Legislature Aims to Curb Ethics Abuses at Public Service Commission

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Just before Christmas 2003, the Public Service Commission voted for the largest telephone rate hike in state history. Just weeks earlier, pictures surfaced of commissioners drinking and eating with those they regulate.

"A commissioner may not accept anything from any business."

Ethics complaints were filed. The Commission on Ethics found probable cause the law had been broken. Enter the state Legislature. Before it adjourned this spring, it approved a bill allowing PSC commissioners to “hob-nob” with those they regulate.

Mark Herron, who represents the PSC commissioners in the case, is ready to go back to the Ethics Commission.

Mark says, “There’s a mechanism in the Ethics Commission’s laws for the Ethics Commission to come back and revisit a complaint at any stage in the proceedings to determine whether moving forward is in the public interest.”

Utility watchdog Mike Twomey says the change is a complete reversal of the current law.

Mike says, “And there is no necessity for regulating utilities paying the judges in these cases for meals, for fancier meals than they would otherwise get from the taxpayer per diem.”

For now anyway the ethics charges are still scheduled for an August hearing. Until 1979, PSC commissioners were elected.

Twomey and others believe they would be more accountable to the public if they faced merit retention elections just as judges do.