OfReg chair Linford Pierson threatened to “box” his deputy during a heated board meeting after it was suggested Mr. Pierson may have broken the Anti-Corruption Law, according to minutes of the utilities regulator’s board.
Minutes of a special board meeting held in August describe a fiery verbal dispute between Mr. Pierson and deputy chairman Ronnie Dunn, in which both men threatened to strike each other.
At one point, the minutes indicate, Mr. Dunn left the meeting, claiming he was going to call the Anti-Corruption Commission to report the chairman’s behavior.
The documents, from three special meetings of the board of directors of the Utility Regulation and Competition Office, known as OfReg, were uploaded to the website Cayman Marl Road over the weekend. People present at the meetings in August, including Mr. Pierson himself, confirmed to the Cayman Compass that the draft minutes, which are unsigned, are genuine, though some aspects of what they describe are disputed. Mr. Pierson acknowledged that he had a heated verbal disagreement with his deputy Mr. Dunn, though he claimed the description of this in the minutes contained some “hyperbole.”
He said he had taken extreme offense to a remark by Mr. Dunn that he may have breached the Anti-Corruption Law by attempting to secure a commitment from board members to support his appointment as acting CEO of the organization.
Mr. Pierson says he did not break any law and has obtained written legal advice that shows his actions were not in breach of section 15 of the Anti-Corruption Law, as Mr. Dunn had suggested.
Speaking to the Compass from his home office on Monday, Mr. Pierson vowed to continue as chair of the board of OfReg – the “super regulator” responsible for overseeing the telecoms, water, electricity and fuel industries. Some of Cayman’s largest companies fall within its remit, including Flow, Digicel, CUC, Consolidated Water, Sol and Rubis.
He said his words were regrettable but he had never intended to strike Mr. Dunn and had reacted angrily to what he considers a defamatory allegation.
“That is not normal for me. Some words were said in anger and they were retracted and apologies made. We shook hands and we are friends again, as far as I am concerned.”
The dispute arose amid OfReg’s attempts to find a replacement for its CEO J. Paul Morgan, who completed his contract on Aug. 6.
The altercation is the latest in a series of controversies involving the organization. The Compass has previously reported that OfReg ran a nearly $1.5 million operating deficit in 2017, its first year of existence, racking up more than $1 million in consulting and professional fees, $2.2 million in salaries and benefits for 22 full-time staff members, some $234,000 in travel expenses, $244,000 in legal fees, and $305,000 in “other operating expenses.”
According to the leaked board minutes, at the first of three special board meetings in August, Mr. Pierson, who as chair of the board is responsible for appointing the new CEO, put himself forward as a candidate to take on the role on an interim basis for one year.
The board chair is a voluntary role which attracts a monthly stipend of $4,500, while the CEO is a paid position which attracts an annual salary of between $158,400 and $179,196.
Minutes of the meeting, on Aug. 16, indicate that Mr. Pierson told fellow board members that Cabinet had concerns about the progress of OfReg and wanted to temporarily halt the recruitment process for a new CEO.
He went on to say he had told the acting minister, Austin Harris, that “he would accept an appointment as CEO if the Board so voted.” He then indicated that he would resign his chairmanship of the board immediately prior to his appointment as interim CEO, the minutes state.
At that point, the minutes suggest general support for this but indicate “some questions arose over process.”
At the next meeting, the issue flared up again, when Mr. Dunn, the deputy chair, questioned whether Mr. Pierson had breached the Anti-Corruption Law by seeking support for his appointment as CEO before agreeing to resign from the board.
According to the minutes, Mr. Dunn recounted his recollection of the earlier meeting, saying that the chair had suggested he would resign the chairmanship of the board if he was appointed as CEO for at least one year.
He suggested this may be a breach of Section 15 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which prohibits negotiation over an appointment or resignation from public office in expectation of a reward.
Mr. Pierson, in an interview with the Compass Monday, acknowledged he had offered to resign as chair in order to take on the acting CEO role as an interim measure.
He said he had been unwilling to give up his post as chair without some confirmation that he would be appointed CEO. He described this as a normal employment position where anyone in the frame for a new job would be unlikely to step down from the old position without assurances of getting the new post.
He said he had obtained legal advice that this was not a breach of the Anti-Corruption Law, and his resignation from the board was actually a legal requirement for him to take on the CEO’s job.
He added that he had since removed himself from consideration for the CEO’s role and intended to continue as chair of the board of directors. Gregg Anderson and Duke Munroe have since been appointed joint acting CEOs.
Mr. Pierson also indicated he is no longer part of the recruitment committee to appoint a new permanent CEO.
The minutes suggest that the questions raised by Mr. Dunn resulted in an angry confrontation between the two men.
“The chair replied that RD (Ronnie Dunn) was impugning his reputation and could be sued and threatened to box RD in the head. RD threatened to return the punch. The chair indicated that RD would not be able to return the punch as RD would be knocked out ….” Mr. Pierson told the Compass that while an exchange similar to this had occurred, he had not said Mr. Dunn would be knocked out.
The minutes further indicate that Mr. Pierson threatened to have Mr. Dunn removed from the board and that other board members stepped in and “appealed for calm.” As the dispute continued, the minutes indicate Mr. Dunn stated he must leave the meeting to “make telephone calls to the [corruption] commission.” There is no suggestion that Mr. Dunn actually did call the commission.
The minutes for a third special meeting on Aug. 23 indicate that Mr. Pierson did apologize and his apology was accepted. Those minutes also indicate that the board approved some amendments to the minutes from the earlier meetings. Mr. Pierson told the Compass he believed the issue was now dealt with.
“I think it is all a total misunderstanding. It is going to be my pleasure to continue working with them. There is much to be done at OfReg and I look forward to us accomplishing our goals together.”