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Head of Oregon PUC to step down

Susan AckermanSusan Ackerman, chairwoman of the Oregon Public Utility Commission, plans to step down May 20 for undisclosed reasons, according to an aide to Gov. Kate Brown.

Ackerman was at the center of reports by The Oregonian in January and February that the Brown administration tried to silence commissioners from publicly criticizing a controversial renewable energy bill.

The bill, signed into law March 11, forces utilities to stop buying coal power.

“I don’t have dispensation to speak,” Ackerman told The Oregonian in January. “The governor can fire any of us at any time.”

Ackerman later left a voicemail for Brown’s communications director, Kristen Grainger, apologizing for her comment quoted in the newspaper, according to a Feb. 26 report by the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau.

“I’m calling because Ted Sickinger wrote an article that came out in today’s Oregonian and there is a quote in there that, while accurate, really casts an impression I did not intend to cast,” Ackerman said in a voicemail released by Brown’s office. “And it makes it sound to me, anyway, like I was challenging the governor’s ability to give us instruction. I certainly didn’t intend that, and I apologize to you for that, and I’m willing to do what I can do to correct it.”

Ackerman was unavailable for comment Friday on her decision to leave the commission.

Ackerman applied in December for reappointment to the position, according to her letter.

“I am no longer seeking reappointment, and therefore respectfully withdraw my application,” she wrote.

Grainger said Brown did not ask Ackerman to step down.

“We received her letter today and will undertake to identify a successor,” Grainger said in an email. “Gov. Brown is grateful for her years of service and leadership at the PUC.”

Ackerman, a Democrat and veteran utility attorney, was appointed to the commission in 2010. She was reappointed in March 2012. Her term is scheduled to expire March 13.

In her letter Friday, Ackerman recommended that the governor appoint John Savage to succeed her as chairperson of the commission.

“Given Commissioner Savage's long service to the state of Oregon, solid history at the OPUC, and proven track record of good energy policy, he is uniquely qualified to lead the commission,” Ackerman wrote.

Republican Stephen Bloom, whose term expired in November, is still seeking reappointment, Grainger said.

Michael Dougherty, the PUC’s chief operating officer, said Ackerman had been thinking about stepping down for a while.

“She has had a great career in utilities and as a lawyer and is looking for different challenges,” Dougherty said.

“She just wants to take some time off to do the things she wants to do.”

EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau Hillary Borrud contributed to this report.

By Jill Rehkopf Smith
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