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Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt still has powerful support. Why?

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 6/24/2019 Laurie Roberts
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A hearty congratulations to APS CEO Don Brandt, who was honored last week by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry for his “accomplishments and commitment to Arizona”.

No less than Gov. Doug Ducey was on hand at the Phoenix Art Museum to laud Brandt as he received the chamber’s prestigious Heritage Award.

“I always thought it was somewhat poetic justice that Don Brandt led an energy company because this is a guy that has a tremendous amount of energy,” Ducey said, according to a chamber report on the private event. “It’s often like he’s in three or four places at the same time.”

The state’s power set turned out en masse to fete the guy who runs the state’s largest and most powerful utility – the one that turned off the power on a 107-degree day to a 72-year-old Sun City woman who then had the bad manners to die.

Chamber president and CEO Glenn Hamer called it "a privilege and honor to have a chance to recognize you,” adding “I just want to thank you for the role you’ve played in making this the greatest state in the country.”

And, no doubt, for the role Brandt has played in ensuring that Arizona Public Service is one of the chamber’s two biggest contributors.

Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said Brandt is “gifted with a grace of leadership that few executives have.”

Plaza Companies President and CEO Sharon Harper called him “a servant leader…a thoughtful steward, not only on behalf of his company and its shareholders, but of our community.”

Funny, grace is not the word I would have used for the the $1-million-a-month utility executive who has said not one word about the death of Stephanie Pullman since the public learned about it on June 13.

Brandt may be “in three or four places at the same time” but none of those places have been in front of the public wherein he explains what the utility did when it knew at least three months before her death that Pullman was struggling to pay her bill.

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Explains why APS cut the power to her home two days after Pullman paid $125 toward her $176.84 delinquent account.

Explains what the utility did after learning that Pullman had died just days after it flipped the "off" switch.

Or more specifically, why the utility continued cutting power to people on 100-degree days until last week when finally the Arizona Corporation Commission -- which also knew last September that she had died -- passed an emergency order barring disconnections from June 1 through Oct. 15.

One would think state regulators would call on Brandt to appear before them to explain APS’s actions, but no….

And, to be fair, there are customers who have no problem with what APS did – or with what the Corporation Commission didn’t do.

After the Phoenix New Times laid out the story of Pullman’s death earlier this month, I called on Brandt to resign or get the boot.  I got hammered by a some readers who said I should lay off APS.

“Using your logic, if a person is hungry and has no money they should be able to go in a grocery store and pick up any food they want and walk out without paying for it,” David wrote. “Or they should be able to order a meal in a restaurant and leave without paying for it. Service and product provided by APS is no different.”

Actually, it is different, given that no restaurant or grocery store has ever had a monopoly on food, but I digress.

Others were unfazed by the fact that fully a third of APS’s customers were hit last year by bills two and three times what APS advertised when it requested its rate increase – a $95 million bonanza that was rubber stamped in 2017 by a commission filled with regulators who had been elected with APS’s help.

 “Your statements about people having 2x and 3x bills is nothing but ‘Pelosi’” wrote William. “I just paid my APS bill which was down 29% from last year.”

It is, I am told, unfair to blame the company that shut off Stephanie Pullman's power for having any role in Stephanie Pullman’s heat-related death. 

“Your actions fit your liberal bully pulpit on behalf of your employer,” Roger wrote. “You perpetuate the entitlement ideas of today, that no matter what, whatever happens has GOT to be someone’s fault!

“We refuse to believe that we should be accountable for our own actions and their consequences. You reported that she was a stubborn person and therefore it was not her fault if she died? Where was her daughter, family or any known community support?

“We need to be responsible for the decisions and actions we take, life is not always fair.”

Life, indeed, is not always fair.

Just one week after Pullman’s death became public, Brandt received his award, saying he was humbled by the honor.

“Please accept my heartfelt and humble appreciation of this outstanding award. (My wife) and I made Arizona our home and we…share a commitment to serve its extraordinary people,” he said in his acceptance speech, as reported by the chamber. “Arizona’s prosperity didn’t rise by happy accident. In our state, the enduring promise of freedom and the ability to reap the rewards of honest enterprise still beckon.”

APS parent Pinnacle West Capital Corp., by the way, earned $1 billion off the utility's captive customers in 2017 and 2018, thanks in no small part to a set of regulators elected with APS’s help. And in the first quarter of 2019, the utility’s earnings jumped 460 percent over the same time last year.

Talk about your prosperity that didn’t rise by happy accident…

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt still has powerful support. Why?

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