By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi’s Public Service Commission – a three-member elected body – must submit personnel recommendations by June 30 from which Gov. Barbour will nominate a new PSC staff director to succeed the retiring Bobby Waites.
We agree with Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, D-Nettleton, that the nominees should not include a public utility “insider” for the obvious reason that the commission is a regulatory body and its staff needs leadership that’s independent of influence from utilities’ interests – and all politicians, including the commissioners and the governor.
The basic qualifications for the staff chief post (the PSC staff is the policy resource adviser to the commission) are set in law:
n The executive director of the public utilities staff must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have extensive experience and knowledge in public utilities economics, utility service and “rate construction.”
Several sectors other than utility posts could provide candidates, including financial services, engineering, executive or managerial private-sector management, or academia.
The commission generally regulates Mississippi’s electric, gas, water, sewer and telecommunications utilities. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which serves 36 Mississippi counties and 320,0000 households, many in the Northern District, is excluded from rate regulation by the commission, but it falls under quality of service regulations.
Major utilities – public and private-sector – use professional lobbyists to represent their interests, especially with legislative and regulatory bodies. Consumers statewide rely on the PSC to fairly represent their interests in dealing with utility service providers of all kinds.
Presley also has suggested an open interview process for potential candidates, in effect a public meeting open to all consumers who want to hear prospective executive directors’ answers to commission questions. Candidates should have nothing to hide in a position that needs public transparency in its general administrative functions.
The Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications, electric, gas, water and sewer utilities.
Consumers – and utilities – need a fair, even-handed, and independent voice at the top of the PSC staff chart. Information flowing from the staff to the commissioners requires neutrality that ensures the best recommendations for all.