Colorado Springs Utilities is defending the hiring of Steven Kuhr, who was fired by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after he allegedly sent emergency crews to remove a tree from his own driveway amid Hurricane Sandy, a storm that killed 53 in the state and left more than 2 million without power.
Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says via email that Utilities' own investigation of the incident showed "no validity" to the allegation, which was investigated by the New York State Inspector General's Office. Nor is Utilities worried about a separate IG investigation into Kuhr's possible failure to disclose his wife's ownership of a consulting business.
"All we know is based on our research, and we were not concerned about [either] situation," Berry says in an interview. "So much of that environment after Hurricane Sandy was very political, and it's just the nature of New York politics." The IG's office didn't respond to requests for information.
Referring to Kuhr, Berry adds, "He was very forthcoming about everything."
Hired last August at an annual salary of $130,977, Kuhr runs Utilities' emergency management and business continuity office, which oversees crisis response planning for dams, water systems, wastewater treatment, and natural gas and electric systems, as well as assuring business services continue during an emergency. His office was "heavily involved," Berry says via email, during the recent fire situation at Martin Drake Power Plant.
Newsday reported on Nov. 7, 2012 — 16 days after Sandy struck New York and New Jersey — that Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Schneider said Kuhr had called Suffolk's emergency operations center earlier in the storm. During that conversation, Schneider told the newspaper, Kuhr, then the state director of emergency management, told an official about "a tree that was blocking the entrance to his home." Volunteer firefighters then cleared a path at the home, according to Newsday, and word got back to the governor's staff; Kuhr was fired from the job, which paid $153,000 per year.
In January 2013, the newspaper reported that the state had canceled a $415,000 contract held by Strategic Emergency Group LLC, owned by Kuhr's wife, Terri. Before Kuhr took the state job, he had owned a minority share of the company, Newsday reported, and pledged to divest. The IG investigation looked at whether Kuhr notified anyone that his wife still owned the company.
Kuhr says in his résumé, given to Utilities, that from November 2012 to August 2013 he worked as managing director for CrisisPoint, a crisis and risk management consulting firm. New York's Division of Corporations shows that CrisisPoint was established on March 20, 2013. CrisisPoint's website doesn't name any other people involved in the business besides Kuhr.
Berry wouldn't permit Kuhr to be talk to the Indy, but says Kuhr was one of eight interviewed by Utilities from more than 100 who applied. Asked to elaborate on what kind of investigation Utilities conducted into what happened in New York, Berry says it was done "mostly through Steve's references (since Steve was forthcoming about the allegations) and news reports."
Kuhr replaced Tama Wagoner, who previously held the position and retired.
"Personally, I have worked with several emergency management managers over the years and Steve is one of the best I've ever worked with, has a high ethical standard and is an upstanding individual," Berry tells the Indy. "I'm glad he's working on behalf of our customers in times of crisis."