It has been seven days since the CPS Energy board formally approached its outgoing President and CEO Doyle Beneby with a deal that it hopes will entice him to stay with the utility. Accepting the deal would mean ditching his new position at the top of an international renewable energy company.
The offer has reignited a debate among City leadership and citizens about how much they should be paying civil servants – how much is too much to pay for managing the largest municipally-owned utility in the U.S.?
CPS Energy Board Chair Nora Chavez was expecting an answer by Thursday. That soft deadline, it seems, has been extended through the weekend. The board’s next meeting – supposedly when Beneby would officially accept or reject the offer – is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 26.
Chief Financial Officer Paula Gold-Williams is slated to take over as interim CEO on Nov. 1, cutting it close to Beneby’s end-of-the-month departure.
“At the latest, (Beneby’s answer) will be in on Monday,” said utility spokesperson Paul Flaningan on Thursday. “At the earliest, tomorrow.”
Beneby’s original last day was Sept. 30, but the board asked Beneby to stay on another month to allow for a smoother transition of responsibilities to Gold-Williams.
Mayor Ivy Taylor, who serves on the board as an ex officio member, declined to comment on the deal until Beneby makes his highly anticipated decision.
“… The board has never stopped pursuing Doyle, and our efforts to retain him have been relentless,” Chavez stated in a blog post last Thursday after a closed meeting. The board emerged after that meeting to announce the proposal.
Members of the board have committed to keep the terms of the proposal to Beneby confidential throughout the negotiating process, but did say that it would allow Beneby to continue to play a “non-CEO, advisory role” at New Generation Power International (NGPI). The Chicago-based company named him as its new CEO in September.
The board’s 11th hour offer carries the implication that trustees increased the rich compensation package offered to Beneby if he agrees to stay.
Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) issued a statement last week calling for CPS Energy to “let Beneby go.”
While Krier commended Beneby on his exemplary leadership and fiscal responsibility over the past five years, and similar praise of Beneby is not uncommon from City and community leadership, the council member questioned the board’s “relentless” pursuit of its departing CEO.
“Mr. Beneby is not indispensable. No executive ever is, either in the private or public sector,” he stated.
Krier said the compromise to allow Beneby to serve in an advisory role at NGPI would mean that the CEO of CPS Energy would have his energies and focus split.
CPS Energy is in the middle of developing Beneby’s New Energy Economy initiative, a plan for its new headquarters, and it recently kicked off an initiative to help fundraise for an innovation and education center (EPIcenter) in the Southside. There’s plenty to focus on here without the added distraction of what could be a seat on the board of an international renewable energy company, Krier argues.
“CPS Trustees appear willing to pay Mr. Beneby more for less of his time and attention,” he stated.
“I first raised concerns about Mr. Beneby’s compensation in early 2014, after Trustees granted him a $155,000 bonus, bringing his total compensation to $580,000 for the year,” Krier added. “Last April, the board increased his total compensation to nearly $740,000. Enough.”
Concern over how much unelected public officials are paid is not new, but his take-home pay soars particularly high above others – even higher above the $50,000 median yearly household income of a San Antonian family of four. But then there is the get-what-you-pay-for rationale. Beneby’s foresight in diverting an estimated $500 million in capital funds away from modernizing coal plants to fund the cost of building solar and wind capacity has made it easier for CPS Energy to stay in compliance with the new Federal Clean Power Plan.
Efforts by executive search firm Korn Ferry International to recruit Beneby’s replacement from a pool of outside and internal candidates are “in a hold period” until Beneby responds to the new offer, CPS Energy board member Ed Kelly told the Rivard Report last week.
“Doyle had received a very, very strong offer from the other company, but we let him know if there was any way to keep him, we would do it,” Kelly said. “If for some reason he doesn’t (accept the offer) we would need to go back out into the market.”
Hence the need for secrecy of the proposal’s terms. If Doyle rejects the plan, CPS Energy will continue working with the consultant firm which Kelly said has already identified a few strong candidates.
“I’m flattered that our Board has worked so hard over the past few months considering strong CEO candidates, and has still concluded that it is worth their effort to present a creative proposal that might allow me to satisfy both of my interests,” stated Beneby in an emailed statement last week. “Obviously, it’s something that I will seriously consider after discussion with my family.”
This story was originally published on Thursday, Oct. 22.
*Top image: CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle Beneby arrives at a board meeting in August 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.