Arizona utility regulator Andy Tobin hopes a strike-everything amendment from a state lawmaker could allow him to vote on some important upcoming cases.
Tobin, who was appointed to a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission by Gov. Doug Ducey, has a son-in-law who works as an inventory specialist at SolarCity. The commission’s attorneys found the involvement to be a “remote conflict,” requiring Tobin to recuse himself from proceedings involving SolarCity.
Tobin took office when former Corporation Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith resigned after the attorney general sought her removal for a conflict of interest stemming from her outside employment.
Tobin said the Corporation Commission’s attorneys think he should recuse himself from multiple upcoming proceedings related to solar energy, one of the most contentious issues at the commission.
“I disagree with our lawyers. Our chief counsel told me that I wasn’t even electable or appointable when I first got here (to the commission). … I’m skeptical about the bureaucracy of this institution,” Tobin said.
A striker from Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, would clarify that the statutes applying to the Legislature and other public bodies would apply to the Corporation Commission as well, which would ultimately allow Tobin to vote on issues involving SolarCity if the bill passes.
Allen’s striker would add a line to statutes related to the Corporation Commission’s duties to meet each month and have a chairman.
“Notwithstanding any other law, commissioners and employees of the commission are subject to Title 38, Chapter 3, Article 8,” the striker to HB 2123 says. That statute defines conflicts of interest for “all public officers and employees of incorporated cities or towns, of political subdivisions and of the state and any of its departments, commissions, agencies, bodies or boards.”
Allen said he’s carrying the striker “because there is no conflict” for Tobin. Tobin’s son-in-law works in the warehouse division, so he’s “not a decision-maker” at SolarCity, Allen said.
The striker applies the same rules to the Corporation Commission as other offices because the commission shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than other offices, Allen said.
But, Tobin said, the commission has said those statutes relating to the Legislature and other public bodies don’t apply to it since other statutes address commission conflicts.
Coming from the Legislature, Tobin assumed the provision in state law that says as long a vote affects 10 or more people, it wasn’t a conflict of interest, also applied to the commission, so he believed his son-in-law’s job wasn’t an issue.
But, the commission’s attorney said the provision doesn’t apply to the Corp Commission, Tobin said, an idea that he struggles with.
“Sometimes, not all the lawyers are on the same page. I mean, it took them three years and they didn’t have Susan Bitter Smith conflicted. So here I am, three days before (taking office), and I have their chief counsel telling me, you’re not even appointable,” Tobin said.
But in talking with lawmakers, Tobin said most have agreed with him that the general conflict of interest rules should apply to the commission as well.
Perhaps the commission’s attorneys have been much more cautious since Bitter Smith resigned over a potential conflict of interest for her outside work, Tobin said. But, he added, he’s “been more scoped out” than most other people over the past few years with his CD1 campaign and his role as speaker.
“At the end of the day, I came here to vote on everything, so I’m going to fight. … I want to fight to be able to vote. While there’s a disagreement amongst attorneys, and there’d probably be a disagreement in a court of law, it seems to me like if the Legislature agrees with me, maybe they can help clean some of this stuff up and that may solve some of the problem,” Tobin said.
Chandler attorney Tom Ryan told The Associated Press that Allen’s amendment wouldn’t allow Tobin to vote on SolarCity matters because other laws apply to the commission. Ryan, who filed the initial complaints against Bitter Smith that led to her resignation, said the commission should have higher standards than the Legislature because it has judicial powers.
“To the extent that John Allen is trying to undermine any conflict of interest rule he should be ashamed of himself, because he’s abridging the right of ratepayers to be protected,” Ryan told the AP.
The bill will be heard in the House Appropriations committee on Wednesday.
-Hank Stephenson and The Associated Press contributed to this story.