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Ex-Enron official quits Texas post

  |   Jan. 18, 2002 at 4:57 PM
AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A former Enron executive resigned Friday as chairman of Texas' state utility regulatory agency amid a political controversy over his connections with the bankrupt Houston energy trading giant.

Max Yzaguirre said he was stepping down as head of the Texas Public Utility Commission because of "negative attacks" that were affecting his family and distracting attention from the important business of the agency which regulates the electric and telecommunications utilities.

"During recent weeks, my family and I have been subjected to a series of negative attacks which have had nothing to do with my job performance and which seemed to be politically inspired," he wrote in his resignation letter. "My eligibility to serve as a PUC commissioner has been questioned even though my background and qualifications had all been thoroughly analyzed and found to be fully consistent with the laws and standards of our state."

Yzaguirre said some of the claims have "strayed into inaccuracies" and distracted from the work of the commission. "It also has caused my family to have to bear the type of sacrifice that unfortunately deters many from public service," he said.

The letter was submitted to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed him to the post in June.

In a statement, Perry said Yzaguirre was "well qualified" for the job and had proved to be an able leader in ushering in electric deregulation in Texas at the first of the year.

"Despite recent unwarranted partisan attacks, I hoped Chairman Yzaguirre would continue his work for the electricity and telecommunications consumers of Texas," he said. "However, the past few weeks have been very difficult on a good man and his family."

Perry said he reluctantly accepted the resignation.

Among charges leveled by critics was one that Perry received a $25,000 campaign contribution from Enron chairman Kenneth Lay one day after the appointment. Perry explained that the timing of the donation was "totally coincidental."

Perry is running for his first four-year term as governor. As lieutenant governor, he automatically assumed the office when Gov. George W. Bush was elected president.

Yzaguirre, who headed Enron's Mexico operations, was one of Perry's most significant Hispanic appointments, but it has been controversial with Democrats and some public interest groups.

A state law forbids utility officials from serving on the regulatory commission but Perry said his lawyers studied the issue and determined that the former Enron official was qualified.

Democrats also criticized Yzaguirre for not listing all his Enron connections. He initially said he had headed the Houston's company Mexico operations, but later listed other Enron associations, which he said he had forgotten. One of them was Enron North America Corp.

State officials told The Dallas Morning News that Enron North America owes Texas $1.2 million for a gas contract, but it was unclear whether the state would collect now that Enron is in bankruptcy.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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