Monday, October 02, 2023

Guest column: PSC requires a dose of integrity

by John Repke
| April 6, 2022 1:10 PM

In 2021 a state audit of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) revealed “several situations indicative of an unhealthy organizational culture and ineffective leadership, including certain commissioners overriding department controls.” They added, “We believe this culture limited management personnel’s ability to enforce compliance with state and department policy.”

Put differently, at a taxpayer funded agency there was a complete failure of integrity that created an environment ripe for fraud. Being incompetent is bad, but collecting six-figure salaries while abusing the trust and resources of Montana voters and taxpayers is inexcusable. While we can add up the sum of their paychecks, the full cost of this mess is unknown as the auditors “give no reliance to the information in the financial schedules.”

Don’t let anyone try to convince you that failing an audit is common. It’s not. And there is nothing worse than an “unhealthy organizational culture and ineffective leadership.” I know this because I have 40 years of experience in private sector finance. I’ve been through many rigorous audits. No organization that I managed ever failed an audit and certainly no auditor ever questioned my integrity or the culture of the organization of which I led. On rare occasions when bad behavior was discovered, it was dealt with immediately. Dishonesty had real consequences.

Unbelievably, none of the commissioners exposed in the audit have been held accountable. The long-held Montana value of personal responsibility apparently does not apply to PSC commissioners. Maybe this is because they are all cut from the same political cloth that puts more stock in party loyalty than doing the important, complicated work of the PSC. While they maintain their PSC platform to take extreme positions on issues entirely unrelated to the work of the PSC, Montana ratepayers wait for capable, thoughtful representation.

The PSC exists primarily to regulate investor-owned electric and natural gas companies. The purpose is to ensure that Montna ratepayers have continued access to utility services that are affordable, reliable and sustainable. This important regulatory work often goes unnoticed until something goes wrong or rates skyrocket. Most Montanans likely do not pay much attention to the PSC because they assume the current system is working. Unfortunately, it is broken.

There are five PSC districts in the state, and each elects one commissioner. Commissioners, like any elected official, should have expertise and experience in the area they oversee. At a minimum, commissioners should at least act with integrity. Failing to do so happens routinely at the PSC and without consequence. But we can change that and elect commissioners worthy of our trust.

I am running for PSC commissioner for District 5 because I have the experience necessary to competently represent Montana ratepayers and I will bring professional, honest leadership to the PSC. Montanans should expect nothing less from elected officials. When it is time to vote, please remember that only one candidate — John Repke — has the industry experience, financial knowledge and integrity to represent PSC District 5.

John Repke is a Democratic candidate for PSC District 5, which serves Lake, Flathead, Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Lewis and Clark counties. He resides in Whitefish.

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