Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Watts Questin Ethics in Rate Process

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Watts Questin Ethics in Rate Process

Article excerpt

By Ronda Fears

Journal Record Staff Reporter

The means did not justify the end in the politically charged Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. rate case, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner J.C. Watts Jr. intimated in a concurring opinion attached to the record rate cut and refund order.

Evidence supports the $92.8 million rate cut and $148.4 million refund, but methods used in the course of the case "have served to create an incredibly hostile and increasingly ineffective regulatory atmosphere," Watts said.

"I am very dismayed by these actions and believe that the people of this state deserve better," he said in the opinion filed with the final order Wednesday, referring to July 1991 news conferences in which commission staff blasted Bell.

Rate hearings did not begin until last fall. The news conferences in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, called by Public Utility Division Director Jim Proctor, were held before testimony was filed in the rate case, too. Commissioner Bob Anthony's administrative aide advised the media of the events.

"From the day the commission staff called its press conference to accuse Southwestern Bell of `fraud,' " Watts said, "the parties to this case have engaged in public name calling, political posturing, obstructive maneuvering and other vitriolic behavior which has done nothing to serve the public interest."

Ultimately, ratepayers _ the citizens of Oklahoma _ pay the price, he said.

"Unfortunately, it is my observation that the parties in this case have gone far beyond legitimate advocacy and engaged in what at best may be described as remarkably unprofessional behavior," Watts said.

"Some, of course, will submit that I am naive and this is simply the way the adversarial system works. I respond that being a tough advocate does not require one to abdicate one's personal responsibility to be professional, fair, decent and do what's right."

Watts was the commissioner who pleaded with Bell and commission staff, along with the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, to reach a negotiated settlement just two weeks before the rate decision was made, Aug. 5. The order was not final, however, until the three commissioners signed it Wednesday. …

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