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Why Doesn’t the Montana Public Service Commission Come to Work?

Empty chairs are the norm at the PSC. Hot mics are also a common thing.

There was a very strange moment today at the Montana Legislature when Bob Lake from the Montana Public Service Commission told the House Energy and Tech Committee that even though the PSC voted today to oppose the SB 331, the Colstrip welfare bill, the “majority of the commission still stands in support of this proposal.” That was pretty damn confusing and when PSC Chairman Brad Johnson weighed in, it only became less clear. Johnson had the PSC release a statement that claimed the vote this morning was invalid because the phone system prevented him from voting at the PSC’s legislative meeting this morning.

That left me wondering why the PSC Chairman would need the phone system to be in place to cast a ballot. After all, the commissioners are full-time employees, each of whom makes over $100,000 a year, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that they would physically show up for work.

And then I watched the video of their meeting today.


Those empty chairs at the front of the room are the seats for the five members of the Public Service Commission, none of whom attended today’s meeting in person. While their staff had to come to work, presumably to connect the phone calls and offer real policy knowledge, the five members of the body couldn’t be troubled to show up for a Monday meeting at 8:45.

Curious, I decided to download a few more videos at random.

First, I looked a the video for the April 4 meeting. Three commissioners bothered to physically attend that one. Commissioners Koopman and Lake attended by phone.

For the March 20 meeting, Commissioners Pinocci, Lake, and Koopman bothered to attend, while Brad Johnson and O’Donnell attended via phone.

For the February 28 meeting, Chairman Johnson and O’Donnell attended in person, while Lake, Koopman, and Pinocci attended by phone.

I didn’t check any of the others because unlike the members of the PSC, I have a job with attendance requirements, but I’m sure that further research will show the same pattern. Perhaps some enterprising reporter might want to look into that.

I understand that there are certainly times when people might need to teleconference to do their jobs, but I’d argue that for $100,000, it’s not unreasonable to expect commissioners to put on their damn pants and drive to work instead of calling into work.

Given rumors that Johnson spends more time in Texas than he does in Montana and that Koopman attacked his opponent in 2012 for staying home to take care of his wife with multiple sclerosis, not to mention the general contempt for government service the Republican commission expressed by the body, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that the handsomely compensated members of the body do their job. As Koopman himself noted in 2012:

“For $94,000 a year, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be up there (in Helena) for a good portion of the week, and to attend the meetings,” he said. “Sitting at home in your bedroom slippers is not attending the meeting.”

The PSC embarrassed itself today with its performance at the Legislature. Not only are its members bending over backwards to endorse a massive giveaway to a company they exist to regulate, but they apparently lack the decency to be present enough at their meetings to get their story straight.

Note: I saw after I posted that MT Free Press Reporter Leia Larsen first noted on Twitter that none of the members of the PSC were physically present for today’s meeting.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Poor deluded fellow . . . do you not understand that the MT PSC’s job is to protect NWE’s, Talon, Goldman & Riverstone’s stockholders profits when the “free market” they so adore hands them any loss?? Socializing losses while privatizing profits is elementary feudal capitalism. Remember the Montana Power “Deregulation”?? Many of the same players and exactly the same scheme: Standby for the bankruptcy. Then any remaining medical and pension earned benefits, and about a $1 billion cleanup bill will be handed to MT’s taxpayers, most of whom chant and vote the Cheney mantra, fittingly.

  • If the PSC and the GOP- led legislature sells Montanans down the river again with this very bad piece of legislation – vote them out!! Stop electing these Republican fools who only care about money, not people.

  • Chairman, Brad Johnson 444-6169
    Commissioner, Randy Pinocci 444-6166
    Commissioner, Tony O’Donnell 444-6165
    Commissioner, Roger Koopman 444-6168
    Vice-Chairman, Bob Lake 444-6167

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