When Commissioner Angela Speir announced she would seek other opportunities after her term on the Public Service Commission ends and not seek re-election, it sent a sigh of chagrin throughout the public-interest community.
"I think we're losing a good one when she steps away," says Bill Bozarth of Common Cause, a nonprofit group that focuses on fairness and accountability in government practices and who recently recognized Speir for her work. "She shows what one who is elected to such a position can do, which is act as a buffer between a regulated body [like a utility] â a sanctioned monopoly, of sorts â and the well being of the state of Georgia."
Her exit comes at a time when Commissioner Bobby Baker â another respected official on the five-member board â risks losing his seat because a sour-grapes opponent has challenged his residency status in a battle that's now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Lauren âBubbaâ McDonald, whom Speir trumped in the 2002 election and is considered a champion for the status quo, is the lone candidate for her seat. Sheâll endorse McDonald âwhen the devil puts on his overcoat,â she says. (Oddly enough, McDonald may be trying to separate himself from his "Bubba" past â on the Secretary of State's online list of qualifying candidates, he's listed merely as "W. Lauren McDonald.")
âSome commissioners and some candidates view this job as a part-time job, or a part-time commitment to the people,â Speir says. âIt should not be viewed as an opportunity to take advantage of the taxpaying public by not showing up for work, driving a state car and getting your gas paid for when youâre not on state business or traveling to junkets where commissioners are wined and dined, paid for by lobbyists with business before the commissionâ â referring to the recent reports that Commissioners Stan Wise and H. Doug Everett received trips and perks from the natural-gas lobby.
Long considered one of the few representatives of the people at the misunderstood and notoriously chummy statewide office, Speir has been a paragon of political purity and power for the people in her six years in office. Her noble initiatives included offering bill-paying assistance to low-income Georgians, easing stringent late fees against billpayers, and pushing for more green energy in a state thatâs long bowed to the throne of King Coal.
Add to the list a successful fight to ban private communications between the commission and utilities and you understand sheâs a far cry from your usual elected official on the quasi-judicial agency.
"There should be a balance on the commission, not just a bunch of good ole boys,â Speir says. âWe need good people who make good decisions based on the facts, and whatâs best for Georgia. And not based upon whoâs pulling the puppet strings.â
Speir says she thought long and hard about her decision, but decided she would better serve the public in another role.
"I'm sure she gave it a lot of thought and I certainly wish her well," Bozarth says. "I hope she continues to engage herself in the activities in which she's really shined."
(Photo courtesy of the Public Service Commission)
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