Too little, too late? ACC convenes ethics workshop

Now the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is worried about ethics?

Nearly four months after one of their former colleagues was indicted on conspiracy, bribery and fraud, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started poking into the … ahem … “close” relationship between the commissioners and Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility and one that is regulated by the ACC, the commissioners have started the process of creating a code of ethics to which future commissioners would be bound.

One day before the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, commissioners huddled with commission staff to examine an overview of various Arizona statutes and rules covering open meeting law, conflicts of interest, financial disclosure, gifts, and lobbyists.

“We must first know what is out there to be able to determine the best, and most useful, code of ethics,” said Commissioner Boyd W. Dunn, who serves as the Ethics Committee Chair and, to his credit, launched the effort in March. “Our work on this committee will be to create a code that will stand the test of time and apply to all future commissions.”

To save time, it might be easier for the commissioners to meet with their former colleague (and recently indicted) Gary Pierce, find out what he did, and do the exact opposite of that.

Among the allegations against Pierce, officially indicted in May and widely reported in the Arizona press, was that he met with APS CEO Don Brandt 14 times, seven of which came while the utility was seeking a rate increase, which common sense should have told him was a bad look, even if nothing nefarious occurred.

In addition, there’s a suspicious pattern of anti-solar votes by Pierce, a position that APS, which spent much of its time in the past four years fighting rooftop solar tooth and nail, must have approved. Pierce even voted in favor of a resolution that allowed APS to slap extra charges on residential solar consumers in the state.

So perhaps not offering the state’s utility alleged quid pro quos by the bushel might be a good place to start when the commissioners get around to writing down the code.

Then there’s the issue of the “dark money” that APS allegedly poured into ACC political campaigns in 2014, designed to eliminate the two pro-solar commissioners in the hopes of filling those spots with more utility-friendly candidates – an effort that succeeded in at least the first goal.

The FBI has told numerous sources that money – and how it made it into the campaigns of the commissioners (and, in at least one accounting, into the campaign coffers of Pierce’s son, who was then running for Arizona Secretary of State) – is part of a continuing investigation.

All of which is to say that, while the new attempts to create a code of ethics for commissioners is admirable and is likely appreciated by the solar industry, it may be a case of too little, too late – as least as it relates to APS’ attempts to damage the solar industry so far.

The next meeting to discuss the code of ethics will be Sept. 15, where the staff will review codes that have been adopted by other public utility commissions, relevant regulatory associations, and a selection of state subdivisions. No word yet on whether Pierce, who was term-limited out of his position after the 2014 elections, will be there to offer advice (he will not be there – he’s got a legal defense to prepare, after all).