Akron Beacon Journal
Edition: 1 STAR
Time to go
The job of Consumers' Counsel starts with credibility. Robert Tongren now has too little to be effective.
brought helpful changes in tone and approach to the office of the Ohio
Consumers' Counsel nine years ago. He succeeded William Spratley, who had
achievements yet too often opted for combat when negotiation would have
better served consumers. Tongren bargains, reasons and persuades.
He has been effective. The time has also come for him to step down.
A consumers' counsel must enjoy public confidence and jealously
protect a reputation for independence. This past week, news accounts have
suggested Tongren has faltered on both
|One of the more contentious
and complex pieces of legislation to clear the Statehouse in recent years
involved electricity deregulation. Much discussion turned on "stranded
costs," reflecting investments made by FirstEnergy (with the approval and
often the urging of regulators) that the company expected to recover over
time. How much would the Akron-based firm be permitted to collect before
the deregulated market took effect?
In the end, the figure was set at $8.7 billion, as part of a
practical compromise, one Tongren helped to facilitate, achieving
real benefits for consumers. The trouble is, Tongren sat on a
report that had concluded the "stranded costs" should be less than $4
Perhaps the report would have made little difference. (The
consumers' counsel paid a consulting firm $579,000 for the work.) That
doesn't excuse the failure to make the information available for public
debate. Tongren neglected his duty. It doesn't help, either, that
the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio acted similarly with a separate
consultant's report that reached the same conclusion.
Tongren compounded his problem by destroying the document
after the office's records-retention policy narrowed (misguidedly) from
five years to one. More, the Columbus Dispatch reported this week that the
consumers' counsel has spent all too much time on the golf course, at
fund-raisers and other events wining and dining, getting cozy with the
executives of the companies his office oversees. A watchdog shouldn't be
In his own defense, Tongren cites $1.7 billion in savings
that he has brought to consumers since 1994. Again, he has been effective.
Unfortunately, that effectiveness has now been compromised.
Investigations have been launched by the inspector general,
attorney general and the legislature. They hardly need to probe deeply to
discover what is obvious: The credibility of the Office of Consumers'
Counsel has been sorely harmed. The recovery should begin with Robert
Tongren stepping down.
Copyright (c) 2003 Akron Beacon Journal