In a statement released Monday, February 13, the board of directors of Central Hudson installed Christopher M. Capone as president and chief executive, replacing Charles Freni. Capone’s appointment is effective immediately.
“The Central Hudson board of directors believes the time is right for a change of leadership,” said Margarita Dilley, board chair of Central Hudson.
“The resignation of Fortis/Central Hudson CEO Charles Freni is a welcome first step in changing the management culture that is responsible for the company’s customer-billing fiasco, but much more action is needed to unwind the damage done by the utility to Ulster County residents and small businesses,” wrote Ulster County executive Jen Metzger Monday morning. “Fortis/Central Hudson must take full responsibility for its failures, fix all customer billing errors, end the practice of estimated billing, and return every penny spent on the new customer billing system to ratepayers. I continue to urge the Public Service Commission to move forward with a prudence review and civil penalty assessment to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
Over the last couple of months Freni foundered under a dogpile of denunciations criticizing the troublesome implementation of the utility’s new customer information system.
“Unfortunate impacts,” “the frustrations that some customers have felt,” “technical challenges.” The passive language failed to satisfy an outraged public. Not even Freni’s “deeply apologetic” letter for the “undue stress and confusion caused to some of you” was able to tamp down the rising temperature of criticism.
The critics wanted the Central Hudson shareholders to pay for relief measures extended to customers. Ten days ago, congressmember Pat Ryan lambasted Freni from the floor of the United States Congress., saying that Central Hudson had “doubled down on their deflection, denial, and deception” and called for Freni’s exit.
Freni’s replacement, Christopher Capone, has worked at Central Hudson for two decades, performing such duties as executive oversight of accounting, risk management, internal auditing, enterprise support services and energy resources.
Capone, a Marist College graduate, will inherit a complicated legal bouquet handed to Freni by the NYS Public Service Commission before Christmas last year. The PSC offered a highly critical accounting of the utility’s missteps. Suggested remedies included civil penalties, administrative penalty proceedings, a prudence proceeding, and compulsory refunds to overcharged customers.
Whether Capome will win the hearts and minds of Central Hudson’s customers will be complicated, and Capone knows it. In his first statement, he adopted a careful posture.
“A key priority will be addressing the frustrations some customers have felt resulting from the implementation of the new customer billing system,” said Capone. “ We have hired a significant number of additional personnel, including contact-center employees and other professionals to work on these issues around the clock.”
Freni will assist with the transition before retiring. “Charlie has dedicated his professional life to Central Hudson, serving in a wide array of areas over 40 years,” said Dilley. “The board appreciates Charlie’s leadership and service to the company, to the employees and to the community. We wish him well.”