WITH CITY TAKEOVER OFF THE TA­BLE, COMED HEAR­ING RE­DUCED TO PO­LIT­I­CAL THE­ATER

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

The City Coun­cil’s chance to pub­licly flog Com­mon­wealth Edi­son for a $1.3 mil­lion bribery scan­dal was quickly re­duced to po­lit­i­cal the­ater Thurs­day af­ter a top may­oral aide took Chicago’s trump card off the ta­ble right off the bat.

Mayor Lori Light­foot had asked a con­sul­tant to study the fea­si­bil­ity of a mu­nic­i­pal takeover of Chicago’s elec­tric ser­vice. The fi­nal re­port is ex­pected to be re­leased in Au­gust.

But As­sets and In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner David Reynolds de­liv­ered the bot­tom line pro­gres­sive al­der­men didn’t want to hear dur­ing a vir­tual hear­ing be­fore the City Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion.

“It ap­pears mu­nic­i­pal­iz­ing ComEd is not fi­nan­cially fea­si­ble for this city, given the cost of both pur­chas­ing ComEd’s dis­tri­bu­tion in­fra­struc­ture and sev­er­ing the por­tion of the sys­tem that serves Chicago from the por­tion that would serve ComEd’s re­vised ser­vice ter­ri­tory if the city were to mu­nic­i­pal­ize the por­tion that serves Chicago,” he said.

In­stead of pre­par­ing for a mu­nic­i­pal takeover, the city and ComEd have been “meet­ing at least weekly for more than a year to ne­go­ti­ate the terms of the new fran­chise agree­ment,” Reynolds said.

“We’ve made progress on mod­ern­iz­ing the agree­ment and mak­ing it more re­flec­tive of how the city and ComEd cur­rently work to­gether,” the com­mis­sioner said.

With the nu­clear op­tion off the ta­ble, ComEd CEO Joe Dominguez is­sued the lat­est in a se­ries of mea cul­pas for the scan­dal that saw the com­pany pay $1.3 mil­lion in bribes to as­so­ciates of Illi­nois House Speaker Michael Madi­gan in hopes of land­ing the speaker’s sup­port for leg­is­la­tion ben­e­fit­ting the util­ity to the tune of $150 mil­lion.

That re­sulted in a “de­ferred prose­cu­tion agree­ment” re­quir­ing the util­ity to pay a $200 mil­lion fine and co­op­er­ate with the con­tin­u­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion that is clearly tar­get­ing Madi­gan.

“We are deeply sorry for the con­duct that is out­lined . ... It rep­re­sents a breach of trust to the city, to our cus­tomers” and em­ploy­ees, Dominguez said.

“There are no ex­cuses for the con­duct. And nei­ther I nor will any­one at ComEd of­fer any ex­cuses. … It’s my job ... that what hap­pened never hap­pens again.”

But Dominguez stressed that the de­ferred prose­cu­tion agree­ment does not sug­gest the smart grid law ap­proved by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly dur­ing the bribery scan­dal was bad pol­icy or harmed cus­tomers.

“I’m not go­ing to tell you that the end jus­ti­fies the means. I’m sim­ply mak­ing the point that the in­vest­ments that have been made in the sys­tem ... did not harm cus­tomers,” he said.

“We have earned a profit on those in­vest­ments. But those in­vest­ments have pro­duced enor­mous value.”

Dominguez’s “no-harm-to-cus­tomers” claim did not sit well with Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor. Smith noted ComEd’s stock price has not been dam­aged by the al­le­ga­tions and the util­ity con­tin­ues to de­clare its reg­u­lar div­i­dend. “Maybe what we’re talk­ing about is an old-fash­ioned ref­er­ence in Chicago: A lit­tle cor­rup­tion is OK as long as the city works. That is not a po­si­tion I’ve ever held,” Smith said.

“It is out­ra­geous to think that we can have some­thing func­tion­ing bet­ter and yet have to en­dure cor­rup­tion to get it.”

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), a for­mer top aide to Madi­gan, low­ered the boom on Dominguez.

“Your com­pany stepped in it. … Illi­nois ratepay­ers and con­sumers didn’t ben­e­fit from that bad be­hav­ior. Your ex­ec­u­tives and your share­hold­ers did,” Reilly said.

“Com­mon­wealth Edi­son has let us down be­fore. But this time ComEd let down con­sumers in a spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. And as far as I’m con­cerned, ComEd ad­mit­ting guilt and mis­con­duct and pay­ing a $200 mil­lion fine is get­ting off easy.”

Reilly said the Illi­nois Com­merce Com­mis­sion — chaired by the daugh­ter-in-law of for­mer Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), one of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the bribery scheme — “may choose not to hold” ComEd ac­count­able, “but the city of Chicago will” — by ne­go­ti­at­ing a fran­chise agree­ment that is shorter and ben­e­fits con­sumers.

As ex­pected, Chicago won’t be tak­ing over elec­tric ser­vice from ComEd, a city of­fi­cial said Thurs­day, even with the util­ity caught up in a bribery scan­dal. SUN-TIMES FILE

Joe Dominguez, ComEd CEO ZOOM

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