CPS Energy CEO’s treatment left senior staff ‘dejected, despondent and downtrodden,’ newly released complaint alleges

CPS Energy officials cite ‘extremely busy week,’ for not making Gold-Williams available to answer questions at chamber event

SAN ANTONIO – Officials with CPS Energy this month were forced to release a copy of a 2020 complaint that alleges its president and CEO, Paula Gold-Williams, repeatedly mistreated members of the utility’s senior leadership team.

The letter, which officials said was sent anonymously to CPS Energy’s board of trustees, was provided to the KSAT 12 Defenders following a ruling earlier this month from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

In June, after CPS Energy’s chief legal officer and both of her deputy general counsels resigned, the Defenders requested a copy of internal complaints filed by them against Gold-Williams prior to their exodus. CPS officials in July sought to block the release of those complaints, claiming in a letter to the AG’s office that their contents were confidential and should remain out of public view.

While the AG’s office earlier this month allowed CPS Energy to keep those complaints confidential, it ordered the utility to release one standalone complaint that was attached to the information at issue. The one-page complaint accused Gold-Williams of ruling the utility “via her senior leadership team with fear and intimidation.”

Gold-Williams, who spoke in front of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce during its ‘State of the Utilities’ luncheon at the Grand Hyatt on Wednesday, was not made available to answer questions from the Defenders before or after the event. Utility officials cited Gold-Williams’ “extremely busy week,” for why an interview could not take place.

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

“Many employees walk on eggshells around her to avoid her wrath,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint states that at one point Gold-Williams told members of her senior leadership team that they needed to protect her and align with her, and that her lectures had left senior staff members “dejected, despondent and downtrodden.”

“The fear she instills during these rants is the very reason many members of the SLT (senior leadership team) fear her and are reluctant to proactively reach out to her. She is completely devoid of this realization,” the complaint states.

On Feb. 17, during the height of the deadly winter blast, Gold-Williams and other senior leaders of the utility drafted a letter of support for her and management, according to internal emails previously released to the Defenders.

The draft, which was never sent out to the public, was written and edited during arguably the most critical day of the winter storm event. A majority of the six wrongful death cases filed against CPS Energy since mid-February involve people who died on or after Feb. 17, the day the letter was drafted.

Former CPS Energy Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman and her deputy general counsels, Zandra Pulis and Abigail Ottmers, resigned this summer amid internal strife within the embattled utility, which is facing $1 billion in bills resulting from the winter weather crisis.

CPS Energy has hired multiple outside law firms to fight massive natural gas bills it incurred during the storm and for other storm-related legal work.

Shellman, Pulis and Ottmers have not spoken publicly about their resignations. Ottmers, however, was critical of Gold-Williams in her May 25 resignation letter.

“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.

Double-digit rate increase likely

Gold-Williams acknowledged Wednesday during her remarks that CPS Energy will likely institute a double-digit rate increase, due to facing a budget shortfall.

“We think we’re looking at a rate increase of I would say at least 10%,” said Gold-Williams, who added that financial issues within the utility could compound if officials do not take action.

She said the utility will have a clearer picture of its next step regarding the potential increase at the end of this month.

San Antonio Water System President and CEO Robert Puente said an outside firm hired after the storm found similar issues uncovered by the city’s Committee on Emergency Preparedness.

Most issues related to improving communication between the utilities and the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

When asked why he has taken a transparent approach to responding to scrutiny following February’s storm, Puente said water is important and personal to people.

“Frankly, just on a continuous basis, let them know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and what it’s going to cost them to provide them with water and waste water services,” said Puente.

Watch the full update below:

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.