State regulators — Not ready for prime time?

State regulators — Not ready for prime time?

EDITORIAL State Regulators n the inside back cover of the directory of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners appears a homespu...

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EDITORIAL

State Regulators n the inside back cover of the directory of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners appears a homespun, heraldic paean to state regulators written by NARUC's longtime administrative director and general counsel Paul Rodgers. One couplet reads: "Balanced scales show their equity~Colors of blue and gold their integrity..." Equity and integrity were indeed the issue recently in the unusual contested election of a NARUC first vice president. Edward Salmon (N.J.), the Incumbent second vice president, was scheduled to ascend a rung on his way to serve the usual year as NARUC president in 1996. But something unfunny happened on the way to the election. It appears Mr. Salmon had behaved in ways some of his colleagues believed fell short of the propriety and integrity they expect of a NARUC officer. When they confronted him with examples and suggested he step aside, he refused to give way to the other candidate, Scott Neitzel (Wisc.), who was once a Salmon supporter. Oddly, although outgoing NARUC President Keith Bissell (Tenn.) dismissed the contest as "just politics," it wasn't partisan poli-

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January~February 1995

Not Ready for Prime Time?

tics: Salmon and his two leading reformer-critics---Sharon Nelson (Wash.) and Peter Bradford (N.Y.)--are all Democrats, while Neitzel is a Republican. What had Salmon done to earn this attention? At least four things, his critics said. He'd demonstrated unseemly closeness to utilities he regulated. He had undermined NARUC's credibility with a key member of Congress by showing up for a meeting more ready to address Bell Atlantic's business in camera than to discuss NARUC's business. He'd turned up at a Southwest Bell-backed hootenanny in Missouri aimed at undoing a controversial action of the Missouri Public Service Commission, ignoring the plea of a Missouri commissioner to stay home. And he'd interfered heavyhandedly in NARUC staff matters, attempting to have a wellliked NARUC staff member fired and replaced by an aide to a retiring New Jersey congressman who was a friend. Some consider this last charge Salmon's worst offense. As to the first matter, Salmon had the misfortune to turn up in the full-throated and tuneful testi-

mony of Linda Winikow, formerly a vice president and lobbyist for Orange and Rockland Utilities, following her felony plea to charges of political kickbacks and unlawful use of company funds. Winkow, a prominent camp follower at past NARUC meetings, boasted that she was Salmon's de facto campaign manager when he sought his initial position as a NARUC officer. Then there were pricey political dinners in New Jersey and elsewhere for which tickets magically appeared for Salmon. (After one such dinner Salmon wrote to thank Winikow "for a great evening of fun, food and fellowship. I felt like a mosquito at a nudist colony--didn't know where to bite first.") inikow testified that no question of the propriety of her furnishing the tickets crossed her mind nor did it appear to bother Salmon: "I believe [Ed Salmon] thought of me as his friend. I think he forgotEwhich is one of the things I tried to do---that I was a Rockland vice president.... And that was my job to do." Indeed it was her job to do, as it continues to be the job of many utility executives to host and jolly

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