Sunday, August 20, 2000

Chairman defends actions

Huelsmann went to utilities' events

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The new chairman of the Kentucky Public Service Commission attended events sponsored by two utilities and had lunch with a third while attending the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles last week.

        The news drew criticism from public advocates who said Martin Huelsmann should have avoided such meetings with utilities that he regulates.

        Mr. Huelsmann, a law professor and former ethics commission member, said he avoided any possible violations of law or impropriety by paying his own expenses. He said he also avoided discussing any pending business involving the companies before the commission.

        But David Brown Kinloch, a utility expert often called to testify before the commission on behalf of consumers, said Mr. Huelsmann's actions create an improper appearance.

        “I've always viewed the members of the commission as judges. And maybe I'm naive, but I was under the assumption that judges aggressively avoid these kinds of things,” Mr. Kinloch said.

        Tony Martin, an attorney representing the consumer group Community Action Council, said attending such events isn't a good idea for commissioners.

        “Speaking personally, and not for my clients, I think attending such an event is probably not a good idea. You aren't being unpleasant when you stay away. Judges do it all the time,” Mr. Martin said.

        Mr. Huelsmann was appointed by Gov. Paul Patton on Aug. 1 to replace B.J. Helton. Mr. Huelsmann had

        been a strong Patton supporter who drew criticism in 1995 while serving on the state ethics commission for actively campaigning for the governor.

        Mr. Huelsmann said Friday he attended a breakfast in Los Angeles sponsored by Kentucky-American Water Co. and a lunch sponsored by BellSouth.

        But Mr. Huelsmann said they never talked about business pending before the commission and that he later reimbursed the companies for the cost of the meals. He also paid for his own meal during a lunch with executives of NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas.

        David Whitehouse, of Kentucky-American, characterized the conversations as “just about the convention. Just innocuous stuff.”

        Mr. Huelsmann resigned as an alternate delegate to the Democratic convention when he was appointed to head the PSC. State law requires that members of the commission not be a member of any political party committee.

        Mr. Huelsmann attended the convention with his wife, Shirley, who was a delegate.

        He said he sees no problem with talking to utility executives outside the more formal settings of PSC proceedings.

        “As a matter of fact it ought to be encouraged. Because I ought to know these people and talk to them so that I can better know their problems and what will face us in the future,” Mr. Huelsmann said.


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