Woman Dies After APS Cuts Her Power, and CEO Don Brandt Gets an Award

Pinnacle West CEO Don Brandt.
Pinnacle West CEO Don Brandt.
One can only wonder how it must feel to be Don Brandt.

To sit at the helm of a powerful and, apparently, untouchable company. To take home more than $12 million in compensation last year alone.

To have the luxury of remaining silent, at least publicly, in response to news that the company he leads, Pinnacle West, and its main subsidiary, Arizona Public Service, are responsible for the death of one of its customers — the one that we know of — after cutting power to her home on a 107-degree day last September, all for $51.

And, to top it all off, to receive an award, precisely one week after that news broke, from the influential Arizona Chamber of Commerce, given to "individuals whose accomplishments and commitment to Arizona are recognized not only in Arizona but also nationally and internationally." In previous years, that award has gone to the likes of Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O'Connor, and John McCain. (Remember, this is the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.)

This year, protests are planned outside the Phoenix Art Museum, where the award dinner will be held on Thursday evening at 5 p.m. Advocacy groups Chispa Arizona and the Sierra Club are taking the lead on the protest, saying in a press release that they want to hold Brandt and APS accountable.

The release included a litany of a wrongdoings by APS and Pinnacle West under Brandt's tenure. A selection from that list: The utility has spent millions of dollars on political campaigns to elect the very commissioners tasked with regulating APS. It has suppressed rooftop solar in Arizona. It effectively forced customers to pay 50 percent more than necessary for electricity. Oh, and its greed helped kill a customer.

In an interview last year with Chamber Business News, which is directly affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, Brandt extolled APS, his work with the company, and its "tremendous success," financially speaking (last year's profits: $511 million).

"I get the privilege of being the spokesperson, so to speak, for the company," he said. "During my tenure as CEO now, some of what I'll say that are the best accomplishments, in my mind, one is safety, for our employees and the public at large."

He touted APS's credit score — "one of the top five ... in the industry" — and its profits. "From a financial return standpoint, we've greatly exceeded almost twice what our industry index has been over the last five and eight years," he said.

A video of that interview-cum-hagiography was published on September 20, 2018, 13 days after APS cut off Stephanie Pullman's power and six days after the Sun City West Posse called the sheriff's office to enter her house after Pullman's family grew concerned.

Records show that APS knew of Pullman's death — and the associated APS disconnection — in September, after Pullman's daughter Jeanine Smith called the company. Yet it said nothing publicly until Thursday, when Phoenix New Times broke the news of Pullman's death and APS said it would temporarily suspend shutoffs for unpaid bills.

Don "the spokesperson" Brandt has yet to utter a peep about Pullman's death, garnering attention for his deafening silence.

"Don Brandt, where are you?" local television host Brahm Resnik demanded on the latest episode of Sunday Square Off.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts called on Friday for Brandt to step down. "If he’s got a conscience, he will resign. If he doesn’t, he should get a board-powered boot out the door," she wrote.

Jill Hanks, a spokesperson for APS, did not respond to New Times' requests to interview Brandt or for Brandt to provide a written response to Pullman's death.

Garrick Taylor, a spokesperson for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, was not able to respond by deadline to queries asking how the Chamber had selected Brandt as the recipient of this year's Heritage Award, what specific achievements he is being honored for, how the Chamber justified giving him the award in the wake of Pullman's death, and whether the Chamber had considered the matter at all.