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Behind the Limelight: An Interview with the Advisors for Five Key Regulators

Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 1998

Joined Vermont board Nov. 6, 1989. Age: 41.

Do you aspire to become a commissioner? Do I? No. I'm making no deliberate or conscious efforts to become a commissioner. That having been said, I have applied for a commissionership and was not nominated, in Vermont.

The next term that's up for consideration is the chairman's position. That obviously is a much more weighty decision on the part of the governor and not being a lawyer would work against me.

What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? From 7:30 to 6:00¼ one of two things happen. I have two broad functions here at the Public Service Board. I'm a staffer who assists the board and advises the board in its deliberations on the issues before it¼ but I'm also a hearing officer, so I hear cases directly. I am an administrative law judge.

I hear cases and then issue proposed decisions. Everything I do as a hearing officer is what the board would do or does do when it hears cases directly (em except for one thing. I can't issue a final decision.

How are staffers hired? They're hired by Richard Cowart, the chairman.

How does your personality reflect that of your boss? When I interviewed for the job, I didn't even know who [Cowart] was. I knew nothing about Vermont. I only knew Vermont was heading in the right direction on DSM. A hearing officer here had issued a comprehensive and lengthy report on integrated resource planning and demand-side management that we at CLF thought was a good thing.

The question you're really asking is¼ how do staff internalize the imperative, the inclination, the general tone and tint of the commission in their own actions?

My politics are far to the left of the commissioner's, as a general matter. How does that affect my work? One thing that I think I have¼ is a fundamental respect for the law. So that I feel it is important, appropriate to a fair and functioning society to act appropriately within the law.

Professionally, Richard and I tend to disagree on very little. And you're right to say, hell, Rich pays his salary¼ but let me tell you, Richard and his board have never told me to shut up¼ they've always listened to me.

What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? I have learned that all economic actors act to protect their economic welfare.

What else have I learned? That these people are people and in general the people who come before me are forthright, honest, hardworking, dedicated people (em at the utilities, at the consumer advocate, intervenor groups.

How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? In terms of process, to make sure the case gets the attention it deserves, they have to keep making noise about it. But that suggests, in the absence of nagging on the part of various parties, nothing would happen. I can say as a general matter here at the Public Service