Former Executive Director of the CPUC has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the agency.
Alice Stebbins was employed by the Commissioners with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to scrutinize its finances and was allegedly terminated after finding $200 million missing. In 2020, CPUC accused Executive Director Stebbins of hiring an auditor without proper qualifications and said she misled the public in asserting the money had disappeared from accounts intended to fund programs for the state’s blind, deaf and poor.
At a hearing in August, Commission President Marybel Batjer said Stebbins discredited the regulator, adding, “You took a series of actions over the course of several years that calls into question your integrity. Those actions, cause us to have to consider whether you can continue to serve as the leader of this agency.” The five commissioners voted to fire Stebbins, who had previously been employed both as an auditor and a budget analyst for different state agencies.
However, a post-termination media investigation found there was indeed missing money, and it seemed as if Stebbins was let go for putting a qualified auditor on the job. Stebbins had been hired in February 2018 to dig into the CPUC’s finances and operational protocols in an attempt to reconcile records after agency officials told California’s Department of Finance it was owed more than $200 million.
The State Personnel Board report which Batjer, appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom, used to terminate Stebbins also had cracks in it. Three former CPUC employees were interviewed saying the report contained false statements alleging the auditor hired by Stebbins was unqualified. However, he was the most qualified candidate for the job, according to hiring records.
Batjer was appointed the same month Stebbins informed commissioners about the problems found with the agency’s accounting protocols. Early on, Batjer questioned Stebbins’ personnel choices, texting Julie Lee, who was serving as California’s acting secretary of Government Operations (GovOps) that she was “very concerned.” Batjer was upset that Stebbins had put the auditor in charge of other employees and had given him an increase in pay.
“I find this outrageous!” Batjer texted to Lee. “I’m terribly worried. Thanks much for any advice/help you can get before this gets much worse.”
“Let’s get together and figure this out!” Lee responded. “We will help you fix, don’t stress.”
“I can’t imagine her remaining,” Batjer later wrote to a colleague about Stebbins.
Stebbins filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the CPUC in December after which she was interviewed and stated, “You’ve got systemic issues. The only way you can make those changes is to really tear it apart.” She also said she was “disturbed” by what she found, including “fiscal mismanagement and disorganization which made holding utilities accountable impossible.”
However, the CPUC’s Director of the News and Outreach Office and spokesperson Terrie Prosper responded, “Her allegation that she was dismissed for finding alleged budget irregularities flies in the face of the clear public action taken by the CPUC. Stebbins’ findings were a result of a misunderstanding of the commission’s accounting practices.”
She hopes the lawsuit will bring to light the accuracy of her findings.