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Utility Regulators Blasted For Travel Lapses

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s utility regulators don’t follow state travel policies and don’t keep adequate track of private meetings with the industries they regulate, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

The audit blasted the three-member Public Utilities Commission for sloppy paperwork keeping track of out-of-state travel between 2008 and 2011 and in some cases keeping no records whatsoever on trips paid for by outside groups.

The audit also criticized the utility regulators for keeping flimsy or inconsistent records of meeting or communications with people who may have business before the commission. Auditors couldn’t find any record of emails with interested parties, which skeptical auditors noted are “one of the common forms of communication in the current age.”

The Public Utilities Commission regulates power plants, gas and oil pipelines, water utilities, telecommunications companies and “common carrier” companies such as taxi services.

Republicans in the Legislature requested the audit amid worries that the commission is too cozy with certain groups and that it makes decisions based on political interests.

“There were concerns about the type of communication that was happening,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, a Greeley Republican who was among GOP lawmakers who requested the audit. “Was it proper? Was it being disclosed? Were they transparent with what they were doing?”

Among the problems detailed to lawmakers after the audit was a wide variance in disclosure of communications with interested parties, as required by law. The Public Utilities Commission had no time limit to disclose meetings, and some disclosures came months after the meeting or with no date specified, making it impossible for the public to monitor who utility regulators were talking to and when. Nearly half of the disclosures that were made by commissioners did not identify the affiliations of people present.

Commission Director Doug Dean told lawmakers that the commission has changed its disclosure policy to meet auditors’ suggestions.

Talking about communications disclosures and the commission website, Dean vowed, “They’re going to be posted in a very quick fashion from now on.”

Travel records were also criticized by auditors, who studied 128 out-of-state trips, including seven trips to foreign countries, between 2008 and 2011. Some of those trips required prior authorization from the governor’s office, but auditors found that 49 percent of those trips had no documentation of prior approval.

Even where records exist, they’re hard to find, auditors concluded. Auditors criticized the quasi-independent commission for having no central repository of travel records, something Dean conceded is a problem.

“We have a bunch of information in a lot of different places,” said Dean, who added that commission policies will change to be more transparent.

Lawmakers who requested the audit had few questions for commission staffers or auditors. Even Renfroe, a sharp critic of the commission, kept quiet during the audit presentation and said after that he’s satisfied, for now, that the Public Utilities Commission will change its ways.

“The audit showed that there were examples where things weren’t as transparent as they should be,” Renfroe said. “So they’re going to change their rules. They’re gonna come forward and hopefully disclose more.”

By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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