Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PSC Secretary Finds No Evidence of Delay in Handling Hazel Towers Tenant Complaints Regarding Submetering

We have previously chronicled the unresolved tenant complaints to the PSC Office of Consumer Services (OCS) regarding submetering of electricity at Hazel Towers in PSC Case Nos. 09-00841 and 00-E-1269. After a year had passed without resolution of their members' complaints, the Hazel Towers Tenant Association (HTTA) filed a Petition May 6, 2009 with the PSC seeking action. See Hazel Towers Tenants Association’s Petition for Investigation and Remediation of Noncompliance with Prior Order for Vacatur or Modification of Order Establishing Terms and Conditions of Submetered Electric Service at Hazel Towers and for a Stay. The tenants pointed at pages 6 - 10 of their Petition to the absence of any response by the owner, long delays in resolving their case, and the owner's retention of a former PSC Chairman's law firm as counsel, suggesting "regulatory capture" of the PSC by submetering interests. The Petition further stated:
Whatever the reason for the stasis at OCS, Hazel Towers tenant complaints regarding these and other matters have not been timely acted upon, resulting in continued violations affecting large numbers of tenants with no remedy, and unjustifiable aging of the complaints. It is clear that the Commission’s complaint handling procedures have gone awry in handling the Hazel Towers complaints, and the problem is ripe for Commission investigation, review and actions.
On June 5, 2009, the PSC Secretary issued a Notice establishing a comment period on the petition in a new case. See PSC Seeks Comments on Petition of Hazel Towers Tenants to Halt Submetering, PULP Network, June 16, 2009.

In a July 24, 2009 letter, the Secretary to the PSC, who is its ethics officer, reviewed the history of handling of the year-old Hazel Towers complaint by the Office of Consumer Services (OCS) and allegations in the petition relating to the representation of Hazel Towers by a former PSC Chairman's law firm:
You alleged that "HTTA is aware that the attorney representing Hazel Towers [the submeterer] is a law partner of former Public Service Commission Chairman William M. Flynn, and the records of the [Office of Consumer Services] OCS indicates Hazel Towers retained their law firm, Harris Beach, due to the former Chairman's familiarity with [OCS] inner workings." You further stated that [the] Director of OCS, was appointed to her position by Mr. Flynn, and you pointed to various OCS staff annotations in the Hazel Towers complaint files and concluded that the past affiliation of Mr. Flynn with the Department of Public Service (Department) and [the Director of OCS] may have used to influence OCS Staff [sic] to cause these complaints to linger without resolution.
The Secretary concluded that she found
no evidence to suggest that the processing of these complaints was purposely delayed by any OCS manager or staff. ... [T]he delays experienced in the processing of the Hazel Towers complaints is attributable to factors such as the overall case load assigned to individual OCS staff members and the prioritization assigned to, and resources and expertise available for, particular types of cases.

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