PSC won't allow newspaper to make copies of public records
Published: December 8, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Public Services Commission wants to charge more than $600 for access to public records detailing a decade's worth of expenses paid to a stateside consulting firm.
In the wake of a September decision by the Public Services Commission to approve a 20 percent increase in the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause despite questions raised by the Maryland-based Georgetown Consulting Group, The Daily News began seeking further information about the relationship between the commission and Georgetown. As part of that inquiry, the newspaper requested all invoices submitted to the Public Services Commission by the consulting firm since 2002.
The Public Services Commission responded by stating it would compile the records and, after a number of weeks, produced an invoice numbered "PSC-001-2012" on Dec. 5.
The invoice is for $622.75 and includes charges for 2,491 pages of documents at 25 cents per page.
PSC Utility Staff Assistant Tisean Hendricks said Public Services Commission policy would not allow The Daily News to supply its own copy machine, paper and staff to produce the copies. She said the 25-cents-per-page charge is also a matter of Public Services Commission policy.
Hendricks said that a copy of the policy and something in writing stating the commission's position that The Daily News could not make its own copies of the public records would have to come through the office of Executive Director Keithley Joseph.
Joseph had not provided any such information as of Friday and did not return a message seeking comment for this story.
Joseph is married to Ethlyn Joseph, who recently lost a V.I. Supreme Court appeal of a case in which she sued The Daily News for libel over investigative reporting that examined her tenure as the head of restaurant inspections for the V.I. Health Department. The articles cited complaints that Ethlyn Joseph took bribes and engaged in other corrupt activities.
In an interview Friday, Thomas Jackson, the acting chairman of the Public Services Commission, initially voiced support for Hendricks' position that the commission should not allow members of the public to make their own copies of public records.
"You know the government doesn't do that," Jackson said.
However, the V.I. Legislature recently did do just that, allowing The Daily News to bring two copiers, several reams of paper and staff members to copy thousands of pages of financial records requested under the territory's public records law.
Jackson argued that even if a member of the public provided his or her own supplies for the copies, the Public Services Commission would still have to assign a staff member to oversee the copying process to ensure the person did not remove any of the commission's records.
"Yes, it's public under the Sunshine Act, but we have to make sure somebody is in there," Jackson said. "We cannot allow somebody to be in there by themselves."
Jackson said he does not believe the Public Services Commission's copy-fee policy is memorialized in writing. However, he said the fee compares favorably to some other branches of government, such as the Office of the Medical Examiner or the V.I. Police Department, which can charge several dollars per page. The Police Department, for example, charges $9 just to perform a records check, then charges $7 for a criminal or traffic report, according to a fee schedule posted online. The V.I. Superior Court charges $1 per page for copies of all court records.
"As far as I know, it's a standard government procedure," Jackson said.
However, Jackson also said he did not want to speak for Keithley Joseph, who ultimately is responsible for enforcing the PSC's copying-fee policy.
"I don't have anything to do with the day-to-day side," Jackson said. "If a decision needs to be made, I guess I'll get the call."
Donald Cole, who technically still is the chairman of the Public Services Commission but who took a leave of absence while successfully campaigning for a seat in the 30th Legislature, also deferred to Keithley Joseph.
Cole said he plans to step down from the Public Services Commission later this month prior to taking office as a senator, but on Friday he questioned the commission's copy-fee policy.
"That doesn't make sense," Cole said. "You should be able to go in and copy those things. I don't understand."
Regarding the sheer volume of the invoices, Jackson said Georgetown has been consulting for the PSC "for a long time." He said the firm submits very detailed invoices, similar to attorneys' bills, that usually are broken down by fractions of an hour.
The Public Services Commission's next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18 on St. Thomas.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.