Complaints against embattled Gold-Williams preceded senior legal team’s exodus from CPS Energy

CPS Energy officials said in statement there are two sides to every story, then declined to make Gold-Williams available for an interview

SAN ANTONIO – CPS Energy’s senior legal team lodged internal complaints against its President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams in the weeks before the attorneys resigned from the utility, internal records obtained this week by the KSAT 12 Defenders confirm.

CPS Energy officials late Monday released the resignation letters of former Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman and her deputy general counsels: Zandra Pulis and Abigail Ottmers.

Officials with the beleaguered utility cautioned in a written statement that there are two sides to every story, then promptly refused to make Gold-Williams available for an interview to give her side of the internal conflict.

The three attorneys, Shellman, Pulis and Ottmers, have been licensed to practice law for a combined 88 years, according to State Bar of Texas records.

Shellman, who had worked for CPS Energy since 2006, informed Gold-Williams of her resignation in a one-line letter on June 1.

CPS Energy: Chief legal officer among several executives leaving the company

She then informed the utility’s board of trustees of her intention to resign in a two-paragraph letter a day later, records show.

Shellman served as chief legal officer, general counsel and board secretary.

Her last day was on June 16.

Pulis, who had worked for CPS Energy for more than 21 years and also served as its chief records management officer, submitted her resignation to Shellman May 21, calling her an “amazing and brilliant teacher, boss, champion and friend.”

Ottmers, whose resignation letter states she had worked for CPS Energy for six years, was much more critical of Gold-Williams.

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams speaks with the media March 12. (KSAT)

“As you know, I attempted to resign several weeks ago, but delayed my resignation when certain Board members pleaded for me to stay while the board addressed certain claims lodged against the CEO. It is clear to me now that I am not able to fulfill my professional duties to the organization under the working conditions that exist today, noting that none of the conditions were imposed or created by you,” wrote Ottmers in her resignation letter submitted to Shellman May 25.

The resignations of Pulis and Ottmers took effect on June 4.

Ottmers did not respond to a request for comment sent late Monday to two email addresses listed for her.

Shellman and Pulis did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.

CPS officials refused to make Gold-Williams available for an interview for this story. The embattled head of the utility has not answered questions directly from the Defenders in over three months.

Officials also did not release the contents of the complaints against Gold-Williams, but said in a written statement the claims and counter-claims were related to February’s winter storm and the financial issues now facing the utility:

CPS Energy does not comment on the details of internal personnel matters. More broadly, there are always two sides to every story. Former internal attorneys lodged complaints with the Board of Trustees. Those complaints and related counter-complaints arose primarily from differences in execution style that were brought to the forefront by the intensity and complexity of Winter Storm Uri and its financial aftermath. The Board of Trustees opted to engage an independent legal firm to review those complaints and related counter-complaints. Ultimately, as reported previously, three attorneys resigned, and CPS Energy wishes them the best in their future endeavors. CPS Energy remains keenly focused on protecting the citizens of San Antonio and Texas from what we believe to be illegal and illegitimate electric and natural gas costs of over $1 billion experienced during Winter Storm Uri. Our President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Paula Gold-Williams, has led this effort from the very beginning and continues to lead the CPS Energy legal team, along with outside counsel, in executing the strategy she devised to keep our company financially stable while working through four primary focal elements – legislation, regulation, negotiation, and litigation.

CPS Energy statement

The statement then included what utility officials described as “multiple early successes” of this strategy:

  • Early on, we protected our customers’ cash funds from an excess demand from ERCOT. This prevented outflow amounted to approximately $800 million.
  • We defended our customers from predatory credit demands from a natural gas supplier that wanted to be prepaid before CPS Energy was ever invoiced. This prevented outflow amounted to approximately $300 million, which was primarily comprised of potentially illegitimate charges.
  • We fought back a $17 million false charge from a natural gas pipeline.
  • We successfully issued bonds at historically low interest rates, which is saving our customers millions of dollars a year.
  • We secured new access to capital from the financial markets that can help, if needed, support our liquidity for the next 12-24 months.
  • We won Force Majeure protection against ERCOT.
  • We also won Temporary Restraining Order protection against ERCOT.
  • We prevailed in keeping our ERCOT venue here in Bexar County.
  • We validated our right to sue ERCOT.
  • We continue in constructive negotiations with existing natural gas suppliers to potentially resolve the disputes, as well as acquire more fuel and services in the short, medium, and long-term.
  • We actively contributed to several new important pieces of legislation that may potentially provide some benefits. While the new bills were steps in the right direction, collectively they did not go far enough to solve the systemic issues in Texas. Accordingly, we are currently assessing the applicable newly approved bills for potential merit.

A Defenders investigation last week revealed that CPS Energy has already spent in excess of $2.5 million in fees paid to outside attorneys and consultants since February’s deadly storm left hundreds of thousands of CPS Energy customers without power during subfreezing temperatures.

CPS officials sued ERCOT, the state’s energy grid operator, in March, claiming the organization allowed power companies to be overcharged for energy and short paid market participants billions of dollars, including approximately $18 million owed to CPS.

CPS officials have also filed close to 20 lawsuits against natural gas providers, claiming these companies price gouged during the winter blast, charging CPS upwards of 15,000% more for natural gas than what had been the market rate days earlier.

Energy experts and officials from some of the companies targeted by the suits say the utility’s poor risk management is to blame for the utility’s estimated billion-dollar financial hole.

CPS officials earlier this month named Shanna Ramirez Interim Chief Legal & Ethics Officer (CLEO), General Counsel and Board Secretary.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.