LUBBOCK, TX -- As of Thursday, Lubbock Power and Light now has one more ongoing controversy. A local blog, SandstormScholar.com, published comments by LP&L Executive Director Gary Zheng in which he accused three individuals of trying to kill a power contract for their own personal gain.
Among the three was LP&L board member and former Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal.
Zheng told the Sandstorm Scholar, “I hope you will keep in mind, there are some people who want to kill this thing. I think potentially they may financially benefit. They may personally benefit from it.”
McDougal fired back hours later.
“The statement Gary made regarding anyone who opposes this must have a personal benefit is ludicrous and untrue,” McDougal said in a news conference.
“There are many valid reasons to oppose this,” he added.
Recently current Mayor Glen Robertson said allegations of bid rigging surfaced earlier this month. Zheng was mentioned specifically by job title in two LP&L board agendas, but the board chose not to take any action against Zheng. Instead, the board voted to hire an outside attorney to investigate.
Zheng admitted to the Sandstorm Scholar that he took information from one of the companies and used it for the bid specifications. But he also said the information was completely changed by LP&L staff and not taken word-for-word.
McDougal confirmed the nature of the allegations against Zheng. In essence he said he caught Zheng in a lie about the origin of the bid specifications.
McDougal said he and other LP&L board members confronted Zheng – wanting to know if the bid specifications came from one bidder to the unfair advantage of all the other bidders. McDougal said Zheng denied the truth until it was discovered in an email.
“He remembered only after he knew we had learned the truth,” McDougal said.
He also said he would try once again to have Zhen fired or placed on leave.
The bids in question are for LP&L’s power source after the spring of 2019. LP&L must either find a wholesale supply of electricity or build its own power plant. The cost of wholesale power is currently more than $130 million per year. The construction cost of a power plant is estimated at $700 million or more.
Zheng declined a chance this week to comment on the bids. However he did issue a written statement late Thursday by email.
Zheng wrote,"In regards to statements that have been made concerning the RFP process itself and my role in that process, the Electric Utility Board voted unanimously this past week to hire a completely independent third-party firm to conduct a thorough audit of these matters. I applaud their decision to do so and will wait for the conclusion of their review. It is clear there was a misunderstanding that may have come from the interview I conducted this week. It was not my intent to attack any member of the LP&L board. I have no information or reason to believe that any member of the Electric Utility Board has any ulterior motive in regards to the RFP for future generation. I truly believe the only motivation by each and every board member is to do everything in their power to assure that Lubbock has a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for the future. I am committed to working with the Mayor and EUB members to ensure Lubbock has reliable and affordable electricity for its citizens, now and in the future. It is of paramount importance that our team stay focused on the task at hand and continue to work to make the best long term decision for the City of Lubbock."
A special session of the LP&L board on Monday November 4 allows the board to "Discuss and take action regarding the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties of the Director of Electric Utilities."
LP&L suffered a huge public relations problem in June and July when customers’ bills skyrocketed. The city told people to expect increases of $10 to $15 per month. Instead customers found bills going up by hundreds of dollars per month.
Allegations of Bid Rigging Lead to Special LP&L Board Meeting
LP&L Takes No Action Against Its Executive Director
Mayor Says LP&L Staffers Threaten To Sue Him