Vermont Officials Stifle Release of Documents by Former Employee | Off Message

Vermont Officials Stifle Release of Documents by Former Employee


Public Service Commissioner June Tierney - FILE: JOHN WALTERS
  • File: John Walters
  • Public Service Commissioner June Tierney
Officials at the Department of Public Service are trying to prevent the public release of documents by a former employee who says he has proof that Commissioner June Tierney is directing staff to favor Green Mountain Power over Vermonters' interests.

And for now, it's working.

In a filing with the Public Utility Commission Friday morning, public service director of public advocacy Jim Porter wrote that the documents Brian Winn wants to release “are subject to the attorney-client and/or work product privileges,” and are therefore confidential.

Winn, the former director of finance and economics for the Department of Public Service, was fired November 9. Soon after, an anonymous letter sent to news organizations and regulators at the Public Utility Commission alleged that Winn was fired for rejecting directives from Tierney to limit his analysis of the company's rate proposal.

In a filing with the commission Tuesday, Winn wrote that he wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal and refused to speculate. But he wrote that Tierney had ordered staff to ignore key aspects of regulation in GMP's rate case this year.

The department is responsible for representing Vermonters in utility regulation cases before the Public Utility Commission.

Winn’s filing didn’t include any evidence, but he wrote that he has documents to prove his claims.

“I have copies of her hand-written changes in prior cases,” he wrote of Tierney.

Winn wrote a letter to Porter Thursday seeking clearance from his old employer to release a specific pair of documents.

"Although [the documents are] not labeled Confidential or Attorney Client Privileged, out of an abundance of caution I am asking you to confirm whether you have an objection," Winn wrote.

The letter provided some detail about what he has: “A photo copy of the hand-written comments of Commissioner Tierney on a draft of my direct testimony” in a Green Mountain Power case and an email attachment that “shows some of the changes made by Commissioner Tierney” on another of Winn’s GMP-related filings.

In the letter to Porter, Winn said he planned to begin uploading the documents on the Public Utility Commission’s website Friday.
On Friday morning, Porter called on regulators to stop him.

“It would be highly inappropriate for these or any other privileged documents to be made publically [sic] accessible by the Commission via the ePUC system,” Porter wrote, referring to the commission’s publicly accessible online filing system.

“The Department, therefore, respectfully requests that the Commission take any available action within the ePUC system to allow for the Department to review any documents uploaded by Mr. Winn prior to making such documents publicly available,” Porter wrote.

In response to Porter's request, the commission’s general counsel Kyle Landis-Marinello told Winn via email that PUC policies maintain that "electronic filing procedures are not available for use in filing documents with the Commission that contain asserted confidential or confidential information.”

Landis-Marinello later sent a copy of the email to Seven Days.

Anything confidential must be submitted to the commission in hard copy, Landis-Marinello wrote. But the commission lawyer was careful to point out that he wasn’t telling Winn whether or not to post the documents he has.

“I cannot advise you on whether any of the documents you have fall into that
category. (As you know, I have not seen these documents.),” Landis-Marinello wrote.

Porter's claim of confidentiality seems to have worked. Winn has, at least temporarily, backed down.

Late Friday morning, Winn filed a memo to the commission: “I find myself in a procedural trap that I will likely need legal counsel to help me navigate… This is frustrating because I have access to information that would support my comments” about the anonymous allegations.

Winn wrote in his filing that he’s reassessing his options.

“I am determined to help the PUC and the rate payers in any way I can,” he wrote. “However, I have other demands on my time, so it may take me a week or so to determine the right course of action.”

As officials ask regulators to stop the release of Winn’s documents, they’re also asking that the commission take no further action to investigate claims that the Department of Public Service’s leadership is overruling staff in order to help GMP.

“The Department believes that the Commission need take no further action on the anonymous letter or Mr. Winn’s public comment,” Porter said in a filing last week.

Porter did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Tierney's executive assistant, Audrey Fargo, said by email that all media inquiries should be directed to her, but Fargo did not immediately respond Friday to a list of written questions.

The full documents are below: