Contracting practices at Denton’s city-owned electricity provider are under investigation, and the utility’s energy trading group may be next.
Four Denton Municipal Electric managers were placed on paid administrative leave while the city investigates how the DME employees chose to award multimillion-dollar contracts, the Denton Record-Chronicle reports.
DME, which provides electricity to most of Denton, is in the middle of a $1.1 billion upgrade and expansion of the city’s electric grid which includes a new gas-fired power plant dubbed the Denton Energy Center.
The power plant project’s two biggest contracts are estimated to be worth $100 million each. Three of the managers placed on leave worked on those contracts: Mike Grim, executive manager for power legislation and regulatory affairs; Bill Bunselmeyer, regulatory and risk division manager; and Jim Maynard, energy project development manager.
Phil Williams, who resigned as DME’s general manager after also being placed on leave, started the department’s energy trading group so the utility could trade directly with Texas’ power grid. That group’s practices may also be getting a closer look.
Denton City Manager Todd Hileman has recommended that the city hire outside auditors to review the energy trading group’s operations and conduct a risk assessment.
The heightened scrutiny of DME is warranted, says Mayor Chris Watt, because it is Denton’s largest department and “one of the critical utilities of the city. Its annual budget is bigger than the general fund.”
Deputy City Manager Bryan Langley noted that placing employees on administrative leave isn’t proof of wrongdoing, and no evidence has yet surfaced that any laws or policies were violated. But big budgets make big targets for graft – and require correspondingly high levels of transparency and accountability.
Denton residents should expect a full accounting of DME’s contracting practices when the city finishes its investigation in a few weeks.