The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board hired a new consumer counsel Friday, but who it is remains a secret.
The board made the hire after a closed session, without revealing the name of the person. The agency did confirm that the new hire is a man.
The consumer counsel is the chief lawyer for the state agency, representing the interests of residential and small-business utility customers in the court-like process used to set electric, gas and other rates for privately owned utilities in Kansas.
The ayes have it. We have a new consumer counsel. Congratulations.
Ellen Janoski, chairwoman of CURB board
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Board members voted to hire someone for the job, referring to him only as “the candidate.”
“I would ask that we make a motion to hire the candidate under review for the position of consumer counsel to CURB,” board Chairwoman Ellen Janoski said shortly after the board emerged from a closed session.
After the unanimous vote, she closed the meeting, saying: “The ayes have it. We have a new consumer counsel. Congratulations.”
After the meeting, Philip Michael, a Department of Administration lawyer who has been filling in at CURB, said the candidate had asked that the announcement of his name be delayed to give him time to inform his current employer. An announcement will be coming Wednesday, Michael said.
The new consumer counsel will replace David Springe, who left in December to take a job in Washington with a national association of utility advocates. Springe had been with CURB for 17 years, including 14 in the top job.
Last month, the board fired Niki Christopher, the interim consumer counsel, after she clashed with Janoski over a board decision to strip her of the traditional consumer counsel roles of representing the agency in the Legislature and news media.
The tipping point was a bluntly worded e-mail by Christopher urging the board to restore those powers to head off a potential public fight in the Legislature over House Bill 2500, a measure to limit the board’s powers.
Christopher said such a fight would damage the agency’s standing and credibility with lawmakers and the media.
It’s unclear what direction the board plans to take with its new counsel.
Janoski’s predecessor as board chair, former Republican state legislator Brian Weber, quit in December, shortly after a meeting at which the other members suggested shifting CURB’s focus toward opposition to federal clean-air regulations that are increasing the cost of electricity from coal-burning plants.
The board members are all appointees of Gov. Sam Brownback, an opponent of Environmental Protection Agency air rules and supporter of coal power.