Gunn: ‘Good time’ to quit as PSC chief

Just minutes before his resignation became effective at noon Friday, former Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Gunn said he doesn’t know what his next job is going to be.

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Kevin Gunn

“I joke that it’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane and hoping you find a parachute on the way down,” Gunn, 42, told the News Tribune.

“My wife has a successful law practice in St. Louis, so I can take a little bit of time to decide what those possibilities are.”

Gunn and his wife, Amy Collignon Gunn, have been married 14 years and have two sons, 10 and 7.

Gunn was named to the PSC by Gov. Matt Blunt in 2008.

Nearly three years later, when Robert Clayton resigned as chairman to become an appeals court judge, Gov. Jay Nixon elevated Gunn to the post.

So, with Nixon re-elected to a second four-year term, why leave now?

“We’re at a point in time, really, where it was a good time for me to exit,” Gunn explained, “both in terms of getting back to St. Louis and spending more time with my family — and, also, we’re at a point where most of the major rate cases that were pending have been taken care of.”

Including last week’s settlement agreement for Joplin-based Empire District Electric Co., Gunn said, the PSC in the last six months has issued final rate case orders for Missouri American Water Co., Ameren Missouri and the Kansas City Power and Light Co.

“We’ve cleared the decks in a lot of ways for a new chairman to come in, and bring some new energy and new perspective to the office,” Gunn said.

Just under three hours after Gunn’s resignation became official, Nixon named Commissioner Robert Kenney, another St. Louis lawyer, as the PSC’s next chairman.

Because of the PSC’s ethics rules — tightened during Gunn’s service on the commission — he said, “I haven’t really spoken to anybody about a job. ... I’m open to just about anything.

“I would like to stay in the ‘energy space,’ but we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Lawmakers created the PSC in 1913, to provide some oversight and regulation of the investor-owned utilities, that tend to be monopolies in the communities they serve.

The commission also regulates manufactured and modular homes’ dealers and makers.

The PSC doesn’t regulate cooperatives or municipal utilities.

Some of the commission’s successes during the last five years have been “invisible to the public,” Gunn said. “For example, we got a reorganization of the agency, and that allows us to be much more efficient internally and, actually, do a better job at allocating our resources.

“I’m also very proud of some of the energy efficiency agreements that we’ve been able to achieve — we’re in a changing world, and to empower consumers to save more of their energy, I’m very proud of that.”

And, he added: “We’ve asked really important questions about low-income rates, or a rate-stabilization mechanism, in order to help those who are really struggling in the economic crisis.”

He acknowledged the PSC and its staff “don’t have all the answers” — and have been wrestling with the question for decades.

Gunn said state law doesn’t require it, but governors of both parties “have absolutely respected the bipartisan nature” of the five-member PSC.

With Gunn’s departure, the commission has two Democrat members, new Chairman Kenney and former state Sen. Steve Stoll, and two Republican members, Terry Jarrett and former state Sen. Bill Kenney, who also is a former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback.

Even with the potential for political squabbles, Gunn said, “95 percent of our orders are unanimous. There are some large policy matters we sometimes have disagreements on” — but those disagreements are “more philosophical” than partisan.

Gunn’s biggest disappointment is that continuing problem of trying to improve conditions for low-income people who still are faced with higher utility costs.

“We also really need to beef-up the office of public counsel,” Gunn said. “We’ve tried to advocate for it but, it’s just difficult, in these budget times, to expand that department.”

The public counsel represents consumers in all commission rate cases — a role Gunn called “imperative to a good regulatory process. I think what you find is, the whole process goes better when all the parties are represented equally. ...

“You even the playing field — and that makes the commission’s decisions better, when you have people who can make their arguments in the best way possible.”

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