Last week, the Arizona Corporation Commission completed its second workshop to develop a code of ethics for the Commission. Commissioner Boyd Dunn, who is the Ethics Committee chairman, said that the creation of its own code “is important considering the unique issues that come before this Commission and impact every Arizonan.”
On Thursday, in an interview on the James T. Harris show, Commissioner Bob Burns was asked the question a majority of Arizonans want to ask: is it possible for the Commission, which is shrouded in controversy, to develop a code of ethics in which anyone could have faith?
In early September, a statewide survey of likely voters found that the Commission “faces a significant credibility crisis.” The lack of credibility stems from “ongoing allegations regarding special treatment” of certain utility companies, the ongoing FBI investigations, and “questionable outside election support.” Nearly two-thirds “of Arizona voters now believe that the Commission has been corrupted by outside influences and spending.”
“The recent decisions made by the Commission combined with internal struggles including four the five commissioners voting to pay for legal counsel for themselves while denying counsel watchdog Commissioner Burns “has taken its toll on the credibility of the commission,” according to High Ground’s press release.
“Recent events have put the credibility and integrity of the Arizona Corporation Commission in the spotlight and Arizona’s are clearly concerned,” said Paul Bentz, Vice-President of the Research and Strategies for High Ground Public Affairs, which conducted the poll. “When it comes to the confidence of voters, the Commission has a lot of work to do to rebuild their reputation. The toxic combination of rate hikes, petty squabbling, and the ongoing FBI investigation and related indictments have clearly taken a toll on the Commission’s perception.”
In addition to the news of the FBI investigation and the arrest of former Commissioner Gary Pierce, commissioners Tom Forese and Andy Tobin engaged in what many perceived to be highly questionable behavior. The commissioners seemed undaunted, but did create the Ethics Committee in an effort to do some damage control.
Burns has questioned the formation of committees with a $100,000 redistribution of funds for their support.. He voted against a budget request that including funding for committees. He told a reporter at the Yellow Sheet that the “whole thing of setting up committees is a farce, in my opinion.” Burns said, “We’re a body of five elected representatives, each with equal authority and each with equal responsibility.” Burns “equated the committee system to a “chairman’s slush fund,” reported the Yellow Sheet.
Forese disputed Burns’ claims that the committees centralize powers and are intended to give commissioners a way to dig deeper into issues and become experts, according to the Yellow Sheet report.
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While Forese’s scheme allots $20,000 to each committee simply to win the public’s favor, Burns and his staff were able to put together seven full day workshops with over 70 presentations on emerging technology without the need for a committee, extra cash, or a chairman’s title. Some of the ideas and information that came from those tech presentations have been implemented by the Commission. Based on the majority’s past performance, when and if the Ethics Code is completed and adopted, few believe any of it will be implemented by the current commissioners.
Forese portrays Burns as flame thrower, who just wants to complain. Forese told the Yellow Sheet that if he “signed a birthday card, Bob Burns would dissent.” Forese said that Burns “enjoys throwing rocks more than he does coming together and working constructively.”
Contrary to Forese’s claims, Burns frequently votes with the majority on items that come before the Commission in an ethical and legal manner.
A docket was opened into the Commission’s Investigation and Promulgation of a Code of Ethics in March to “facilitate dialog and encourage public participation.” Go to the Commission’s website here. The docket number is AU-00000E-17-0079.