SAN ANTONIO - CPS Energy is leaving ratepayers in the dark about who is wining and dining CEO Doyle Beneby and other top executives.
The public utility recently dropped its internal ethics policy requiring employees to report when someone doing business, or seeking to do business with the utility, buys them a meal valued at more than $50.
The change in policy now means doing business with the utility, including those seeking multi-million dollar contracts, can shower the executives with expensive meals and no one will ever know. Up until now, those meals were reported as gifts on disclosure forms that are available to the public.
“The senior leadership team felt that the chances that people would be unduly influenced by meals were slim,” says CPS spokesperson Lisa Lewis.
The order to drop the requirement came from the top man himself - CEO Doyle Beneby - who also had to report meals he received under the old policy. An email sent last November from the utility's ethics officer says "Mr. Beneby requested the meal change."
Beneby was hired to improve the company's transparency in 2010 after a controversy erupted over the utility’s failure to disclose the true cost of expansion at the South Texas Nuclear project. Since his arrival I’ve reported CPS spent $5,000 to attend a political event and spent ratepayers money on lavish meals and parties.
The spokesperson for the utility insists the change was at the request of those trying to do business with CPS who objected to the public seeing their wining and dining.
“There were new energy partners that were deterred from wanting to meet with us based on that, and because it does not involve ratepayers dollars for those expenditures, it was deemed appropriate not to have to log those meals as gifts,” says Lewis.
There has been more than $36,000 in meals bought for CPS employees since 2009, according to previous disclosure forms. These reports show contractors, vendors and other third parties taking executives out to expensive dinners.
The Chairman of the CPS Energy board of trustees, who still must declare his meals under the city's ethics policy, was not told of the change until I asked him about it.
“I was unaware of it. But after meeting with Mr. Beneby and members of the organization, I clearly understand how they got there,” says Derrick Howard.
Howard says he does not believe the change in policy decreases transparency.
“I’m not sure if this is an issue that I see as a decrease in transparency. This is really more of an issue of protecting individuals who have, in some cases, patents on conversations they're talking to us about. That they'd like to be exploring in the community and things of that nature,” says Howard.
But because of my investigation Beneby may be backing off his new policy. A source who spoke directly to Beneby tells me it was made clear this would not go over well with ratepayers.
I was told Tuesday the new policy is being reviewed.
“I believe there was some discussion of modifying the reporting in order to balance the competitive interests of possible partners and the expectation of transparency from CPS Energy stakeholders,” said Lewis.