A closer look at PPS general manager hire, Gary Zheng

Paducah Power System’s new general manager hire is already coming under criticism two weeks before his first day on the job. Gary Zheng comes to PPS from Texas where he was fired from Lubbock Power and Light last July. PPS Board Chair Hardy Roberts defended their hiring decision by saying Zheng was the best candidate.

Roberts said the board knew about the issues that led to Zheng’s termination before offering him the job in Paducah. In Lubbock, he was accused of bid rigging but never charged. Sources said people there also blamed Zheng for a 10 percent rate increase in 2013 and underbilling about 50,000 customers the same year.

Roberts said the PPS board was bothered and met to specifically discuss those issues. Ultimately, they decided Zheng’s experience fixing financially broken utilities made him the right person for the job.

Local Six contacted Zheng by phone. He said he’s already been evaluating PPS’s rate recovery plan to see if there’s a way to make it better. “I’m more interested in addressing the fundamental issues like our debt and power supply issues. Until we solve that part of the problem, it’s going to be something difficult. Certainly the challenge is something motivating for me,” Zheng said.

Zheng helped LP&L beef up their cash reserves by transitioning the utility away from city government and ending cash transfers. Those tactics won’t work in Paducah, because PPS is already run independently from the city. He said his departure from the utility in Lubbock was “political.”

Zheng has been working as a consultant on engineering projects and spending time with his family since last June. PPS offered him a one-year contract with six months severance.

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