(Daily Montanan) About a month ago, a legislative audit of Montana’s Public Service Commission showed falsified financial records and a host of spending issues.
While even Republican lawmakers have chastised the PSC, demanding auditors push farther, two of Montana’s top leaders remain mum on whether they’re contemplating action against any of the fellow GOP public service commissioners.
Former longtime lawmaker and chairman of the Public Service Commission, Greg Jergeson, wrote to Gov. Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Austin Knudsen, urging them to use a little-known and even lesser-used law that allows either official to investigate, suspend or possibly remove PSC commissioners.
The Daily Montanan contacted both Gianforte and Knudsen’s offices respectively and both refused to comment on the PSC. The Daily Montanan also submitted a list of questions to each office, asking if they had concerns, were considering actions or have taken an opinion on Jergeson’s letter.
Gianforte’s office was contacted multiple times but didn’t respond.
“We’re not going to participate in your blog,” responded Emilee Cantrell, spokesperson for Knudsen.
At the hearing, lawmakers heard an overview of a report released last month from the Legislative Audit Division that found numerous problems and financial abuses, including issues auditors have cited before. Problems included a $1,414 “comfort class” ticket to Washington, D.C., falsified expense documentation, a deficiency in internal controls, and $100,000 of revenue and expenses “understated” in 2019.
The lawmakers did not take action on the report on June 8, instead opting to have auditors go back in October.
Lawmakers also lambasted the commission for its problems.
“It’s an unfortunate display of what I would call government irresponsibility, and the government being accountable to its citizens,” said Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, committee vice chair. “And I’m embarrassed by that, as I think you are as the chair.”
Jergeson’s letter, which had first been reported by Tom Lutey of The Billings Gazette, outlines two options that Gianforte could use to remove any commissioners who were part of the problem. Montana code allows for any official to be removed for misconduct, including failure to perfom duties or commits “unlawful” acts. Another remedy would allow Gianforte to suspend a commissioner, even appointing an interim until the suspension is complete. Jergeson also urged Knudsen to use his office to investigate, possibly turning over charges to the local county attorney for prosecution.
Jergeson’s letter said that while he had resisted commenting on the role he previously had.
“During my 24 years in the Montana Senate, I spent nearly 15 years on the Legislative Committee. I know how thoroughly and carefully the Audit staff do their examinations,” he wrote. “I must finally speak up and demand that correction action commence immediately.”
He described watching the commission since he left in 2010.
“I became increasingly dismayed as that unanimously partisan commission descended into egomaniacal alpha-male levels of competition for supremacy of the pack,” he said. “All the while, the public increasingly found itself confused by this strange remake of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”