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PSC: The Final Meeting?

One-by-one, commissioners filed onto the dais in a narrow hearing room on the 16th floor of the William Donald Schaefer Tower in downtown Baltimore. There were highly technical questions, an award ceremony and photo opportunity, but no outward signs that the meeting had the potential to be their last.

The General Assembly has pinned blame on the appointed utility regulators at the Public Service Commission for approving massive electricity rate hikes that take affect this summer. Legislation sent to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. last week would effectively fire all five commissioners this Sunday and allow lawmakers to appoint four of five replacements on Monday.

After yesterday's meeting, the full commission is not scheduled to convene again until April 12.

Ehrlich has defended the commissioners for following the rules put in place by their predecessors and suggested he would veto the legislation.

But Democratic lawmakers have been highly criticial of Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler after he unilaterally dismissed five senior employees, and more recently when e-mails surfaced that showed his close relationship with a Pepco lobbyist.

Christine Nizer, a spokesman for the PSC, said the commission would not respond to questions about the pending legislation and that Schisler was too busy to talk yesterday.

Even though the 45-minute meeting was routine, there were subtle differences. A TV camerman showed up to chase down a rumor that the commissioners were going to be fired Wednesday. Deputy executive secretary Donald Eveleth, who has worked at the commission since 1981, jokingly introduced himself to a reporter as "one of the incompetent staff that can't do anything because there's no one left."

"To suggest that losing five people somehow made the agency less efficient," he said, shaking his head.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  April 6, 2006; 7:18 AM ET
 
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