PSC Revising Utility Executive Pay Rule

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Public Service Commission decided Thursday to move forward with plans to change its rule requiring disclosure of salaries for top utility executives.

The commission said its intent is to bring an end to a lawsuit from a utility that is fighting disclosure, and more quickly bring clarity so that the public can access the information.

The commission’s draft rule allows utilities to ask that the information remain confidential. Such requests would be voted on individually by the five-member PSC.

Commissioners had voted earlier this year to start the process of repealing the rule requiring disclosure, which was put in place by different commissioners in 2010.

The regulatory agency last week backed off those plans to scrap that rule amid criticism the public should have access to the salary information. Supporters of disclosure had argued that the information is considered public under the state’s constitutional right to know.

The PSC said it hopes the revised rule will settle a lawsuit from Mountain Water Co., which provides water to the city of Missoula and surrounding areas. The company argues the rule requiring disclosure violates the state Constitution’s right-to-privacy provisions and exceeds the commission’s authority.

Commissioner Travis Kavulla said the ongoing litigation is prompting other utilities to buck the rule requiring disclosure. He said a “reasonable rule” that provides a way to seek confidentiality when merited and should resolve the issue.

“Having public access to this information is important, and it is ridiculous that the public doesn’t have access to some of it now.” Kavulla said.

Commission chairman Bill Gallagher said the new rule requires more salary disclosure than the old rule that just sought pay for the top three. And he said the presumption is the public has the right to see the information.

“If someone wants to protect it, burden is on them to prove the privacy interest,” Gallagher said.

The commission said it will formally take up the proposed rule, possibly making changes, after giving time for public comment. It could be implemented later this year, or early next year.