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KCC’s Performance Not Acceptable

Opinion Press - June 18, 2013 8:50 am

The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Topeka Capital-Journal

The vacancy in the executive director’s position at the Kansas Corporation Commission may be one positive step toward fixing what ails that agency, but there is much more work to be done before it regains the public’s trust.

Patti Petersen-Klein’s departure last week from the executive director’s post, however that was accomplished, certainly appeared to be necessary to smooth a serious rift that had developed between upper management and staff employees.

Equally damaging to the KCC’s credibility, and perhaps even more so, is the news that the agency’s three commissioners have a habit of ruling on issues that come before them without benefit of public hearings, which is a clear violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

How that transgression will handled in unknown at this point, but it’s clear that Gov. Sam Brownback will have to pay closer attention to what’s going on in the KCC’s corner of the world. The governor appoints the commissioners, and the group’s chairman appoints the executive director.

The recent failings, up and down the line, of those in charge at the KCC reflect badly on Brownback and the job of restoring trust in the agency falls to him.

Brownback has appointed two of the current commissioners, including chairman Mark Sievers, who hired Petersen-Klein. The third member, Tom Wright, was appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and re-appointed by former Gov. Mark Parkinson.

The commissioners and Petersen-Klein had approved a rate increase of more than 100 percent for a small Salina utility whose customers include residents of a subdivision north of that city. Rather than conduct a public hearing on the utility’s request for an increase in rates, commissioners and Petersen-Klein met individually with a KCC attorney to give their positions on the proposed rate hike.

The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board subsequently sent letters to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Shawnee Country District Attorney Chad Taylor noting the individual meetings represented binding action on the part of the KCC without first approving the rate hike during a public meeting.

Topeka lawyer Mike Merriam said the practice used to approve the rate increase constituted a serial meeting, which is illegal under the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The process used was known within the KCC as “pink sheeting” and apparently was an accepted way of doing business there.

Regardless of how prevalent “pink sheeting” was, it is illegal and not an acceptable way of doing the public’s business.

Before Sievers hires the KCC’s next executive director, someone needs to inform commissioners their performance is falling short of what is required from people placed in charge of such an important agency and demand better.

City of Salina