A move to let the state Public Service Commission elect its own chairman, rather that rotating the position among members, gained state Senate approval on Monday.
The measure still needs approval by the House, which did not vote on it as scheduled.
Senate Bill 483 enables the five-member group to elect a leader for a two-year term, starting Jan. 1, 2013. The commission could also hold an election at any other time if four members agree to do so.
The Senate approved the bill 34-18.
The PSC chairman sets agendas, chooses committee heads and runs meetings and times. For nearly 20 years the job has rotated among the five members. The commission has sought the change for three years.
Current Chairman Tim Echols, elected to the PSC in 2010, has drawn media attention by using official state letterhead to request complimentary practice round tickets to the Masters. He also has racked up several thousands of dollars in expenses for what he defended as a “strenuous speaking schedule” and statewide travel, sometimes with family members.
Echols has not been accused of any wrongdoing but has said he should not have asked for the Masters tickets because of the “appearance of impropriety.” He also has not included his family members’ expenses on his state tab.
While not linking the request overtly to Echols, the four other commissioners wrote a letter Feb. 27 to the state Senate supporting a change.
“To ask a new Commissioner after one year on this panel to assume leadership of a critical constitutional state agency is clearly not the most prudent management of state resources nor in the best interest of the ratepayers and taxpayers of this state,” said the letter, signed by Chuck Eaton, Doug Everett, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr., and Stan Wise.
Echols has fought to keep his chairmanship, telling legislators that rotating the job keeps things simple. Consumers will suffer if the commission is distracted by political infighting, Echols said.
Major issues on the PSC’s plate include monitoring costs of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion and reviewing the planned closure of some coal-fired power stations.
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