The former president of the state's largest phone company is being put in charge of protecting consumers against unfair utility rate hikes.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday named Patrick Quinn to head the Residential Utility Consumer Office. He succeeds Jody Jerich, an attorney, whom Brewer named to the post in early 2009, shortly after becoming governor. Jerich is now going on to be executive director of the Arizona Corporation Commission, the agency RUCO tries to influence.
Both changes are effective Monday. But Quinn, who was Arizona president of Qwest Communications for six years -- now part of Century Link -- eventually will need to be confirmed by the state Senate.
Lawmakers created RUCO in 1983 in the midst of requests by utilities for major rate hikes by investor-owned utilities and consumer dissatisfaction with the Corporation Commission that even resulted in an unsuccessful effort to recall Republicans on what was then a three-member panel.
The problem stemmed from concerns that the commission was not looking out for consumer interests. And, in fact, the commission, while required to consider ratepayers, is constitutionally required to balance that against the long-term financial health of the profit-making utilities.
With the utilities having their own attorneys and consultants to press their case for rate hikes, RUCO was designed to be a counterbalance, advocating for and watching out for how utility requests would affect those who pay the bills.
Quinn's bio says that in his more than 30 years at Qwest he was responsible for developing legislative and regulatory strategy in not just Arizona but six other states in the region. He also was in charge of various regulatory issues, including pushing the company's rate requests through the commission.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Quinn is a logical fit for RUCO, calling him "one of Arizona's most knowledgeable voices on utilities.'' Benson also noted that after leaving Qwest, Quinn served as an expert witness for RUCO in examining a rate request by his former employer.
"His experience and knowledge will be of tremendous value to RUCO and the consumers it represents,'' Benson said.
Quinn, 64, acknowledged his long-term utility background. But he said that understanding a company's perspective does not mean automatically siding with in on whatever it wants.
More to the point, Quinn said that RUCO, in protecting residential consumers, has to look at more than just the rates a utility wants to charge.
He cited a 1991 Qwest proposal to increase residential phone bills in Arizona by from $4 to $6 a month, depending on the customer. Quinn said that, looking at that strictly from a utility bill perspective, that might be considered contrary to consumer interests.
But he pointed out that the deal also required Qwest to get rid of its "calling zones'' which meant that those calling from one edge of a metro area to the other got stuck with long-distance charges.
Jerich also pointed out that, by law, the RUCO director must have "knowledge and experience relating to the regulation of utilities.''
In her case, she was a policy adviser at the Legislature on utilities issues and served as chief aide to Republican Lowell Gleason when he was a corporation commissioner.
Quinn has a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master of business administration from the University of South Dakota.