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Government, Politics & Issues

Gunn announces departure from Public Service Commission, which he now chairs

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 16, 2013 - The head of the Missouri Public Service Commission will depart from his post later this spring, a move that will cause another vacancy for the powerful agency that regulates the state’s utilities.

Kevin Gunn, a Webster Groves native, told the Beacon on Wednesday he will leave the PSC on or around March 1. Among other things, the commission is responsible for deciding utility cases as well as crafting and enforcing various administrative rules.

Gunn's decision gives Gov. Jay Nixon another opportunity to appoint somebody to the five-person PSC. Earlier this month, he appointed former state Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Jackson County, to fill a vacancy.

In an interview, Gunn said that he had spoken with Nixon about leaving the PSC before the most recent election. But he decided to stay on to finish up some pressing matters before the commission.

While he is planning to leave March 1, Gunn said he’d be willing to stay longer if necessary.

Gunn said family concerns -- and the grind of commuting from the St. Louis area to Jefferson City every week -- were a factor.

He said he would rather be “more involved watching my boys grow up instead of driving an hour and 45 minutes to be in Jeff City on a regular basis.”

“I’ve been doing this for about five years. We’ve done a lot a good stuff. The agency is in really good shape. And we’ve gotten past Ameren and Kansas City Power and Light – we’ve gotten past these big rate cases,” he said. “My kids are 10 and 7, and I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to St. Louis.”

Gunn stressed that he didn’t have a job lined up or any specific idea of what he plans to do next. State statutes, he said, prohibit him from taking job solicitations from law firms with clients under the PSC’s jurisdiction. He also said that he must wait at least year before lobbying or appearing before the PSC.

“The beauty of this and the fortunate place I’m at in my life is that I have the ability to take a little bit of time to figure out what’s next,” Gunn said. “And so, I am going to take that time. I haven’t foreclosed any possibility. I think the most likely possibility is the private sector. But I really haven’t foreclosed anything. The rules are set up so that you don’t trade on this office. And that’s something that I’m steadfastly trying not to do. I want to make sure I do everything right.”

Among other things, Gunn was a longtime aide to then-U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-St. Louis. He also was elected during the 2000s to the Webster Groves City Council.

Gunn was actively raising money in 2007 to run for a state Senate seat then held by Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood. But that bid ended when Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, tapped Gunn to the PSC -- a move that left Senate Democrats fuming. He was eventually confirmed though, and Nixon made him the chairman of the PSC in 2011.

In addition to helping decide various rate cases and crafting the guidelines for a renewable energy mandate, Gunn also was involved in the long-running legislative discussion over bills aimed at building another nuclear reactor in Callaway County.

Gunn said serving on the PSC was "best job he ever had," adding that it was the "perfect intersection of law and public policy." But he also said that doing job correctly meant making a lot of people unhappy.

"You are granting rate increases, because the law requires you to do that and utilities need that and because the job requires you to do that, even though you know you’re in tough economic times, even though you know that there may be individuals who may not be able to afford that. That’s the hardest part," Gunn said.

"And you’re saying this is going to be very hard for these people in the next six months or the next year," he added. "But what you try to do is make decisions that are going to benefit all consumers and utilities and all businesses and all ratepayers – not only in the next year but in the next 20 years or the next 30 years."

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