First in a series on Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission
We recently received an intriguing tip that the most powerful person at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) isn’t Chairperson Ellen Nowak, or Commissioner (and former Chair) Phil Montgomery, or even the newest Commissioner, Mike Huebsch, whose previous job was managing Governor Scott Walker’s cabinet agencies. No, we were told, the real power was held by the executive assistant to the chairperson – currently Robert “Bob” Seitz and, before him, Randall “R.J.” Pirlot.
If you have a tip, send it to this address: email@example.com
Wisconsin’s commission makes decisions regarding electricity rates for consumers, utility operations, and construction projects. In the last few years, it has been the place where clean energy initiatives in Wisconsin go to die.
A Simple Request
So, in order to find out if our tip was correct, we sent a public records request to the PSC on November 2, 2015, that asked they’d send us the job description of the executive assistant to the chairperson. The response from General Counsel Cynthia Smith was surprising. She couldn’t find one.
Could the PSC be winging it?
We looked up Randall “R.J.” Pirlot on LinkedIn and the description of his former powers was impressive:
A Different Class of Employee
To understand if Ms. Smith was correct and the executive assistant to the chair of the PSC was somehow exempt from having a job description, we went to WISC.Jobs, “The Official Employment Site of Wisconsin State Government.” There we found several high-level job openings with job descriptions with duties and requirements, including the Assistant Administrator-Rates and Finance – Career Executive at the Public Service Commission. This important position, with a salary range of $60,382-$101,129, comes with a five page job description.
We called the State of Wisconsin’s Division of Personnel Management and asked Senior HR Specialist Stephen Hermosillo if every non-elected position in Wisconsin state government comes with a job description with duties and requirements. “Not every job,” he told us. “The Wisconsin Statues lists unclassified positions.” He thought the executive assistant to the chair of the PSC was one of them.
So we turned to the The Wisconsin Statutes, which are a “compilation of the general laws of the state of Wisconsin currently in effect,” and found that the executive assistant to the chairperson of the PSC “shall perform duties as the chairperson or commissioner prescribes.” Further research found that on page 3 of the PSC’s 2013-2015 Biennial Budget, it states, the “Executive Assistant to the Chairperson is appointed by the Chairperson and assists in the development and implementation of the long-range goals of the agency.”
That appears to us to be the job description of a pretty powerful person whose actions affect everyone living in Wisconsin. In fact, when Pirlot left and Seitz took his place, this executive assistant to the chairperson that was announced by Governor Walker.
Didn’t General Counsel Smith know that the job description of the executive assistant to the chair was written into The Wisconsin Statues and the Biennial Budget? Was she overworked and forgot? Was she incompetent? Or was she hoping that we would just go away?
(Find out more soon in part two of our series on Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission.)
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.