Friday, January 30, 2009

Public Interest Coalition Urges Transparency in Selection Process for PSC Commissioners

A growing coalition of 45 non-profit organizations held a press conference at the State Capitol on January 29th, announcing their request to Governor David Paterson that he "Put the Public Back in Public Service Commission," by making more transparent the nomination and confirmation process for PSC Commissioners. A webcast of the coalition's press conference was created by the New York Media Alliance.

The group, New Yorkers for Fair and Affordable Utility Service, pointed out that the issue is timely because the terms of two Commissioners expire February 1st. See More New PSC Commissioners Coming Soon?

In 2006, former Governor Pataki seemingly put his stamp on the Public Service Commission for six years when he appointed three commissioners to six-year terms in the waning months of his term. As stated by Governor Paterson:
"It's what I call ruling beyond the grave," said Senator David A. Paterson of Manhattan, the minority leader and now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Eliot Spitzer, who hopes to succeed Mr. Pataki. "In wills, trusts and estates law we have pretty much gotten rid of ways people could direct actions of other people in perpetuity. For some reason, in government we haven't addressed it."

"The Cuomo administration didn't do it," Mr. Paterson said, "but, to be fair, the Cuomo administration required the consent of the Senate."

* * * * Among other such recent appointees are Maureen Harris, whose brother is a lobbyist and was Mr. Pataki’s chief counsel, and Cheryl Buley, whose husband is counsel to the Republican State Committee, to six-year terms at $109,800 a year on the Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities.
See Appointments by Pataki Leave a Lasting Stamp, New York Times, September 16, 2006.

But one of the Pataki legacy picks unexpectedly resigned in 2008.

After last month's filling of that vacancy with his choice of Commissioner James Larocca, the two expiring terms now give the Governor and the State Senate, which must confirm all PSC appointments, a window of opportunity to select a majority of the PSC more attuned to consumer needs in the vastly changed economic circumstances of 2009. See Will Governor Paterson Repurpose the Public Service Commission?

Back in December, with no public announcement or press release before the appointment, Governor Paterson named Long Island Power Authority Board Chairman James Larocca to fill the vacant seat for a term which runs until February 2012. Larocca was immediately confirmed by the State Senate with no advance public notice. See In a New York Minute, Governor Paterson Appoints and Senate Confirms James Larocca as New PSC Commissioner.

Instead of a closed appointment and confirmation process - not uncommon in the past - the coalition seeks a more open process to provide the Legislature and the public an opportunity to learn more about prospective commissioners, their qualifications, and their policies before, not after, they take office to discharge their quasi-legislative role. See Another Paterson Appointment Brings More Concern About the Process; The coalition also suggested a list of proposed Commissioner qualifications.

According to the Albany Times Union (Input Sought on Picks for PSC - Coalition Urges Governor to Be More Open on Selection Process for Vacant Seats):
Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for Paterson, said the governor's appointments office considers all interested candidates and welcomes input from the public.

"The office then conducts a thorough vetting process for each appointment while simultaneously reviewing the statutory qualifications for each particular position," she said.

Shorenstein did not indicate what the governor's plans are or if the nominations will be made soon.
Contact information for the public to provide input to the Governor's Appointments Office is not apparent at the Governor's website but is in the OGS Directory for the Executive Chamber.

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