Louisiana Public Service Commission wants to further study BECi allegations

Published 4:05 pm Monday, April 29, 2024

The Louisiana Public Service Commission has directed that a docket be opened regarding Beauregard Electric Co-op.

At the LPSC monthly business and executive session on April 19, the LPSC agreed to move forward with opening a docket on BECi at the request of Commissioner Mike Francis, District 4, in response to the findings of a report by law firm Kean Miller LLP.

BECi has been at the center of controversy since the beginning of the year after its general manager, Brian Zelenak — who was put on a 45-day paid administrative leave in April to address concerns — “received various reports of alleged misconduct,” according to the report that was released by KPLC earlier this month.

Email newsletter signup

A news release from BECi stated that “while the investigation revealed no evidence to substantiate concerns of current or ongoing theft or criminal activity, the investigative report revealed facts which substantiated allegations that certain directors exercised undue influence and/or exhibited an abuse of power with respective to interfering with Beauregard’s day-to-day operations.”

Francis finds this report “concerning,” and added the item to the agenda to “give Beauregard a chance to come up” and give the commission a status report, he said.

Interim General Manager Kevin Turner, who previously served as general manager for 14 years, went before the commission to state BECi’s commitment to “ensuring the cooperative runs smoothly, which includes ensuring that the cooperative always maintains a decorum throughout the entire cooperative” and providing the board of director with proper education and training.

He said that “given the recent happenings at the cooperative,” BECi is in the process of scheduling on-site training for the directors.

“Beauregard looks forward to putting the past few months behind it and moving forward,” he said.

The commission requested that some BECi directors attend the next commission meeting that addresses the BECi docket.

A representative from LPSC told the American Press that paperwork regarding the docket has yet to be filed. The next business and executive session is on May 22, but it isn’t confirmed that the BECi docket will be on the agenda yet.

Report findings

On Jan. 11, Zelenak presented the list of allegations to the board during an executive session. In response to the allegations, BECi requested outside counsel. Kean Miller LLP completed a report to evaluate the validity of the alleged misconduct of the BECI board of directors.

One allegation was fully substantiated. The report found that Board Director J.R. Hickman received “preferential treatment” concerning a disconnection for non-payment or payment history. The individual that Hickman requested receive “preferential treatment” had a “history of not paying bills on time.”

The report continues by stating that the investigation “received credible and specific information” the BECi directors attempted to use their influence to receive exemptions and exceptions in regards to disconnect procedures. It was noted that these exceptions were requested for “constituents or friends” and not the directors themselves.

Allegations that were substantiated in part include an allegation that Hickman “threatened an employee’s future employment” because they did not hire the member’s relative and one that an employee’s job was threatened by Board Director Tommy Cryar, District 9, because of comments on BECi’s Facebook page that “appeared critical of BECi and/or BECi employees.”

One partially substantiated allegation was that Hickman “received free electricity for multiple years for multiple outdoor lights” on his property. The report stated the investigation was unable to fully substantiate this claim because Hickman did not make himself available for an interview.

The investigation also partially substantiated the allegation that board members requested linemen restore outages to their relatives, family members and close friends before other co-op members.

An allegation that past and current board members told BECi staff to build them outdoor furniture in the BECi woodworking shop on company time was found inconclusive, and the allegation at “at least one board member is encouraging linemen to unionize in order to blame it on the new general manager” was not substantiated.