Ohio Gov. Appoints Former Columbus Utilities Director to PUCO

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland Friday appointed Cheryl Roberto to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).

Strickland, the first Democratic governor of Ohio in 16 years, used every day of his month-long window to review four candidates sent to him by the nominating committee of the PUCO as potential replacements to fill the seat of Don Mason, who had already served 10 years as a commissioner.

Mason, a Republican, was seeking a third five-year term on the state’s utility regulating body. Although party affiliation was not a criteria enunciated by the nominating committee, it was clearly a fact, as was evidenced by applicants who made specific mention of being Democrats in their cover letters to the committee.

Clearly experienced after 10 years on the commission, his party affiliation knocked him out of contention. But this is nothing new, and Mason was likely not surprised his days would be numbered, as today’s announcement confirmed.

Roberto, a Democrat and attorney most recently served as the director of the City of Columbus’ Department of Public Utilities, where she administered an annual operating budget of $400 million and managed a municipal public utility that supplied more than one million people with water, wastewater, storm water management and electric services.

“I bring to every job an unquenchable hunger to address intellectually challenging and complex problems, a drive to turn theories into action, and a desire to serve the public good. The issues facing the PUCO of re-regulation, energy conservation and climate change could not be more complex or critical for the public good.” [Roberto, from her application letter]

Following Strickland's announcement, The Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC), the state's residential utility advocate, said Roberto comes on board at a time when her experience and skills will be needed, as Ohio lawmakers debate a new sate energy policy, one that will be a hybrid between regulation and proven energy markets.

“This appointment comes at a key time with respect to utility regulation. With the Ohio General Assembly crafting a state energy policy and several utilities requesting significant rate increases, we look forward to working with Cheryl Roberto to express the residential consumer’s point of view. We are confident that Ms. Roberto will undertake her new responsibilities with enthusiasm, diligence and a commitment to fairness for residential consumers.” [OCC, media release]

Roberto previously served as the deputy director for operations for the Department of Public Utilities, as a policy adviser to the mayor and as an assistant city attorney for the City of Columbus, according to a media release from Strickland’s office. It said she has more than a dozen years of experience in consumer and environmental protection matters. Roberto received a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in 1984 and a law degree from the Ohio State University in 1987.

The salary range for PUCO Commissioners is between $100,000 to $143,000 per year.

With the appointment of Roberto, three of the five members will be women. The other two are Ronda Hartman Fergus, the lone Republican, and Valerie A. Lemmie, an Independent.

Alan Schriber, the chairman, is an Independent, while Paul Centolella is a Democrat. Ohio laws states that the Commission can have no more than two members of the same party.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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