CPS board shares blame in fiasco

November 20, 2009

San Antonio Express-News Editorial

In response to the public outcry over an unexpected - and unpublicized - $4 billion boost in the estimated price for nuclear expansion at the South Texas Project, CPS Energy officials pledged to do a better job of keeping all informed of important developments. In a meeting with the Express-News Editorial Board on Oct. 29, interim General Manager Steve Bartley, accompanied by board Chairwoman Aurora Geis, talked about erring on the side of openness.

Three weeks into the new era of openness, something seems to be terribly amiss at the public utility. As Express-News staff writer Anton Caputo reported, one CPS board member revealed at this week's board meeting that he still didn't know what cost information Toshiba - the project's main contractor - communicated to the utility in a letter e-mailed to CPS staff on Oct. 13.

Board member Stephen Hennigan told the newspaper he had not seen or been officially briefed about the contents of that letter. "We're working to reduce a confidential number that was provided in mid-October from Toshiba," he said. "I don't know that number."

If at least one of the four self-perpetuating board members doesn't know what's contained in the most important letter about the most important project in the utility's history, how in the world is the public supposed to have any confidence that it is receiving a reasonable - never mind a full - accounting?

The secretive manner in which CPS continues to operate makes it difficult to know exactly how to assess blame. Clearly, CPS management isn't fulfilling an obligation to keep the board fully informed.

Management is supposed to be accountable to the board. Under Geis' leadership, however, it looks increasingly as if the board is covering for management.

Much of the attention in the Toshiba flap has focused on CPS management and staff - and appropriately so. But the board of trustees also bears responsibility for failing to fulfill its obligation to the owners of the utility - the city of San Antonio - and allowing a secretive culture to grow and prosper on its watch.

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