July 9, 2002 – The Public Services Commission's mandatory rate investigation of the two companies that hold exclusive franchises for ferry service between St. Thomas and St. John is way behind schedule, according to the hearing examiner in charge of the probe.
More than a year ago, the PSC assigned attorney Stylish Willis the task of overseeing the investigation of Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures. Now, Willis says, the investigation is on hold because the commission needs to look for a new financial analyst.
However, Keithley Joseph, PSC executive director, said on Tuesday that Willis has not officially informed him that there is a problem. "To the best of my knowledge, everything is on hold" until the commission addresses the situation at its next meeting, Joseph said. That meeting is scheduled for July 19 on St. Croix.
In the PSC's public utility rate investigations, mandated biannually under legislation enacted last year, financial investigators review a company's accounting practices. Willis said a thorough investigation is needed in the case of the ferry franchisees because both companies have multiple businesses, some of which are non-regulated but may be operated using funds that shift from one enterprise to another.
The accountant originally retained to oversee that portion of the investigation was supposed to present the PSC with a plan outlining how the financial review would be carried out, but that never happened, Willis said. The commission is now scheduled to discuss the situation at a meeting on July 19. "They have to hire a new accountant," Willis said.
He said he has no idea how long it will take to complete the financial review or the rest of the ferry service rate investigation.
The bill passed by the 24th Legislature last year requires rate investigations of all regulated public service providers — Innovative Telephone, the Water and Power Authority and the two ferry franchise holders — every two years.
In the first round of investigations since the law took effect, the Innovative probe, with attorney Frederick Watts as hearing examiner, is nearing completion. The WAPA review is on hold since the designated examiner, attorney Ronald E. Russell, asked to withdraw from the case last week and was excused, according to Desmond Maynard, PSC chair. Russell cited conflicts with the utility; WAPA officials had objected to his being in charge of the probe, alleging a conflict of interest because he represents a client suing the authority.
Efforts by the Source to obtain the current ferry franchise agreements, which are public records, have been unsuccessful. Joseph said he did not have copies and referred the request to Willis. Willis said he did not have copies and that they would be on file with the PSC. Joseph then said a request would need to be submitted in writing to the commission asking to see the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The Source has such a request pending with the PSC concerning financial records submitted to the PSC by Innovative Telephone in connection with the commission's phone rate investigation.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.