The state's Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility cases, has asked Public Service Commissioner Lin Appling to remove himself from a pending electricity rate-increase case involving a Kansas City area utility.
Lewis Mills charges Appling had a private conversation with a Kansas City Power and Light Company executive about issues regarding a current rate increase case.
It is the second time Appling has been accused of impropriety involving a utility case. Last year, the telecommunications company Sprint had asked Appling to remove himself from their case because of a personal relationship with a lobbyist for a competitor of Sprint's.
The five members of the PSC, termed judges, are required to abide by standards governing judges -- including avoiding conflicts of interest and private conversations on matters before the commission.
The latest issue stems from an October 1 session of the PSC. At the the hearing, Appling mentioned a meeting with Chris Giles of the Kansas City Power and Light Co. and discussing electricity rates.
In a filing with the PSC, Appling claimed the discussion involved a prior rate case by the utility, not the pending case.
But Mills said that did not matter. "Whether or not it was this case or the last case, the issue is still the same," Mills said.
Stuart Conrad, a lawyer for a Kansas City company involved in the case -- Praxair Inc.-- also has filed a letter asking Appling to recuse himself from the case.
"I asked that the commissioner simply step aside," Conrad said.
Appling has been unavailable for comment, but the Associated Press cites Appling's filing with the commission in which he refuses to step aside. "Because no impropriety has occurred, I will not recuse myself from this case."
Appling was defended by a former director of the Utilities Operations Division of the PSC, Warren Woods. Woods said he was present during the conversation between Appling and Giles. "I heard no discussions that would in any way link to the current rate case," Woods said.
But for Mills, the issue may not be over. "My next option would be to go to court and ask the court to remove him (from the case). I'm still deciding whether or not that's an appropriate course of action."
While arguing for Appling's removal from this one case, Mills said he did not think that Appling's actions included willful misconduct or bribery that would constitute grounds for removal from office. "I don't know that his conduct constitutes removal."