Why is the PSC such a dysfunctional mess?
Guest column

Why is the PSC such a dysfunctional mess?

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At the May 5 meeting of the Montana Public Service Commission, I asked commissioners to begin consideration of the censure of Commissioner Randall Pinocci. The censure resolution involved 10 specific allegations of misconduct in violation of the PSC’s written code of ethics and potentially, civil and criminal law.

The charges included repeated acts of libel, slander, intimidation and retaliation, the filing of multiple false reports to law enforcement, fraudulent use of the chairman’s signature stamp, breaching of PSC data security, violating PSC email policy, repeated spying on this commissioner’s emails, hiding of similar violations by a collaborator, violating my personal privacy, and widely disseminating false, malicious, defamatory and humiliating gossip about me. Commissioners had been previously provided 10 pages of exhibits and information on these extremely serious allegations.

The censure was not even discussed or debated. No commissioner would even second my motion, and the censure was killed before its merits could be considered. In effect, commissioners were saying that no commissioner would ever be held accountable for their bad behavior. The commission would simply close ranks and close the books. The PSC’s official position would be, “we don’t want to discuss it and we don’t want to know.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

For some time, I have expressed concern that under Chairman Johnson’s control, the PSC has become more a commission of politicians than a commission of commissioners, where political loyalties and grudges have taken center stage, and replaced a once thoughtful, unbiased deliberative process. Our public service culture has eroded into a culture of politics, where fresh ideas and independent thinking aren’t tolerated, and where questioning the policy-violating actions of the chairman gets you banished from their club.

Arguably, Johnson’s intimidation style of leadership has created the worst mess, and the lowest morale, in the history of the PSC. I have been the one commissioner willing to swim against the current, and speak openly about these problems. I get rewarded by being shunned and consistently voted down. Petty? Yes. Professional? No.

The commission’s courageous non-vote on censure is an embarrassing example. Here, facing allegations of truly reprehensible commissioner conduct, commissioners put on their blinders, and told every Montanan that we were unwilling to discipline their own members — especially if Koopman is sponsoring the effort.

It is one thing to lock arms on public policy questions, while pretending to be listening to all sides. The Johnson majority does this all the time. It’s quite another to be so resentful of an outspoken member that you refuse to even view the evidence that addresses an extremely serious array of ethics-related allegations. That’s just thumbing your nose at the public you serve, and showing an appalling degree of moral apathy. It’s saying that PSC politicians have predetermined to protect their fellow commissioner, no matter what the evidence would have revealed.

That is the level to which the Public Service Commission has sunken. Unconcerned about the ethical conduct of commissioners. Unconcerned about the reputation of the PSC. Unconcerned about the personal and professional harm and humiliation done to this commissioner and his family. I tried to share with them, how it felt to be spied on by someone you call your colleague. “Violated” was the word that came to mind. Words like bugging, wire-tapping and surveillance camera came to mind, too. I asked them how they would feel, if they were the target of Pinocci’s malicious snooping. Dead silence. Wasted words.

There may be a swamp in Washington, but there is an ethical cesspool in Helena at the PSC. It is attended to by Brad Johnson, while the three other commissioners regularly add to its volume. Currently, it’s overflowed.

Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, is in his eighth year of service on the Montana Public Service Commission, term limiting in January. 

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