UPDATED: PSC Turmoil Continues with Spat Over Phone Records

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The turmoil at the Public Service Commission continued Tuesday with the ousted vice chairman seeking the personal cell phone records of the commissioners who staged a leadership coup last month.

Republican Brad Molnar was rebuffed in his attempts to immediately get the personal cell phone records of new Republican chairman Travis Kavulla and Democrat Gail Gutsche, his second in command. The new majority on the panel postponed the matter to some point in the future, without setting a date.

Molnar said he wants to see the records of calls that may have been made during breaks from contentious meetings last month. He suspects his political enemies were making phone calls in the hallways to others the Billings Republican believes also want to undermine him.

After a tumultuous start to the year, the rare Republican majority on the panel disintegrated last month when Kavulla joined minority Democrats to oust Molnar and Bill Gallagher from leadership. The meetings have been marked by bickering and accusations between the commissioners that are often difficult to substantiate.

Molnar’s ouster was marked by the accusation from Kavulla and others that Molnar was wrong to travel to Washington D.C. on behalf of the panel. But even before that Kavulla, a Republican from Great Falls, challenged Molnar’s leadership.

Kavulla argued Molnar couldn’t be trusted with the job, and tried to force Molnar to sign a code of conduct before a short-lived deal was worked out where Republican Bill Gallagher was made chairman.

Molnar has accused Kavulla of doing whatever is necessary to seize power of the commission in the first few months of his first term in office.

Molnar said he thinks the cellphone records could uncover a pattern where his opponents have been working with political operatives, energy industry lobbyists and former commissioners to engineer the game plan to oppose him.

“Everything is now designed to protect Travis Kavulla,” Molnar said. “The two Democrats are now his wingmen and he gets whatever he wants.”

Gutsche, who said she does not remember who she may have called during the meeting breaks, said she does not want to give Molnar’s accusation credibility by releasing the records. She said the turmoil is not affecting PSC business because the governing majority of two Democrats and one Republican will push ahead.

“We are not going to let the shenanigans of one commissioner get in the way of the important job of regulating utilities,” Gutsche said.

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