A routine staff meeting at the state Capitol turned controversial last week when a California Public Utilities Commission official was caught trying to secretly record the conversation.
A briefing on an upcoming Senate budget subcommittee hearing was under way Friday when a smartphone belonging to PUC Energy Division Director Edward Randolph interrupted with an announcement that the recording space on his device was full.
The discovery surprised and angered many of the more than a dozen attendees of the off-the-record, private meeting, which was quickly called to an end.
Randolph initially denied that he was trying to covertly record the meeting, but later apologized to some attendees. The meeting included members of the Senate subcommittee staff, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the Department of Finance and the PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an office that has clashed with PUC leadership.
Now, officials are reviewing whether Randolph's actions broke California law, which requires consent of all parties involved to tape private conversations. Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said the senator's office is aware of the issue and is looking into "whether any rules or laws have been broken and any appropriate recourse based on that."
Randolph referred a request for comment to a PUC spokeswoman, who issued a statement saying he has "accepted responsibility and acknowledged that it was a poor spur of the moment action on his part."
She declined to comment on whether the PUC is investigating the legality of the action or pursuing any disciplinary actions of its own, citing personnel and privacy issues.
"He immediately apologized to everyone in the room collectively and then followed up with individual apologies," spokeswoman Terrie Prosper wrote in an email, noting that Randolph also deleted the audio file.
Friday's incident came about a month after PUC officials faced a grilling from members of the Assembly over the agency's handling of several special funds. A Department of Finance audit found "widespread weaknesses within (PUC) budget operations which compromise its ability to prepare and present reliable and accurate budget information."
Call Torey Van Oot, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5544. Follow her on Twitter @capitolalert.