New CPUC rules spell out proper behavior for commissioners

5 October 2015 by Steve Blum

No chewing gum, either.

Follow the law, do your job and be polite. That’s the boiled down substance of most of a six page code of conduct that was approved last week by the California Public Utilities Commission. It applies to the commissioners themselves and they voted unanimously in favor of it, after developing it in committee meetings over the past few months. The document repeatedly admonishes commissioners to be respectful, to be civil and professional, and to “refrain from belligerent comments, shouting, or actions that could be construed as threatening or intimidating”.

On the one hand, you’d think that sort of advice goes without saying, at least outside of a first grade classroom. On the other, the commission is trying sooth feelings in Sacramento and elsewhere after twelve years of the often arrogant attitude and combative demeanor of former president Michael Peevey. He’s facing the possibility of criminal charges, because of what appears to be a consistent pattern of back channel dealings with some of the utilities the commission regulates. According to emails that were made public, one incident involved asking PG&E for a $100,000 contribution to help pay for a 100th birthday party for the commission.

That kind of arm twisting is now forbidden…

Even as Commissioners are frequently active in community organizations and charitable activities, they should refrain from soliciting political, charitable, or other financial support, business, or other favors from Commission staff, employees of regulated entities, parties to Commission proceedings, or entities seeking to do business of any kind with the Commission, where such solicitations could be perceived as an attempt to influence behavior or are directly related to matters before the Commission.

The new code of conduct barely touches on the broader issue of when commissioners can have private conversations with people involved in disputes or regulatory issues that are on the CPUC’s agenda, also known as ex parte contacts. Those rules could become more restrictive soon, depending on what governor Brown does with a handful of bills currently sitting on his desk.