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What do we know? When do we know it? 

The Current’s chief CPS Energy hound dog would be the first to admit his verbal mind is peppered with detritus. Names, numbers — mainly names, gave up on numbers in grade eight — disappear behind towering dark clouds of unknowingness at the most critical points of conversation. “What’s your name, son? Can I see some ID?”

To compensate for this head of mystery-making ink, we must keep meticulous files. Regular readers must know that more than a few are labeled “CPS.” The most often pawed these weeks is dedicated to the three-way communications between said oratorially challenged, the utility’s attorney, and the Great Attorney in the Sky — or Austin anyway — Mr. AG Greg Abbott.

Here’s an update on how that’s going in Q&A format.

August 4, 2008

Q: This first request was grizzly. We’d been meeting with a variety of company men and women. Allegations ran the gamut. Without confirmation, say, on our Mayor’s CPS Board meetings attendance, the proliferation of mid-level managers (despite the offloading of 500 employees), or number of estimated meter reads, we clamped our lip a bit in “Up In Smoke,” the August 6 feature on internal CPS dischord and disasters a’brewin. Our official request under Texas’s Public Information Act is a sweep-up of shop-floor suspicions. Under state law, CPS has 10 working days to produce the information or appeal it to the AG.

August 4, 2008

Q: We’d heard of extreme top-tier padding, so we also request salaries for the senior management team.

August 12, 2008

Q: A week later, a “by the way” takes wing, inspired by adverts such as “Your couch doesn’t watch TV.” How much has CPS spent on advertising and promotions since January 1, 2007?

August 25, 2008

A: Advertorial curiosity pays off first. Hard numbers, but a refusal to release specifics about where the money is being spent. Was it the nonsensical billboards or paying off a supremely uncritical Ex-News?

In fiscal 2008 (which ended January 31, 2008), CPS spent $2,170,539 on advertising and promotion. Midway through fiscal 2009 (as of August 12, 2008), CPS had spent $990,0312.

Brainwashed yet? Ready to switch utilities? You can’t. There’s no competition here. Consider ads merely solidarity reinforcement.

August 29, 2008

A: CPS attorney Zandra Pulis identifies “third party propriety interests that may be invoked.” A third party and we’re not invited.

August 29, 2008

A: 20 days post-request, we get the Mayor’s attendance!

He started off enthusiastic enough as the City’s lone representative on the CPS Board, but apparently ran into scheduling conflicts.

2005: Six of seven meetings
2006: Half — six of 12
2007: Slipping here. Five of 12 meetings.
2008: Five of seven to date.
Grand total: 22 of 38 attended.
About 58 percent. FAIL.

Also: Executive salaries!

CEO Milton Lee’s package is the most eye-popping: From $222,358 in 2001 to $613,325 in 2008

CFO Rick Williamson: $196,056 in 2004 to $381,370 in 2007

Deputy CEO Steve Bartley: $425,150 in 2008

SVP Energy Supply Mike Kotara: $213,403 in 2006 to $348,464 in 2008

SVP EDS Al Lujan: $205,408 in 2004 to $354,226.23

September 2, 2008

A: Several days later, CPS writes to say they will tell us something about salaries/bonuses for their top tier but “seeks to withhold all remaining responsive information.” No, we don’t get to know what they are withholding.

September 3, 2008

A: CPS tells AG it has “released aggregate expenditure information” but wants to keep secret all the good stuff.

September 5, 2008

A: 24 working days post-request, our utility releases the number of managers:

August 2003: 261 executive and non-executive managers.

August 2008: 271 executive and non-executive managers.

Way to restructure!

September 10, 2008

A: Pulis writes to tell me CPS will release “most” information related to how much they’ve spent on legal counsel and out-of-court settlements — appeals “the remainder.”

September 11, 2008

A: CPS piles on more legal objections to release of “competitive information” at the AG.

`Our legal rebuttal sent to the AG: “Nuh uh.”`

September 16, 2008

After a “good faith effort,” CPS attorneys are “in the process of producing most of the responsive information” about legal fees and settlements, but want to withhold the rest.

Can’t remember when we got curious about CPS spending on lawsuits … Oh yeah, the day we heard they had 20-plus pending against them.

Outside legal counsel*
Fiscal 2007: $3,206,839
Fiscal 2008: $2,987,710

Staff attorneys**
2007: No Answer
2008: No Answer

Out-of-court settlements***
2007: $301,825
2008: $610,750 to date

A year ago, our energy inquiries were greeted with an invitation: A proper sit-down with mid- to high-level analysts at that wide, polished table used by the CPS Board at their regular meetings. Over time, the welcome mat has grown threadbare. Our last story on the City-owned utility shared some — but certainly not all — of our frustration over the difficulty of getting information from CPS. Press flacks claimed our emails to two senior PR chumps were never received. We sent several more. We added an email tracking service and tried again. We went strictly verbal, seeking interviews that never materialized. Now, interestingly, the Attorney General’s Open Records office shares our curiosity about the whole charade.

Into these ongoing Open Records scrimmages, the AG’s office interjected an interesting query dated September 16:

“The City Public Service Board (“CPS Energy”) claims the initial request from Mr. Harman was prevented from being delivered because it was filtered out through CPS Energy’s spam and e-mail filter. Please provide to this office detailed information about CPS Energy’s spam and e-mail filtering system. Please include information regarding whether the filtered mail is sent to a specified folder, and whether or not CPS Energy has standards in place regarding checking spam folders for possible missed e-mails.”

Funny. We had the same question.

Greg Harman

* Last time hired guns were used was back in 1998.

** Add minimum input here of General Counsel Carolyn Shellman’s salary: $338,308 (’07) and $361,449 (’08)

*** Not out-of-court, but you may want to add here the August 12 discrimination suit that cost CPS $628,000 for mental anguish and back pay for one wrongly terminated Pedro Gonzalez.

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