Listen to Herb Harris, and Councilmember Alexander:
“The corporate influence… that is undermining the City Council is in full display with this nomination,” D.C. Consumer Utility Board chairman Herb Harris told TheFightBack Wednesday at a protest outside the John A. Wilson Building. Civic and union leaders gathered to call on the D.C. Council, and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander in particular, to hold a vote on Mayor Vincent Gray’s nomination to the Public Service Commission, Elizabeth “Betty” Noel.
“This woman has been scrutinized more than a U.S. Supreme Court justice,” said Metro Council President Jos Williams. “We call upon Yvette Alexander to release Betty Noel.” Williams let councilmembers know that Noel’s nomination was “a litmus test,” and he called for the vote to come prior to the April 3 primary election so unions can use the polls to let politicians “know where labor stands.”
For eighteen years, Betty Noel served as head of the D.C. Office of People’s Counsel, where she fought to ensure that D.C.’s electric, gas and phone utilities provided quality service at a fair price. As a result of her work as a consumer advocate, Noel has built up a broad-base of support, at least among residents.
Utility companies, led by Pepco, launched a campaign to ensure that Noel isn’t confirmed to the three-member PSC, which regulates them. So far, the effort has been a success, as Councilmember Alexander, who chairs the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, has refused to bring Noel’s nomination to a vote. Although that appears to be changing.
“There will be a [committee] markup before the end of this month,” Alexander told protesters Wednesday. “Either it’ll be an approval or disapproval resolution, but there will be a vote.”
“I would love to approve the mayor’s nomination,” Alexander said of Noel, whom she characterized as “more than qualified.” But Alexander also echoed Pepco and the Washington Post‘s objections to Noel’s nomination, saying her work as People’s Counsel would force her to have to recuse herself from many cases before the PSC.
A Dec. 13 Post editorial noted, “Ms. Noel would, at an annual salary of $146,457, be constrained from participating in more than half the current cases.” But Harris contends that many of the open cases are old and non-critical, and therefore Noel shouldn’t be punished for PSC’s inefficiencies, which only point up the need for her nomination to be approved.
“She’s the best appointment this mayor or any mayor has made in decades,” DC Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition’s Jim McGrath told protesters. In a recent TENAC press release, McGrath wrote: “This city is rapidly becoming unaffordable for all but the well-to-do and forcing an exodus of poor and limited income people. The cost of living is spiraling here, fed in large part by exorbitant utility costs. Betty Noel is one of the few people capable of reversing that trend.”