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Embattled APS chief Brandt to retire

By: - August 21, 2019 5:15 pm

Pinnacle West and APS CEO Donald Brandt. Screenshot via YouTube

Don Brandt, the embattled CEO of Arizona Public Service and its parent company Pinnacle West, will retire in November.

Pinnacle West announced on Wednesday that Brandt will step down effective Nov. 15. Brandt has been with the company for 16 years, and replaced Bill Post as CEO in 2009.

Jeff Guldner, APS’s current president, will succeed Brandt as the head of both Pinnacle West and APS.

Brandt’s tenure as head of Arizona’s largest utility was marked by record growth in the company’s stock, but has also been clouded by controversy.

Historically, APS and Pinnacle West took a hands-off approach to elections for the Corporation Commission, the five-member body that regulates utilities in Arizona. But that changed in a big way under Brandt. Pinnacle West secretly funded a $10.7 million dark money campaign aimed at electing pro-APS commissioners in 2014, and openly bankrolled a similar campaign in 2016.

The company has taken heat for a 2017 rate hike that critics viewed as excessive. And, most recently, the company has come under fire over revelations that a 72-year-old Sun City woman died after APS shut off her power for an overdue $52 bill on a 107-degree day.

Sandra Kennedy, the Corporation Commission’s lone Democrat and an outspoken critic of Brandt, said his retirement was past due.

“It couldn’t have come soon enough. I guess the stars are aligning,” she said.

Kennedy said she hopes to see a change in direction under Guldner, especially when it comes to election activities. She said she’d like to see APS and Pinnacle West get out of election spending altogether.

Republican Commissioner Bob Burns, an APS critic who spent years trying to force the company to disclose its 2014 election spending, echoed that sentiment. 

“I don’t think that the behavior of APS has done their reputation any good over the last few years with all of their participation in the election process and … using dark money in order to do that. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to move away from that, and I would hope that Jeff will be willing to do that,” Burns said.

Kennedy was optimistic about Guldner’s coming tenure as CEO. She said Guldner has always been open and up-front with her. She said she’s giving him the benefit of the doubt that there will be changes at the company, and is hopeful “that Mr. Guldner, being the person that I think that he is.”

Brandt is scheduled to testify before the Corporation Commission on Sept. 4.

In a press statement, Kathy Munro, lead director of Pinnacle West’s board of directors, praised Brandt and said the board has worked for some time on a succession plan for Brandt. 

“Our employees, customers and shareholders have greatly benefited from Don’s remarkable leadership and his strong and steady hand. His impact extends beyond APS,” Munro said. 

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”