By: Angel DeFazio
What if it is a pitch black night and a driver is having a hard time navigating roads with no working headlights. Under those circumstances, would the average person claim transparency? You might think this an 'extreme' reality show story line, but this apt analogy symbolizes the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on another one of its opaque objectives to keep the public at bay. Read the following and draw your own conclusions.
In short order, operating under the very inexperienced new Chair, Paul Thomsen, the PUC has rapidly regressed from a long-standing, tepid effort toward transparency and ratepayer involvement into an absolute abyss of darkness.
The public intermittently hears from other media sources PUC-generated rhetoric about its 'openness and transparency' and expresses public hand wringing that existing staff will depart in droves unless higher salaries are awarded.
The former Executive Director, Crystal Jackson, began the rapid decline when she testified about her proposed Fiscal Years 2016-2017 PUC budget on February 16, 2015 before the 78th Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. 
One of several head-turning statements made by Ms. Jackson that day was "The Commission's budget is funded primarily through an annual regulatory assessment levied against public utilities in the State for which they receive recovery from their ratepayers." This statement conveniently omits that the PUC determines the assessment level funding most of its salaries and operations, then approves the rates charged by the utilities, which include utility company-collected reimbursement from all ratepayers to fund the PUC's operations. These hidden taxes have no visibility on ratepayers' utility bills. The higher the rates, the higher the revenue to the PUC. Is this construct not the height of conflict of interest and self-dealing?
During this same budget hearing, Ms. Jackson introduced Donna Skau as the PUC's Deputy Executive Director, even though she was still listed as 'Commission Secretary' on the PUC's web site. Had a promotion been given without review by the three PUC Commissioners? No explanation was forthcoming at the meeting or later except to state Ms. Skau had "held this position for a long time," but without the usual disclosure to the public. 
Ms. Jackson's Power Point presentation stated that the PUC's philosophy was "to strive to be efficient, flexible, impartial, diligent and professional in all efforts."
A question from Assemblyman Armstrong covered the Legal Case Manager's salary. Ms. Jackson stated that Nevada Bar admission was preferable, but a Juris Doctor degree is required. What Ms. Jackson didn't reveal was that she had been the PUC's former Legal Case Manager, even though she had no Juris Doctor degree, nor any legal training. This inconsistency in testimony was brought up at a PUC utility agenda meeting on February 24, 2015 during public comment, but no subsequent action was taken to correct misstatements made to the Legislature or produce evidence of the official, public action taken by the Commission to promote Ms. Skau, who retired just a few months later. 
Another question from Senator Goicoechea focused on the PUC's request to be exempted from constraints required by the state Budget Act of virtually all state agencies, but remain in the lucrative (at least compared to Social Security and the private sector's offerings) state retirement plan. Senator Goicoechea said if the exemption was granted, there will be no oversight and no accountability to the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee. Ms. Jackson responded that the PUC would still be discussing its budget in the PUC's administrative meetings, which she asserted were 'open and transparent.' Her statement led to the follow-up question that if the PUC was willing to discuss its budget in such a meeting, then why not with the Interim Finance Committee? Ultimately, Senate Bill 46 was defeated and the PUC has experienced no subsequent, massive departure of existing employees.
UNRESPONSIVE, HIDDEN PUC PROCEEDINGS AND DECISIONS
Of course, the PUC's version of an 'open and transparent' meeting is to advise the public it will be discussed in a meeting, and allow the public to comment (but ask no questions which will be answered by PUC employees) before the Commissioners discuss and decide the budget. They do not allow public comment to influence their budget choices, even though such matters are not part of quasi-judicial proceedings, where paid consultants and company employees provide 'evidence' 'and 'testimony.' Repeated management problems, PUC employee position papers lacking answers to basic questions and incoherent spending priorities have been cited on the record, but receive zero attention or correction from any PUC employee or Commissioner.
Uncomfortable with the repeated public questioning of its actions, Commissioner David Noble announced that he suddenly thought it was "unnecessary" to publicly present the administrative fines report showing large collection delinquencies (totaling over $300,000) the PUC had not made a reasonable effort to resolve. This July 22, 2015 decree happened just three weeks before a new, grossly-inexperienced PUC Executive Director would assume the position and most likely have no clue on how to fix the chronic problem. 
Even with 17 lawyers on the PUC payroll, attention to legal notice procedures and oversight of persons preparing the formal agenda was absent for years. Under the state Open Meeting Law, these notices are supposed to be posted at specific locations in the north and south. False statements of postings occurred in Las Vegas, where one employee signed off that two different locations had been posted at the same time and date, from February 24, 2010 onward. Only after this reporter pursued the matter in the PUC's August 13, 2014 administrative agenda meeting were the false claims of posting corrected in future postings. [5, 6]
Since April 20, 2010, the PUC has refused to provide access on its web site the meeting minutes and all supporting documentation for this administrative agenda meeting. What are they hiding and why? 
On September 30, 2015, at the administrative agenda meeting, the PUC Commissioners discussed being informed by PUC employees of revisions to internal processes and procedures, but that the revisions would not be brought before the Commission for a public vote. Commissioner Noble decided "internal procedures do not rise to the level of requiring a Commission vote, unless any Commissioner requests to have the item placed on the agenda." However, the Commission is to exercise oversight management of its 96-person operation. This inconsistency fails to fulfill principles of prudent management any first-year business school student would comprehend. 
The latest and most egregious attempt to suppress public opinion occurred without any public discussion or a vote of the Commissioners. Ordinarily, submitted, written public comment is appended to the meeting's agenda and support documents the day of the administrative agenda or utility agenda meeting. But the October 12th meeting records failed to display the public comments (2). Considering this reporter ‘exposed’ the background of Chair Thomsen for his industry ‘favoritism’ that day, the oral comments are on the tape, but the same printed information was denied. Three days later, the Commission's General Counsel (primary lawyer), Carolyn Tanner, responded to an inquiry that she or Chair Thomsen (no attribution offered) had suddenly decided to stop entering all written public comments into the meeting record. Instead, Ms. Tanner planned to place them in a general file, completely disconnected from the subject of the meeting, claiming they "take up too much space." As the commenter would have to expressly request that the comments be entered into the agenda record. The contradiction: PUC employee-generated exhibits for the typical PUC meeting consume hundreds and often thousands of pages of electronic storage. Such a general file appears nowhere on the PUC web site and effectively equates to 'round filing' the public's comments in the nearest trash can. [9, 10]
These specific instances of PUC dismissal and suppression of public comment contradict any self-serving statements the PUC makes about its 'openness and transparency.'