PUC chair’s reappointment uncertain

Posted Aug. 16, 2009, at 9:02 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci is not sure whether he will nominate Public Utilities Commission Chair Sharon Reishus for another term. Her term expired March 31, but under state law she continues in office until reappointed.

“There is a continual evaluation that is taking place,” Baldacci said in an interview last week. “We’re looking and evaluating the skills sets that are necessary. I think the most important thing for me is that we have a Public Utilities Commission that has high standards and has the expertise, given this very important area that has a large impact on businesses and families and individuals.”

He said he is looking for the “right mix of skill sets” among the three-member commission. He nominated Reishus to the PUC in 2003 and appointed her chair in 2008 when Kurt Adams resigned as chairman.

State law does not specify any qualifications for serving on the PUC, except the need for the person to be confirmed by the Legislature. Commissioners serve six-year terms.

“The skill sets she has are tremendous,” Baldacci said. “But with the issues that the state is facing over the long haul, I want to make sure her skill sets match up.”

Last spring he said that he had not had time during the legislative session to complete his review process and that he “expected” to complete that process by the anticipated August Senate confirmation session. That session is next week. Baldacci said last week he will make a decision on the post in time for the January session of the Legislature.

Reishus was on vacation last week, but in an e-mail response to a request for an interview she said she would have no comment on the matter.

Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Utilities Committee, said in an interview last week that the decision whether to nominate Reishus for another term is entirely up to the governor.

“I think the governor has every right to take his time and deliberate on this very important appointment,” he said. “Obviously, if it gets to a point down the road where it interferes with the ability of the commission to do its work, I will be concerned, but I have not seen that yet.”

Hobbins said he agrees the PUC is facing a wide range of difficult issues and getting the best mix of commissioners is an important goal. An attorney, Hobbins stressed the law does not set out any explicit qualifications for the commissioners, leaving it up to the governor.

Rep. Ken Fletcher, R-Winslow, agreed any governor has the latitude to wait as long as he wants to name a person to the PUC. But, he said last week, it is always better to have a full commission with all of its members a certainty.

“I am confident that even though the chair has not been reappointed, the job will get done, “he said.

He agreed with Hobbins that the governor should take the time he believes is needed to make his decision. He also agreed that if Reishus’ continuing in an acting capacity starts to affect the ability of the full commission to do its job, then the committee would be justified in urging action.

“It’s not just the skill sets of those on the commission,” he said, “but any appointment or reappointment is contingent not just on skill sets, but how that team works together.”

Hobbins said that while he had not talked with the governor about the situation, he said Baldacci might be evaluating not just individual skills, but the ability of the three commissioners to work as a group

“If you ask me whether or not that I am satisfied with every aspect of every decision that the commission has made or the direction of the chair, I have to be honest and say no,” he said. “Do I think that she should be replaced? That is not my decision to make.”

Before being appointed to the PUC, Reishus worked at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates as director, North American Power. She worked as a staff analyst at the Maine Public Utilities Commission from 1991 to 1998. Before 1991, Reishus worked at Central Maine Power Co. and for the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C.

The other two commissioners have very different backgrounds. Vendean Vafiades was appointed to serve on the panel in 2007 after serving as a District Court judge for a decade. She also served as a chief deputy attorney general and counsel to the University of Maine System.

Jack Cashman was appointed to the panel last year and is a personal friend of the governor. He served on the governor’s staff and as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. He was a real estate developer and served in the Maine House of Representatives and on the Old Town City Council.

Vafiades’ term expires in 2013 and Cashman’s in 2011.

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