These are treacherous times for Lubbock Power and Light, our city owned electric company. Treacherous because we do stupid things when we’re angry and drunk on the liquor of our own righteous indignation. And we have a right to be angry. 44,000 of us were under-billed in June. LP&L says the loss is approximately $3.2 million. But, to correct something that we reported earlier, no recapture, i.e., no reconciled billing of those customers who were under-billed, was made in July so the loss stands.
LP&L made a software change and several rate changes at once and in the process 10 of 22 June billing cycles had mistakes. So far so good. It proves that fallible people work at LP&L. Staff discovered the glitch by June 15 and corrected it for the remaining twelve June billing cycles. Stuff happens. If that were all we’d say, get over it Lubbock. But that’s not all.
A footnote here to emphasize the importance of timeline. We were trained by the best: a woman who held command over Presidents. She instilled in her political progeny the principles of good government and she was impossible to ignore. “It’s not the mistakes you make that will ruin you,” she’d tell us, “It’s always the cover-up that will bring you down.” And that’s where LP&L management made the error that demands changes.
The timeline matters. What did they know and when did they know it?
Friday’s mea culpa by LP&L management was about a month too late. Even if we allow that after staff corrected the mistake on June 15 it took a week, possibly two, to calculate the impact, by July 1 a decision was made to not recapture the loss and it wasn’t made by a software programmer nor the LP&L Board of Directors. It was the decision made by top management to mail July bills hoping that no one would notice the difference and question June’s $3 million gaffe. No apologies or explanations, just a brazen attempt to conceal the snafu by ignoring it. This was a deliberate deceit and it was wrong.
In Saturday’s Lubbock Avalanche-Journal LP&L CEO Gary Zheng is quoted as saying, “it is unlikely customers who were undercharged in the billing error will be asked to pay the difference any time this summer.” To our knowledge Zheng hasn’t the authority to say this on his own accord. The SANDSTORM SCHOLAR has learned that as long as two to three weeks ago more than one customer was told by LP&L customer service that the amounts they were under-billed would not be collected from them.
We have to wonder if that was an arbitrary (therefore unauthorized and illegitimate) decision on Zheng’s part or if he was given permission for that stratagem. If so, then by whom? It couldn’t have been the LP&L Board of Directors because they won’t meet until Monday (tomorrow) to discuss the matter.
Again, the question is the oldest in public scandal: what did they know and when did they know it?
If board members knew about the $3 million snafu and failed to call a meeting to address it then they are parties to a cover-up. When did LP&L Chairman and Vice-Chairman learn about this? Why didn’t they call a utility board meeting to address it? And if they knew, what City Council members, who appoint the utility board, also knew and how long did they hide the truth?
It’s the coverup that brings you down. Undoubtedly the CEO of LP&L must take the fall for this one. It’s not personal, but Gary Zheng must go. The whitewash is inexcusable. But Zheng is not alone. Every board member who was complicit and who did not call for an immediate meeting of the electric utility board ought also to resign their office because they have betrayed the public trust. We cannot tolerate the attempt to conceal a $3 million blunder.
We’ve no doubt that any number of buzzards are circling hoping that reckless statements and LP&L management’s bumbling can devalue it enough for cheap sale and a new privately owned monopoly of our power services. But so long as there is only one power company serving Lubbock citizens it is in our best interests that it be in control of the public, and public control demands that the citizens have answers, not cover-up.