A Chattanooga businesswoman has been named by House Speaker Beth Harwell to fill a vacant director position on the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Robin Bennett currently serves as a vice president and financial center manager for First Tennessee and, according to Harwell, brings to the agency experience in customer relations, business management and federal and regulatory compliance.
Bennett replaces Sara Kyle, who resigned from the TRA in March. The agency regulates investor-owned water and electric utilities, as well as some telephone services.
The mission of the TRA is to promote the public interest by balancing the interests of consumers and monopoly utilities.
A Haslam administration initiative that could result in annual rate increases for local customers of for-profit utilities like Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas is on its way to the governor, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Senators gave final approval to the bill Monday on a 29-1 vote. The House passed the bill last month.
….Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, called Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s utility bill (SB197) a “continuing part of the administration’s top-to-bottom reforms.”
The legislation has drawn concerns from State Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office that the Tennessee Regulatory Authority would no longer effectively protect consumers from monopolies.
Among other things, the bill would allow the TRA to approve “trackers” for companies that allow them to pass along some costs, such as fuel, automatically on to consumers.
The bill also authorizes the TRA to approve “alternative methods” for utility rate reviews and cost recoveries instead of full-blown rate cases.
In a rate case, cities, businesses or the attorney general’s Consumer Advocate Division can intervene if they believe the hikes go beyond a utility’s legal ability to earn a reasonable profit.
Cooper’s office said in a memo that utilities had overstated their rate requests by as much as 60 percent over the past 10 years. The office said the rate cases protect consumers against unwarranted increases.
“What this does in our opinion is make it more likely that rates will increase for business and households,” Assistant Attorney General Vance Broemel told a House panel last month.
NASHVILLE – Sara P. Kyle announced her resignation from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Wednesday after 19 years of serving on the agency and its predecessor, the Public Service Commission.
“I have enjoyed working with and learning from the best and brightest team anywhere in the nation,” said Kyle in a statement. “I have truly appreciated the opportunities afforded me and I wish the directors and staff much success in the future.”
Kyle was elected to the PSC in 1994, becoming the third woman elected to statewide office in Tennessee. The PSC was abolished and replaced with the TRA in 1996.
Since then the TRA has gone through other changes that, in general, reduced its authority in various areas. A bill enacted at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam last year eliminated the TRA’s three-member full-time board and replaced it with a five-member part-time board, though Kyle remained as one of the part-time directors.
In her statement, Kyle said the 2012 law “severely limited our ability to render fair and just decisions.
“With less time and reduced staff, we have fewer checks and balances and less opportunity to protect Tennessee consumers from unfair practices in the utilities industry.”
A former teacher, legislative staffer and attorney, Kyle was elected as a judge in the Memphis City Court system in 1991, resigning from that position for her successful run as a Democratic PSC candidate in 1994. She is married to state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle.
Her current term would have expired next year. She had been appointed to the TRA by then-House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
— Update Note: For more details, see the Commercial Appeal report.
About 93,000 low-income Tennesseans would pay $3.50 per month more for basic landline phone service with passage of legislation moving quickly through the Legislature with support of AT&T, a company now losing money under the present system.
“It ends a mandate to fund social programs without being reimbursed,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, in the only reference to the provision within SB1180 during a Senate committee hearing.
The measure — known as “the AT&T bill,” though Norris pointed out that it impacts other telecommunications companies as well — was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote this evening. A House committee, meanwhile, approved the companion bill last week — sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, unanimously without any discussion.
The provision on “Lifeline” service, intended to assure the poor have access to basic phone service, is part of a package to eliminate what McCormick called in brief remarks to the House committee “obsolete language” and “regulatory underbrush” that could “hinder investment in Tennessee.”
From the Kingsport Times-News: A Kingsport woman is accused of stealing nearly $50,000 from a Bristol-based non-profit, which funds a Bluff City Christian radio station and is directed by Kenneth C. Hill — the Tennessee Regulatory Authority director and father of local representatives Timothy and Matthew Hill.
An affidavit filed in Bristol General Sessions Court states Quyen Renee Quillin, 37, of 613 West Valley View Circle, Kingsport, was arrested Jan. 22 by Bristol, Tenn., Police. She was charged with theft of more than $10,000, booked into the Sullivan County jail and released after posting $3,000 bond.
“It’s a difficult thing, and it’s a very difficult and very sad thing for her,” Hill told the Times-News of the arrest, adding an investigation is continuing. BTPD Det. Brian Hess says Quillin had been an employee of Hill’s non-profit approximately four years, with AECC continuing to follow paper trails and suspecting the total theft could be close to $300,000.
Court records state Quillin was an employee of Hill’s Appalachian Education Commission Corporation, which broadcasts WHCB 91.5 Christian radio out of Bluff City, Tenn. Hill reportedly contacted investigators on Jan. 14, two months after attempting to obtain a loan for the ministry and being denied.
He reported that a subsequent check of records discovered Quillin, a bookkeeper and administrative assistance with his non-profit, had opened a joint American Express card on his account without permission. Hill told police Quillin had charged approximately $47,000 on the card and then paid it off with money from the Appalachian Education Commission Corporation, which is funded through donations from the public.
After the General Assembly approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority last spring, Knoxville businessman Earl R. Taylor thought he might be a good fit as one of the agency’s five new part-time directors.
But Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who knew Taylor, and the governor’s top staffers instead saw Taylor in a different role at the TRA, which sets rates and service standards for privately owned utilities.
Further from Andy Sher: The governor decided Taylor, who had worked as an attorney and television affiliate executive before becoming a Panera Bread restaurant franchisee with multistate operations, was the best choice for the reconfigured authority’s powerful new executive director position.
So on July 31, Haslam; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is Senate speaker; and House Speaker Beth Harwell named Taylor as executive director. He is in effect the TRA’s chief operating officer.
…n a recent interview, Taylor said he’s enjoying his new role and has discovered “a very good group of people working here, very capable, dedicated smart folks. We’re blessed to have a lot of great people here at the TRA.”
The “learning curve’s pretty steep, but we’re getting there,” he said.
…The appointment took agency officials, utility attorneys and news organizations by surprise. Taylor’s name wasn’t on the list of 18 applicants released earlier by the administration to the Times Free Press.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” Haslam said. “When I was elected … we had a lot of people apply for positions, some of whom I chose. A lot of people who are agency heads and commissioners didn’t apply. I went out and found them and got them to do it.”
That doesn’t mean “there’s anything wrong with the process,” the governor said. “I think it kind of works to open it up: here’s the position, see who applies. But our job is always to find the very best person that we can.”
Thirty days after a new law took effect transforming the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the utility regulating agency got an executive director and a quorum for its new part-time board on Tuesday.
Earl R. Taylor, a Panera Bread franchisee who lives in Knoxville and has previously worked as a consultant to media companies, was named as the full-time executive director of the agency jointly by Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
Previously, the TRA had four full-time directors and no executive director. Under the legislation passed this year at Haslam’s urging, it will have five part-time directors and a full-time executive director.
Two of the part-time director positions were also filled Tuesday by appointment of James Allison and Herbert Hillard.
Allison is president and CEO of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp., headquartered in Shelbyville. He grew up in Maryville, according to Haslam spokesman and is described in a news release as “also regarded as one of the top instant replay officials in college football after having been an on-field official in the Southeastern Conference for more than 12 years.”
Hillard is executive vice president and chief government relatons officer of First Horizon National Corp. in Memphis.
Two of the former full-time TRA directors – Kenneth Hill and Sara Kyle – remain as part-time directors after the agency overhaul. One part-time director position still remains to be filled.
The new law took effect July 1 and when it did, the agency was left with only two of the part-time board members in place – not enough for a quorum – and with no executive director. The appointments Tuesday resolve that situation.
Taylor was not among the 18 persons who initially applied for the TRA executive director position.
“We wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, so we had those who applied and we also had conversations with others who might be interested,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email. “We’re excited Mr. Taylor is willing to serve in this capacity.”
Taylor’s resume, provided by the governor’s office, says that as a Panera franchisee since 2000, he has developed stores in Florida and has stores under development in Texas and Louisiana. Before that, he was employed by Harmony Media as a consultant. In the 1990s, the resume says Taylor “developed and signed-on” WBXX-TV, Channel 20, in Knoxville and served as general partner and in other capacities at WKXT-TV in Knoxville.
Before that, he practiced law in Johnson City. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UT Knoxville and a law degree from the University of Memphis.
— Note: The governor’s news release is below.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s newly reorganized Tennessee Regulatory Authority is off but not running since the governor and legislative leaders failed to appoint an executive and a quorum of directors by July 1, reports Andy Sher Meanwhile, a six-month clock is already ticking on Tennessee American Water’s June 1 request to hike Chattanooga’s water rates by nearly 25 percent.
The TRA must decide on the request no later than November or the $10.5 million increase automatically will take effect.
Gas utilities Atmos Energy Corp. and Navitas, which operate in other parts of the state, filed rate-increase requests with the TRA on June 22 and July 2, respectively.
But the TRA last had a quorum of directors June 8. At their final meeting, Chairman Kenneth Hill and directors Sara Kyle and Mary Freeman named Hill as hearing officer in the Tennessee American case to keep proceedings moving.
“The clock started when they filed, and that’s why I put myself in the position to try to expedite” matters, Hill said.
But the Atmos and Navitas filings came after Freeman quit to take a job in Memphis. The result? Without a quorum, the board can’t even name a hearing officer right now.
Hill said Tuesday that getting a timely decision in the Tennessee American “depends on how much data comes in and how fast and how soon we can get hearings and reconcile testimony and come up with a decision.”
“We’re confident, at least at this point, because we were able to get ahead of the curve and get started on these procedurals,” Hill said.
But, he added, the Atmos and Navitas rate requests “are another question because we’re behind on those two.”
Hill and Kyle stayed on as part-time directors under the reorganization. Director Eddie Roberson, a Democrat, and Freeman left their positions. That means there are three unfilled board seats plus the executive director position.
Haslam spokesman David Smith downplayed the situation, Tuesday, saying, “We continue to move through the process and are committed to finding the best fits for the positions.”
Asked when the governor anticipates filling the posts, Smith said, “It’s as soon as we find the best fits for the positions.”
The appointment will be made jointly by Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, all Republicans. Neither Ramsey nor Harwell responded to requests for comment.
Eighteen people have applied for the job of running day-to-day operations at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, including the first chairman of the agency and three current or former TRA employees.
The utility-regulating TRA was substantially changed earlier this year with passage of legislation pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The transformation replaces the present four full-time directors with a five-member, part-time board and creates a new position for a full-time executive director
During legislative debate, critics of the Haslam bill questioned whether the executive director would effectively run the agency with the part-time board serving as a rubber stamp for his or her decisions. Proponents disputed such contentions.
The deadline for submitting applications was June 6, but the Haslam administration – in response to a request made a day later — did not provide a full list of applicants until Friday. Apparently, the delay was partly caused by most of the applicants filing with the Department of Human Resources, as requested in ads soliciting applications, while four sent their applications directly to the governor.
News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has sign two bills from his 2012 legislative agenda that make structural changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) and 21 boards, commissions and licensing programs.
More than 200 of these organizations exist within state government, and many have independent hiring and spending authority with limited oversight. Haslam announced a review of state boards and commissions during his 2011 State of the State address, and after a comprehensive evaluation, he proposed reforms to improve performance, accountability and efficiency.
“It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive as possible to Tennessee taxpayers,” Haslam said. “These changes are a first step toward increasing the performance, accountability and effectiveness of state government to Tennesseans.”