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Will the Sun Set on PUCs?

Fortnightly Magazine - July 15 1998

cultural changes. The board is facing up to structural changes first, interviewing and selecting top-line management.

The "culturalization" process will be more difficult, the commissioner admits.

"We have to play within the rules that are established by our department of personnel, so we recognize there are some limitations on things we can do," she says. "There's a recognition by staff that there's going to be changes.

"It has created anxiety among the staff. It's also created some excitement. It's suggesting to staff there are some new opportunities there. Again, many of these people have been around for a long time and they've kind of become stagnant in some of their positions."

Does the process help smooth the path from tribal existence to healthy turmoil?

"There's a lot of turmoil to it," the commissioner admits. "I don't know how healthy some people think it is at this point...everybody sees it, if they're honest with themselves, they really do see that it's in our best interests."

Reconnecting the Lines

As far as commissioners' roles changing, Dierenfeld sees the need to communicate more regularly with legislators, to educate them like consumers. She says elected leaders need to know that parts of the industry, in the short term, will stay monopolies, and therefore, will need to be regulated. Yet, she has been told she will "probably never see a rate case."

Education of legislators will take time. In the most recent Iowa legislative session, Republican Senator Mary A. Lundby proposed Amendment 5603 to cut the board's $5.6 million annual budget by $150,000. According to the commissioner, the senator claimed that because competition was coming, cutbacks could begin this year, and eventually the budget could be eliminated entirely. The senator later withdrew her amendment, but "it was kind of a wake up call for us," Diernefeld says. "It got our attention. Again, it just reinforced that we need to do a better job communicating."

"If [commissioners] take the stance 'we're above it all,' then they realize they'll be done in, because there are other players ... not just the utilities, that are certainly active in legislature on this subject," Jones adds.

Susan M. Seltsam of the 200-employee Kansas Corporation Commission says communication must begin at the staff level.

Even the NRRI write paper notes, "Staff who are resistant to change may be those best protected by civil service and can safely ignore the 'short timers' until they go away. Commissions, with their highly judicialized processes may be even more resistant to change than other types of public organizations. Ex parte requirements, for example, inhibit commissioners attempting to communicate and reinforce a culture of change."

Seltsam relates her commission's own ex parte problem. One incident more than three years ago brought grousing from parties who thought they didn't get favorable decisions, partly because attorney advocates for the consumer also were advising the commission on its decision.

"They felt like attorneys and staff technical people had too much influence with the commission," Seltsam says. "They had taken a particular position in the hearing ... and it was a problem