – unlike the SDCP case – the commission ruled differently.

So far, the San Diego Community Power board hasn’t said whether it plans to make any changes to its bylaws. When asked, the agency pointed to the commission’s letter and comments made public in November by his general counsel Nick Norvell of the law firm Best Best & Krieger.

“The FPPC determined that Ms. Hooven was excluded from the CEO’s decision because she was considered to have participated in the development of the contract for the position itself,” Norvell said in November.

Hooven declined to comment when contacted Monday.

After the FPPC’s decision, the board offered the job to an interim CEO, Bill Carnahan, a career public energy agency executive who came out of retirement to take the job for a year. In September, the board extended his contract for another six months to conduct another nationwide search for a permanent CEO.

“It’s not in the SDCP’s interest to hire someone who the state believes has a financial conflict of interest,” Mosca said. “I think one would expect to do a strong competitive solicitation to recruit a CEO and hire the most qualified person to fill that role, which we do.”

Defenders have called public board meetings for months to complain.

“I want to ask why the board is wasting its time and money doing a nationwide search for a CEO when it has a perfectly qualified and capable woman on staff,” asked Joyce Lane, president of San Diego 350. ., a nonprofit that urges action on climate change, at an October board meeting. “I can’t help but think there’s conscious or unconscious sexism at play.”

“If we really want the best, we have to allow the most intimately informed person to apply,” said Eddie Price, a San Diego city appointee to the agency’s Community Advisory Board at that same meeting. “This type of behavior and action epitomizes systematic oppression and I hope we are better than that.”

At its January 22 meeting, Board Member Steve Padilla, a Chula Vista city council member running for state senate and board member Bill Baber, a La Mesa city councilman, volunteered to lead the second CEO search committee. They said the application window closed at the end of the month and finalists will be interviewed by the board in March. The council would consider feedback from the community advisory committee, staff and other stakeholders, Padilla said.

San Diego Community Power, formed in 2020, is one of dozens of public agencies created across the state to generate cleaner, cheaper electricity than investor-owned utilities. Whoever is in charge is responsible for delivering on its mission: to provide electricity at a lower rate than its private competitor, San Diego Gas and Electric, and 100% renewable energy by 2035.

“The SDCP is the fastest way for any jurisdiction to reduce its (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Mat said. Vasilakas, co-director of policy at Climate Action Campaign. “If he gets the wrong leadership, he could stall that progress or make decisions that defeat the intent of why we, this community, created the program in the first place.”

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