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TribBlog: Room at the Top, and Then Some

Jan Newton — who chairs the board of directors at the state's electric utility grid operator — is stepping down from that post, leaving the agency with interim officeholders and holes in key positions at the top of its organization chart.

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Jan Newton — who chairs the board of directors at the state's electric utility grid operator — is stepping down from that post, leaving the agency with interim officeholders and holes at the top of its org chart: Chair, CEO, CFO, COO, and general counsel.

Newton, a former AT&T exec, chaired the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) board for about 18 months, a tenure marked with high turnover in the agency's top jobs, and she was a regular board member for a little more than two years before that. ERCOT operates the grid over which about 85 percent of electricity in Texas is transmitted and is the clearinghouse for the resulting financial transactions.

Michael Gent, the vice chair, will take over until the board elects a new leader.

Bob Kahn left the CEO job in November. That post was filled by H.B. "Trip" Doggett — the agency's COO — on an interim basis. The agency has interims serving as its general counsel, and the jobs of chief financial officer and chief operating officer are vacant right now. They've decided not to fill an empty chief administrative officer position. Public Utility Commissioner Barry Smitherman, who's an ex officio member of ERCOT's board, recently made a play to become the new CEO, but backed out after talking that over with board members and others.

ERCOT's also in the middle of a periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission. It's a big agency, with almost 700 employees and with a 2010 operating budget of about $267 million. And the Sunset staff recommended stronger oversight of the non-profit agency by the Public Utility Commission. ERCOT is one of several agencies on the agenda for next week's Sunset hearings in Austin.

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