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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana utility regulator's job move raises new questions" - but are they really with the law itself?

Late yesterday John Russell of the Indianapolis Star posted this story. Some quotes:

The newest member of the powerful Indiana state agency that approves utility rates is resigning after less than three years on the job to take a job with a private organization that represents dozens of utilities across the Midwest in controlling the region’s electrical grid.

Kari A.E. Bennett plans to leave the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Nov. 22 to take a job as senior corporate counsel with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, better known as MISO. * * *

Indiana’s inspector general cleared Bennett to take the MISO job, saying the move would not violate Indiana’s revolving door rules because she would not be lobbying the IURC in her new capacity. * * *

MISO, based in Carmel, represents more than 40 utilities, including Duke Energy, Indianapolis Power & Light Co., Vectren and Northern Indiana Public Service Co., all of which appear before the IURC to seek approval for utility rates and projects. It also represents some citizens’ groups and consumer advocates.

Bennett is one of five commissioners on the IURC that sets utility rates and reviews requests for new power plants. She was appointed in January 2011 by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to fill the unexpired term of David Lott Hardy. * * *

MISO is responsible for overseeing nearly 66,000 miles of transmission lines that make up the electric grid throughout the Midwest and part of Canada.

At the IURC, Bennett served as liaison between the agency and MISO over such things as ironing out transmission boundaries that involved Indiana utilities.

Indiana law requires state employees to wait for a year after leaving government to take a job as a lobbyist or with an organization with whom they negotiated any contracts or made decisions that affected their new employer.

The IURC’s general counsel and ethics officer, Doug Webber, told The Star that Bennett would not lobby the IURC or any other of Indiana’s executive offices in her new job.

Webber said he sought and received informal approval from the Indiana Inspector General’s office to clear Bennett to make the move, in an effort to avoid any possible ethics issues.

Later in the story:
The IURC issued a press release on Friday about Bennett’s resignation, but did not say where she was going.

Then for several hours on Tuesday, the agency and the ethics commission both said that request for an informal ethics opinion, as well as the response, were confidential under state law. The IURC ultimately agreed to release both documents.

Julia Vaughn, program director for Common Cause/Indiana, said the IURC continues to suffer from credibility issues.

“It’s discouraging that the IURC and the ethics commission seem to have forgotten all about the dark cloud of impropriety that continues to hang over the utility commission,” she said.

Reporter Russell has now provided a link to the IURC's request to the Inspector General for an informal opinion on Kari Bennett's move to MISO, along with the response from the Inspector General's office.

The Star story ends with this:

Julia Vaughn, program director for Common Cause/Indiana, said the IURC continues to suffer from credibility issues.

“It’s discouraging that the IURC and the ethics commission seem to have forgotten all about the dark cloud of impropriety that continues to hang over the utility commission,” she said.

ILB: However, it appears that the critics' issues should be with the law itself, not with its implementation in this case.

For background, here is Gov. Daniels' announcement of his appointment of the highly qualified Ms. Bennett to the IURC on Jan. 13, 2011. Her term would have ended on March 31, 2014. The ILB, for one, is sorry to see her go.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 13, 2013 09:25 AM
Posted to Indiana Government