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PSC reconsiders controversial vote

Stan Wise won't lead panel, Doug Everett to take over

POSTED: June 17, 2009 9:25 a.m.
ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia's Public Service Commission backed down from its decision to elect its own chairman and double the length of the post's term Tuesday after the state's top attorney said it had no authority to do so.

But a majority of the five-member body made it clear they would keep the debate alive by voting to table the issue rather than reverse it. The defiant trio said they are not bound by the attorney general's opinion and would again urge lawmakers to change the rules.

"It's not a reversal, we're just holding and waiting," said Commissioner Stan Wise. "We're saying, 'Fine we'll wait for the Legislature.' Hopefully, they'll get it right."

The tactic drew more criticism from the other two commissioners, who lobbied their colleagues to undo last month's decision rather than simply voting to reconsider it. They said the move would only leave the panel, which regulates public utilities, in limbo.

"This is not just any opinion. It's an official opinion and we need to take his advice seriously," said Commissioner Bobby Baker, who voted with Commissioner Chuck Eaton against tabling the motion.

The move comes a week after Attorney General Thurbert Baker concluded that the commission did not have the power to extend the term of the chairman from one year to two. He also said the panel couldn't replace a rotation system with one in which the body selects its own leader.

The opinion sent the commission's leaders scrambling to determine a response. Wise, who downplayed the attorney general's findings, said he ultimately supported a decision to reconsider the move to go beyond what he and others called a "distraction."

Wise and other commissioners had pushed for the rule change, which would have allowed Wise to take the chairman's gavel in July, on grounds that the state constitution grants the panel the authority to select its own leader. The law was changed in the early 1990s by frustrated state legislators after the commission struggled to select a chairman.

They also argued that the commission, like other state bodies, should be able to select its own chairman. And they contend that it would give the commission's leaders more leverage with state legislators, more time to push their agenda and more familiarity with their powers.

But the effort's opponents saw the move is a power grab by a trio of commissioners who grew impatient after a proposal that would have allowed them to vote for their own chairman failed in the last hours of the legislative session.

The critics contended it's a bold attempt by the three - none of whom are attorneys - to transform the commission's balance of power while keeping Bobby Baker, arguably the panel's best known consumer watchdog, from regaining the chairman's gavel when he is set to take it in 2012.

Former commissioner Angela Speir, an outspoken critic of the move, said Tuesday's vote reflects a "flagrant disregard and disrespect" for Georgia's attorney general.

"The commission's action this morning is like driving the wrong way down a one-way street and rather than backing up as the law enforcement officer tells you to do, you simply stop your car in the middle of the road," she said. "You're still in the wrong place."


 

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