You could say Maida Coleman has come full circle.
The former state senator worked at the public service commission back in the 1980s. There, she was a clerk who certified trucks that traversed across the state.
Flash forward to Thursday, and Coleman is about to return to the agency that regulates public utilities – but on a different level. Gov. Jay Nixon tapped Coleman to serve as a PSC commissioner, effective Aug. 10. She replaces Robert Kenney, a St. Louis attorney who was nearing the end of his six-year stint on the PSC.
“I’ve been particularly interested in what they do and how they do it – and have always stayed abreast of cases before the Public Service Commission,” said Coleman in a telephone interview. “And I’ve just always been interested. I’m glad I'm going to have an opportunity to help make decisions relative to the work that they do there.
If the Senate approves her nomination, Coleman will serve on the PSC until 2021.
The gubernatorial appointment means that Coleman will remain a fixture in the public policy arena. After a brief stint in the Missouri House, Coleman won a state Senate seat in 2001 that encompassed part of St. Louis. She eventually became the Senate’s minority leader, leading her caucus during a particularly combative time in the chamber’s recent history. She sponsored the "hot weather rule," which prevents companies from shutting off service during extreme weather.
"I think that what I can bring to there is my reputation for being fair, for having integrity," Coleman said. "And I’m going to do what’s right first – and what’s best for all Missourians when I am the new commissioner."
Once Coleman left the Senate due to term limits, she unsuccessfully ran for mayor of St. Louis. She then worked for Nixon in several different capacities before the governor appointed her to run the Office of Community Engagement. That’s one of the entities Nixon created after the unrest in Ferguson aimed at reaching out to low-income communities throughout the state.
“Throughout her distinguished career in public service, Maida Coleman has demonstrated strong leadership abilities and a steadfast dedication to Missouri families,” Nixon said in a statement. “Her intelligence, integrity and experience have earned her the respect of leaders on both sides of the aisle and will make her an outstanding asset to the people of Missouri on the PSC.”
Coleman will be joining a PSC that has three former state senators – Scott Rupp, Steve Stoll and Bill Kenney. Coleman served with all three in the Missouri Senate, which she says will be beneficial for how the commission operates.
“I want to learn as much as possible. And it’s easier when you already have relationships,” Coleman said. “I think that four of us being senators will be very beneficial. Because as senators, we are used to hearing testimony. We’re used to analyzing and critiquing. So this is going to be a lot easier for me because I am used to listening to a plethora of sides of all issues.”
Looking ahead in Ferguson
During a recent episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, Coleman talked more about her role in the new office. She said the office had worked on several programs aimed at getting young people employment – including a summer jobs program.
She also provided her take about what to expect near the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death – and what the region will need to do going forward.
“We’ve got to provide jobs. We’ve got to deal with the municipal courts issue, which the legislature fortunately did do some great work on. But it’s got to be everybody chipping in and helping out, because we’ve got big problems,” Coleman said. “And I’ll tell you this: Aug. 9 is coming. And the world is going to descend, as far as the media, back here in St. Louis again. And they’re going to be wanting to see what have we done to move forth since Michael Brown’s death.”
“What programs are in place?” she continued. “What’s coming along? What’s happening? You know, are we going to be able to say that we’ve done some good things that is moving this area forward?”
Marvin Teer will take over as Office of Community Engagement director after Coleman departs. Coleman said on Politically Speaking that the legislature had declined to fund the Office of Community Engagement for the coming budget year, but added that an amendment was added to wrap up some of the office’s programs.
“Teer will be deputy taking care of the programs that are still going on – in particular our summer jobs program which we expect to last into September at a minimum,” Coleman said on Thursday. “And so, we’ve been working on wrapping up projects. But we’re still very busy administering the summer program.”