In reaction to that scandal, the Legislature in 1990 mandated a reorganization of the Public Utilities Staff. The “old” Public Utilities Staff was abolished and the “new” Public Utilities Staff was established as a completely separate and independent entity from the elected PSC. Under the 1990 law, the executive director of the Public Utilities Staff is appointed to a six-year term by the governor and that director hires Public Utilities personnel.
Lawmakers need to be cautious that they don’t let future PSC governance become a political football as it was before reforms. They need look no farther than the Mississippi Department of Transportation to see the folly of giving elected commissioners too much power to hire departmental staff and politicizing a major agency.
The PSC needs more staffing to help them sort out complex rate issues, and consumers’ interests need representation before the commission.
But independence is needed for the professional utilities staff. Utility regulation should be objective, not political, with safeguards to protect from potential abuse. Lawmakers should remember their PSC history.