The state’s utility regulators need to regulate themselves. They need to stop violating open-meetings laws and bad-mouthing a consumer watchdog agency.
The Kansas Corporation Commission was slapped this month with a $500 fine for violating the Kansas Open Meetings Act – the maximum fine allowed by law. The violation involved a process dubbed “pink-sheeting,” in which a staff attorney circulates a proposed order individually to each of the commissioners and obtains a signature from each indicating approval. The signatures take the place of a vote in an open meeting.
This process was used earlier this year to more than double the water rate for a small community near Salina without holding an open meeting. The court order invalidated that rate decision and prohibited KCC from using the process.
This isn’t the only problem the KCC has had with open meetings. Last summer KCC staff shut down a videoconference feed of an open meeting to its Wichita office after an Eagle reporter tried to watch it.
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The KCC has also had serious management problems. Last summer it forced out its executive director after the Topeka Capital-Journal obtained an audit reporting widespread complaints by staff about her management practices and behavior.
Last month, two days before a court-imposed deadline expired, the KCC approved new guidelines for how it will conduct business in compliance with open-meetings laws. This month’s court order didn’t cover whether the new guidelines comply with open-meeting requirements. But the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, a small state agency that represents residential and small-business utility customers, objects that the guidelines allow for “deliberative meetings” behind closed doors.
CURB was already in the doghouse with KCC Chairman Mark Sievers. He recently said the KCC should investigate whether CURB’s expenses are reasonable – raising concerns that the KCC was trying to control CURB. He also included a statement in a recent case docket criticizing CURB for being adversarial and filing “unproductive litigation.”
Such criticism didn’t sit well with David Springe, CURB’s consumer counsel, the Capital-Journal reported.
“We call that ‘unproductive litigation’ trying to protect our clients’ rights in front of this tribunal,” Springe said. “There’s a little thing called ‘due process.’”
Rather than criticizing CURB for being too adversarial, the KCC should be more like CURB. Instead of wanting to make rate cases easier on the utilities and on itself – such as Sievers’ suggestion last week that the KCC stop requiring cost studies if a rate-increase request is less than 10 percent – the KCC needs to conduct its business in open meetings and make protecting consumers a priority.
In other words, the KCC needs to be more like a watchdog and less like a lapdog.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee