CPS Energy seeks to block release of complaints against president, CEO Paula Gold-Williams

Utility asks AG to withhold complaints filed by senior legal team prior to their resignations

Attorneys hired by CPS Energy have attempted to block the release of complaints filed against President & CEO Paula Gold-Williams by members of the utility’s senior legal team, claiming their contents are confidential and should remain out of public view.

SAN ANTONIO – Attorneys hired by CPS Energy have attempted to block the release of complaints filed against President & CEO Paula Gold-Williams by members of the utility’s senior legal team, claiming their contents are confidential and should remain out of public view.

Attorneys from Dykema Gossett PLLC on July 8 informed the Texas Attorney General’s Office in writing that they believe the complaints are confidential information. The AG’s office will issue a ruling within the next 45 business days.

CPS Energy Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman and her deputy general counsels — Zandra Pulis and Abigail Ottmers — all resigned earlier this summer.

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

Only Ottmers, however, has provided any insight into why she stepped down.

“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.

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

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.

The three attorneys, who made up the utility’s internal senior legal team, have been licensed to practice law for a combined 88 years, according to State Bar of Texas records.

CPS Energy officials claimed there are always two sides to every story, but have not given Paula Gold-Williams' version of what happened between her and members of the utility's senior legal team, prior to their resignations. (KSAT)

CPS officials in a written statement late last month said the dispute between the attorneys and Gold-Williams “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” and added there are two sides to every story.

Officials, however, have refused requests from the Defenders to make Gold-Williams available for an interview to give her side of the internal conflict.

“It is internal, personnel matters. We wish them the very best. They made their decisions and we are focused now on the storm, both the events that happened that we have to work on, and the financial implications, and so we are moving forward,” Gold-Williams told KSAT on June 24, after taking part in a presentation to city council about the response of CPS Energy, the San Antonio Water System and the city during February’s deadly winter storm.

CPS Energy’s legal strategy

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.

Facing a billion dollar financial hole from the storm, mostly for natural gas bills, the utility has already spent millions of dollars on outside attorney fees fighting those charges.

Energy experts and officials from some of the companies targeted by the suits say the utility’s poor risk management is to blame for CPS Energy’s financial woes.

‘Caught flat-footed’: Energy experts, lawsuits claim CPS has itself to blame for $700 million in natural gas bills

Experts have told the Defenders CPS Energy’s legal strategy is unlikely to lead to much financial relief from the courts.

CPS Energy has also retained outside legal counsel to help with wrongful death and property damage lawsuits, records show.

Shellman, Pulis and Ottmers have not responded to requests for comment about their respective departures from CPS Energy.

Pulis and Ottmers were paid out a combined more than $146,000 in accrued leave and benefits, CPS records show.

The utility did not have financial exit figures for Shellman at the time of KSAT’s request, and officials stated that payments made to the outgoing employees are not considered separation packages, but instead money earned during their tenures.

Last month, CPS officials appointed Shanna Ramirez as CPS Energy’s Interim Chief Legal & Ethics Officer, General Counsel, & Board Secretary.

Three other internal CPS employees were promoted to role of interim deputy general counsel.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, an ex-officio member of the utility’s board of trustees, also declined to comment late last month on the substance of the complaints against Gold-Williams.

“I’m not going to get into personnel issues. What I’m going to hold our head of the utility to is the implementation of the recommendations in this report. This is about making sure that we are not in the same position moving forward,” said Nirenberg June 24, referring to the Committee on Emergency Preparedness’ report, which outlined changes to help the city and its utilities prepare better for the next weather emergency.

About the Authors:

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.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.