Zheng Faced Intense Scrutiny at Previous Job
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - The new general manager of Paducah Power System brings along some professional baggage as he moves from Lubbock, TX to western Kentucky.

Dr. Gary Zheng was just hired by the utility, which has been highly scrutinized since rates have skyrocketed, related to the current economy and debt service from their investment in the Prairie State Energy Campus. But PPS board members apparently liked their new man enough to face more criticism over his past.

Zheng's last job as general manager of Lubbock Power and Light ended with his termination without cause last July, after several attempts by a recently revamped board to oust him. He had been with the company in various positions for 18 years, and received a severance package of about $700,000.

The news website reports that in October of 2013, Zheng was accused of mishandling bids on a major supply contract. An outside law firm investigated and found nothing illegal, but the bids were thrown out. The website reported that Zheng admitted he took information from someone associated with the bid process, which created the appearance that one bidder had an unfair advantage.

Lubbock Attorney Charlie Dunn was on the board that ended their relationship with Zheng, and he admits it was part of his plan when he joined the LP&L Board in 2013. "There was no question that the bidding process that occurred in Feb. 2013, prior to the time I got on the board, had been tainted by mismanagement. Whether or not Dr. Zheng had a hand in that is disputed, and that is currently the subject of an investigation by the FBI that I'm not privy to," Dunn said.

He qualified that statement by saying the FBI won't confirm, or even comment on a possible investigation, which is their typical practice.

Andrea Underwood of Paducah Power said the local utility's board vetted Zheng "very rigorously," speaking to him about how his tenure ended in Lubbock, and doing a thorough background investigation that involved conversations with Lubbock officials and board members. She said they used the highly-regarded Dowdy Recruiting Firm of Conifer, CO, to help in the hiring process, and the board saw the results of the investigation into the bids at Lubbock.

Underwood said, "Because of the results of that independent investigation by that attorney's office, we really felt that it was a political situation there, and that his skills were exactly what we needed." She said they knew there would be questions about the "cloud surrounding him," but the board decided his qualifications were so well suited for the job that they made their decision without fear of criticism.

Zheng is set to begin working in Paducah February 9, and interim GM Mark Crisson's time with PPS will end a few days later.

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Published 07:30 PM, Tuesday Jan. 27, 2015
Updated 09:41 PM, Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015

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