Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Did Arizona Corp Comm chair Bitter Smith forget to protect her flank?

In all her glorious smugness -- over Trash Burner Bob's beleaguered bumblings regarding likely ex-parte communications and improper campaign coordination with Arizona Public Service executives, Koch-money handler Sean Noble, and now APS-owned commissioners Tommy Forese and Doug Little -- it seems Corporation Commission chair Susan Bitter Smith left her flank open to attack.

Okay, well, really ACC executive director Jodi Jerich has been the face of the commission in trying to protect it from Stump's indiscretions. But did we ever hear Bitter Smith denounce Stump's secret dealings with any of those cronies? I didn't. But there have been grumblings about the costs that the big bad consumer watchdog Checks and Balances Project have been causing the ACC to incur for legal fees and an outside contractor after Jerich fired a longtime agency spokesperson.

This could be the wholly-owned crony capitalists' (take your pick, Koch, ALEC, APS... they're all involved to some degree in the slimy goings on at what's supposed to be an agency designed to protect Arizona citizens/ratepayers) worst nightmare.

The potential fallout from this new scandal may also become a harbinger of the change necessary to upend the predatory nature of government at all levels in our country since publication of the Powell Manifesto in 1971.

Local public radio station KJZZ, Arizona Capitol Times and Arizona Republic columnist EJ Montini have all jumped on this latest likely scandal involving Bitter Smith, a long-time registered lobbyist for the Cable Television industry and Cox Cable in our state. Cox also provides telephone services which are regulated by the ACC.

KJZZ's piece has an audio clip with brief interview segments from former commissioners Bill Mundell (Republican) and Renz Jennings (Democrat) and a good overview of the situation.

Back in the 1990s, a commission employee blew the whistle on Tony West, who had recently gotten elected to the commission while holding a license to sell securities. From KJZZ,
Anyone who has flipped a light switch, cooked over a gas stove, drank tap water or picked up a phone call from a land line has been personally affected by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The commission’s role is so important that, in order to protect its powers and independence, it is established by the Arizona Constitution, rather than state statute, and its five commissioners are elected, rather than appointed.
Former Commissioner Bill Mundell said that combination has led legal scholars to describe it as one of the most powerful utility regulators in the United States, and with that comes high ethical standards.
“Because the commissioners are so powerful, the conflict of interest statute that governs them is much stricter than the general conflict of interest statute for other elected officials,” he said.
Mundell, a Republican, was appointed in 1999 to replace Tony West, who was removed from office after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled he was illegally elected under a conflict of interest-type law that’s specific to the commission.
Arizona Revised Statutes § 40-101 states,
A person in the employ of, or holding an official relation to a corporation or person subject to regulation by the commission, or a person owning stocks or bonds of a corporation subject to regulation, or a person who is pecuniarily interested therein, shall not be elected, appointed to, or hold the office of commissioner or be appointed or employed by the commission. If a commissioner, or appointee or employee of the commission becomes the owner of such stocks or bonds, or becomes pecuniarily interested in such a corporation involuntarily, he shall within a reasonable time divest himself of such stocks, bonds or interest. If he fails to do so, he thereby vacates his office or employment.
Bitter Smith admits to the conflict in the audio from KJZZ but minimizes her votes on items dealing with her pecuniary interests as saying they were "accidental."

On Tuesday, local attorney Thomas Ryan filed "Litigation Hold" letters with the Corporation Commission, Bitter Smith herself, and a trade association Bitter Smith works and lobbies for, as well as a government relations (lobbying) company Bitter Smith and her husband operate called Technical Solutions. Again, according to KJZZ,
Ryan said he’s considering filing a complaint with the attorney general’s office calling for the removal of Commission Chair Susan Bitter Smith.
“This will not go quietly in the night and whoever she retains will no doubt fight it tooth and nail,” Ryan said. “But the state of Arizona deserves a Corporation Commission that is not bought and paid for by the very people it’s supposed to regulate, the very industries it’s supposed to regulate.”
Ryan told the Arizona Eagletarian, in an email, that he may, as soon as Wednesday morning, file with Attorney General Mark Brnovich a verified complaint seeking to have Bitter Smith removed from office.

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Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

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