Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
UCAN Talking Merger with TURN
San Diego-based Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN), a watchdog organization focusing on public utilities, is talking possible merger with San Francisco-based The Utility Reform Network (TURN).
Neither Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, nor Mark Toney, executive director of TURN, would comment. However, a person who has been very close to the top of UCAN for years says that the merger has been discussed among board members for a long time, although he doesn't know that actual negotiations are going on now.
Members of the UCAN staff have been forced to sign a document indicating that they will not discuss the possible merger. However, I was able to get confirmation from some, and they say that negotiations are ongoing. UCAN staff members are fearful that the combined organization would be based in San Francisco, and most if not all UCAN employees would lose their jobs. Presumably, Shames would remain in San Diego and work for TURN. I have also confirmed that Shames has told board members that UCAN might have to be shut down.
This comes among turmoil at UCAN. Inside whistleblowers have officially complained about a number of problems. One is that Shames lists himself as an attorney but has been an inactive member of the state bar since 1988. Another is whether Shames has adequately disclosed that he makes ten percent of intervenor fees that UCAN gathers from participating in California Public Utilities Commission cases. The UCAN board hired an attorney to study these matters and others.
I will have a lengthier report on UCAN woes in an upcoming column.