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May 8, 2001 – The Public Services Commission took the first step Tuesday in implementing the biannual utility rate investigations mandated by a new law, voting to hire a New Jersey consulting firm for the work, despite what looked like the lack of a quorum.
The three commission members present voted to appoint the firm, AUS Consultants, to be the consultant for the investigations of Innovative Telephone, formerly Vitelco, and the Water and Power Authority.
Commission member Desmond Maynard left the meeting shortly after it began, protesting the hiring of AUS. That left three commission members present: Walter Challenger, the chair; Patrick Williams and Alicia Wells. According to the V.I. Code, the quorum for the body is four members. Six persons currenly sit on the commission; a seventh seat is vacant.
Immediately after the meeting, Challenger deferred to Williams to respond to reporters' questions about the quorum issue.
Williams, a former senator, said it was legal for the meeting to continue because a quorum had been established before Maynard left. That is not common practice in the Legislature. But Williams said it has happened in the Legislature and that the procedure is recognized under "Roberts' Rules of Order [Revised]."
Within hours of the meeting, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg — a frequent critic of the PSC and the lawmaker who pushed for the rate investigations — had asked the legislative legal counsel for an opinion on the quorum question.
Challenger asked for a quorum call just after Maynard left, establishing for the record that there were three members present. The three, along with PSC legal counsel Frederick Watts and executive director Keithly Joseph, then continued the meeting.
Several people representing companies with business on the agenda also were present, including attorney J'Ada Finch-Sheen, from Innovative Telephone; Courtney Wynter, from AT&T; Andrea Martin, from Innovative Cable Television; attorney Ishmael Meyers Jr., for the Water and Power Authority; and attorney Derek Hodge, for both Innovative and Varlack Ventures.
Challenger said AUS did not have a contract with the PSC and was being hired only on a case-by-case basis. However, before the meeting adjourned, at his suggestion, the commission voted to hire AUS to serve as the PSC's consultant.
At the start of the meeting, while Maynard was present, Challenger asked the commission to ratify action taken at a March 15 meeting on five items involving Innovative Telephone (listed on the agenda under its former name, Virgin Islands Telephone Corp., or Vitelco). Ratification was needed because the March 15 meeting had lacked a quorum.
The five items were:
– Three interconnection agreements between Vitelco and other companies — Telecorp, Centennial and Vitel Cellular/Vitelcom. In each instance, the companies were assessed costs for the PSC's review of the agreements they made between them, and Watts was appointed the hearing officer.
– A complaint by Kenth Rogers against Vitelco. Challenger said Hodge had told the commission that it didn't need to hear the complaint because it was before the court, and Watts was to follow up on it.
– Wireless World's request for the PSC to intervene in the company's attempts to reach an agreement with Vitelco for interconnection. Under federally mandated industry deregulation, Wireless World wants to provide local telephone service in direct competition with Vitelco. The negotiations have stalled, and the parties have requested arbitration.
Watts, the hearing examiner for the Wireless World/Vitelco case, commented, "This is going to be a battle royal." He said the two sides have agreed on extending the deadline for a PSC decision to July 25.
Watts also said both sides have competent consultants and that the PSC needs its own consultant. And he defended AUS as a technically competent consulting firm.
According to the web site for AUS Consultants and its parent company, AUS Inc., the consulting company has more than 30 years' experience as utility rate specialists. (For further details, go to AUS Consultants.)
Maynard, however, complained before leaving the meeting that "AUS was brought in by the back door." In a clear reference to Challenger, he said "one individual" was pushing the firm.
"I know I'm not corrupt," Maynard said, adding that the PSC should not leave itself open to charges of impropriety or corruption. "I've voiced my objection before," he said just before walking out. "This thing sticks in my craw."
Contacted later in the day, Maynard said he did not know whether the commission lacked a quorum to continue the meeting. "I simply did not want to participate," he said, declining to elaborate on his objections to AUS.
Challenger took time during the meeting to respond to Maynard's objections. He said he had taken it upon himself to first hire AUS when the PSC was investigating the proposed sale of WAPA to Southern Energy Inc. "It was a deadline to meet," he said, and he couldn't wait for a commission meeting, which had been delayed.
He also lashed out at the PSC's former consultant, Georgetown Consulting Group, which he dismissed two years ago amid a controvery involving Vitelco rates. "Georgetown had their political agendas," he said. "Georgetown was devious. Georgetown was not straightforward. Georgetown was political."
Challenger said, "There's no corruption here — except, if attorney Maynard, commissioner Maynard, is corrupt, that's his problem."
Challenger, Williams and Wells voted unanimously to ratify the action taken at the March meeting on the five Vitelco items.
They also voted unanimously to:
– Levy an initial assessment of $75,000 against Vitelco/Innovative Telephone for its rate investigation, and to appoint AUS as consultant and Watts as hearing examiner.
– Levy an initial assessment of $50,000 against WAPA for its rate investigation, and to appoint AUS as consultant and attorney Ronald Russell as hearing officer.
– Levy initial assessments of $10,000 each against Transportation Services Inc. and Varlack Ventures for the rate investigations of the ferry services, and to appoint Campbell Malone as consultant and attorney Stylish Willis as hearing officer.
– Assess WAPA $15,000 for the hearing examiner intervention in the case of Hodge vs. WAPA.
– Assess Sprint Spectrum and Vitelco $15,000 each for the hearing on Sprint's request of interconnection, and to appoint Watts as hearing officer.
Wells questioned whether the new law mandating rate investigations every other year applies to cable television. Martin testified that she does not believe the PSC has jurisdiction over cable television, because it is not considered a utility and because cable rates are deregulated. Watts asked her to have the attorneys for the two Innovative Cable companies — St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix — prepare memorandums to the PSC on the matter.
Challenger pushed Joseph to put into the record the names of several people the PSC has attempted to hire or promote. According to the PSC chair, their NOPAs (Notices of Personnel Action) are stuck in the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department.
Wells, Williams and Challenger lambasted Licensing Commissioner Andrew Rutnik, a former PSC member, for what they charged was interfering in commission business.
Wells said as a commission member, Rutnik used to speak out about people trying to usurp the PSC's authority. "Now the shoe's on the other foot," she said, "and he's the commissioner of everything."
Rutnik could not be reached for a response Tuesday afternoon.

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