Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bell to Make `Best Offer' in Rate Case

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bell to Make `Best Offer' in Rate Case

Article excerpt

By Ronda Fears

Journal Record Staff Reporter

A "best offer" by Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. to settle its pending rate case will be made next week as requested Tuesday by Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner J.C. Watts Jr. in a personal plea to the company.

Gov. David Walters made a similar request a week earlier in a letter to Attorney General Susan Loving, whose office represents ratepayers in the case. Loving replied in a letter Friday that implied Walters has become biased on the issue.

Yet, Loving and commission staff have indicated a willingness to negotiate a settlement with Bell. No formal request of Bell for a settlement had been made publicly, though, until Watts spoke up Tuesday prior to the commission's hearing docket.

Staff attorney Maribeth Snapp cautioned Watts about commission member involvement in the settlement negotiations process. She warned that it could appear the panel has become prejudiced and taint the entire case. The case, launched by commission staff in January 1989, is in its final stages.

"My concern is the appropriateness of the commission being involved in a settlement discussion," said Snapp, who is the top public utility attorney at the agency.

"I don't think it's appropriate for the commissioners to be involved as a mediator, so to speak. It presents a possible bias. It puts the commission in an untenable position."

The commission refers to the elected threember panel, not staff members of the agency. Commission staff and the attorney general's office have held several settlement talks with Bell over the past 3 years, to no avail.

Despite Snapp's admonition, Watts pressed the matter.

Bell attorney Glen Glass said the company would submit a proposal as requested on Monday. It is to be channeled through the agency's chief attorney, Lindil Fowler.

Under a recommendation pending before the commissioners, Bell's revenues in Oklahoma would be cut by about $38 million to $84 million, and the company would be forced to refund between $59 million and $114 million or more to its Oklahoma customers.

Bell's rate of return on equity would be lowered from 14. …

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