Managing ethics when no one else is looking

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Published: September 19,2010

Tags: Ben Stone, Mississippi Ethics Commission

Mississippi Power Company attorney, Ben Stone, of Balch & Bingham’s Gulfport office, should seriously examine his role as Chairman of the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

Stone said in a hearing last week (Sept. 14) at the Mississippi Public Service Commission that he did not disagree with the Attorney General’s opinion that according to state statute, public utilities cannot hide information regarding rate impacts from the public view.

However, in the Kemper County IGCC Plant proceedings, Stone did just that.

In August 2009, Stone filed confidentially a response to a question about how much — in real dollar amounts — the $2.4 billion Kemper plant would impact the rates of Mississippi Power’s 190,000 customers.

The MBJ obtained the document via the Public Records Act in July of this year. In the Aug. 22 story “’About a third’ is really closer to about a half” which explained that according to the rate impacts document, monthly electric bills of MPC customers would escalate by more than 45 percent to pay for Kemper.

This information is vital to the public interest. If ratepayers, who have to foot the bill for a plant which will double MPC’s assets, had known about these numbers, they might have pressured their Commissioners not to vote in favor of the project.

Stone said last week that MPC would support revealing ultimate customer rate impacts, just so long as any confidential or proprietary information used to arrive at those rate impacts was allowed to be kept confidential.

But documents obtained by the MBJ detailing the rate impacts did not include any proprietary information regarding how the power company arrived at the dollar amounts.

Stone’s ethics appear to be best managed when his clients are not involved.

We’re sure he thinks that saying he “wouldn’t object” to revealing something doesn’t put him on the hook for concealing it intentionally and hoping no one would ask for it — thus tying the hands of Public Service Commissioners facing a nearly $3 billion decision. In the process, it denies the public its voice, and puts the burden on others to look out for the public good.

Word-smithing and technicalities might keep Stone from being examined more closely, but a village idiot with an iota of common sense knows better.

It is our opinion that Stone’s behavior is reprehensible, and at best, unethical.

If you are promoting a power plant project that is the best thing since sliced bread for consumers, certainly you shouldn’t have to resort to crafty language and the concealing of information to ram it through for approval.

If everything is honest and above board, why not lay all the cards on the table?

And if something is ethical today, wasn’t its ethical spirit the same a year ago?

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is credited with saying, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

In this case, Stone’s character is revealed by the action of hiding information detrimental to the general public with the belief it would never be brought to light.

The Chairman of the Mississippi State Ethics Commission should know better.

The people of Mississippi deserve better.

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One Response to “Managing ethics when no one else is looking”

  1. J. O'Neal Says:

    In the Kemper hearings, the Sierra Club’s counsel, Robert Wiygul, argued that the rate hike that would result from the Kemper plant should not be withheld from the public. But he did not prevail.

    Sadly, we were almost on the road to avoiding a 45-square-mile strip mine of the headwaters of the Pascagoula and a “new” coal plant, when two Public Service Commissioners “mysteriously” changed their minds a month after an initial judgment.

    One thing MBJ can do is cover the PSC’s upcoming “Efficiency” hearings, to begin September 28. In 2008, the MS PSC (those same two commissioners) rejected the five standards of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, one of which is Efficiency (the others are Net Metering, Smart Metering, Interconnection and a required portion of electric utility generation in Renewables).

    Net Metering (the meter runs backwards when ratepayers generate their own power) is necessary for consumers to adopt solar power. In North MS, the TVA provides a generous net metering program, which is why a solar panel plant is being built in Senatobia.

    46 states and DC have Net Metering. Mississippi Power tells us there is not enough solar energy in Mississippi. But, according to the NOAA, Jackson MS has 61% sunny days annually versus 60% in Austin TX. Austin has an active solar program.

    Hard to believe Mississippi Power, isn’t it?

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