OUR OPINION: Maintain PSC’s ability to investigate services

By NEMS Daily Journal

Bills assigned to committees in the Mississippi Senate and House would strip the Public Service Commission of its power to investigate public utilities, including issuing subpoenas involving its statutory power related to “governance, management and internal affairs of public utilities.”
Plenty of people, companies and organizations could be the source of the bills because those regulated by the PSC generally would rather be able to operate as they please, regardless of the public’s interests.
One of the recent controversial examples of the elected commission’s intervention in a troubling public service situation came in 2011 and 2012 when the North Lee Water Association, initially at the request of ratepayers, was investigated for mismanagement within its board of directors.
That investigation, about which the Daily Journal extensively reported, ended with the resignation and replacement of the existing board, which had ignored some of the organization’s own bylaws and had fallen under the influence of personalities more than public policy.
New board elections were held, a former employee eventually pleaded guilty to a criminal charge, and new management has undertaken appropriate day-to-day operations by the book.
The current North Lee president, Ken Clemons, said Tuesday he was surprised to hear about the legislation.
“Nothing would have ever changed at North Lee without the Public Service Commission,” Clemons said in response to question by Daily Journal staff writer Patsy Brumfield, expressing his concerns about the bills.
Clemons recently reported improved operations and expansive plans to upgrade the water system.
Nobody has claimed North Lee has become a perfect water system, but many of its customers have said service is better, and they are enthusiastic about planned upgrades.
Critics representing the interests of anyone other than the customers of the regulated utilities or other operations broadly under the commission’s umbrella should back off, and the Legislature should allow both bills to die by inaction or defeat them by vote.
The commission is designed to be the consumers’ voice in matters of public regulation, and the special interests should be denied influence beyond what every concerned citizen has individually to seek fairness and honesty in services purchased.