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Montana auditors find there's room for improvement in utility regulators' work culture

James Brown speaks before the Legislative Audit Committee.
James Brown speaks before the Legislative Audit Committee.

The performance audit released this month recommends changes to encourage staff retention, strengthen the chain of command and instill more public trust in the board that oversees investor-owned power companies and other utilities.

Auditors conducted a survey of 26 PSC staff. Nearly a quarter of employees responded that they believe commissioners always exhibit high ethical values, and half agreed commissioners are held accountable for inappropriate behavior.

Auditor Alyssa Sorenson told the Legislative Audit Committee this week that the report calls for expansion of a code of conduct and regular training for commissioners.

“In general, what we were looking for was for a method that elected officials can state what they’re going to try to do, make sure they’re reminded what they’re trying to do and, as elected officials, kind of police themselves,” said Sorenson.

To bolster staff morale and prevent turnover, auditors recommend the PSC appeal to the legislature for higher employee pay and reclassify management positions to be answerable to the executive director rather than commissioners.

Commission President James Brown, who’s currently running for State Auditor, disagreed with many statements in the audit and expressed his frustration before lawmakers.

“Frankly, Mr. President, we feel like we have come forward and asked you for help both in terms of FTE and funding to help us redress the issues that have been identified in this audit, and we feel like we’ve been rebuffed on multiple occasions,” he said.

In an 11-page response Brown wrote on behalf of himself and other commissioners, he details the efforts the PSC has made to restructure and improve over the last couple of years, including establishing an executive director position.

The PSC recently hired a new executive director, the third person to fill the role.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.