Meridian Star

October 9, 2013

Protesters picket PSC's Posey in Meridian

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Protesters picketed outside a Meridian restaurant on Tuesday, accusing a visiting state official of being too close to a utility company his office regulates.

    The protest was fueled by accusations that a fundraiser for Lynn Posey, Central District Public Service Commissioner, was being attended by some donors who are benefitting from the Mississippi Power plant under construction in Kemper County.

    Linda St. Martin, a resident of Gulfport, said the 16 protesters were there because the group with which she works, Citizens for Affordable Energy, is concerned about the coal plant on a lot of different levels.

    "We were invited up here when we found out that Commissioner Lynn Posey is having a fundraiser at Weidmann's," St. Martin said. "The fundraiser, we understand, is being attended by people who have contracts and subcontracts to build the plant at Kemper County."

    Mississippi law states that a public service commissioner cannot accept money from a regulated utility. If Tuesday's fundraiser wasn't a direct violation, St. Martin said it came very close to the line.

    "These are the subcontractors who are financially benefitting directly from the construction of that plant in Kemper County," St. Martin said. "It's a very narrow circumvention of the law. It's a violation of the spirit of the law. It most certainly is a betrayal of the public trust and it's a betrayal of the rate payers that Lynn Posey is supposed to represent."

    After protesting for about 40 minutes up and down the sidewalk near Weidmann's, the protesters left, St. Martin said, because police officers asked them to because they had not applied for a permit. St. Martin said she did not want to cause any problems for the officers or put undue stress on them so she complied with their request for protesters to leave.

    In an interview prior to his arrival in Meridian, Posey said he has done nothing wrong; nothing to violate the law.

    “You don’t do that,” Posey said.

    All campaign contributions are examined and if any are found to be improper, Posey said, they are returned.

    “They go through a third party and are completely vetted before we make a decision,” Posey said. “That’s the same way we’ve always handled it. I don’t even see them. I can’t tell you how many we’ve returned.”

    According to the law, which was passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 1991, it is against the law for any public service commissioner to knowingly accept any gift, pass, money, campaign contribution or benefit from any person associated with any public utility under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission.

    Posey said when he was in the Legislature, he voted for that law.

    “Our intent was to keep public service commissioners from taking money from companies they regulate,” Posey said.

    Posey said he believes the protest is more about opposition to the coal plant construction than it is about him and campaign contributions.

    “It’s got nothing to do with me,” Posey said. “It’s against the Kemper coal plant construction.”

    All campaign contributions ultimately become public record.

    “Every one of us in government, every year we have to file an annual report with the Secretary of State with every campaign contribution,” Posey said.

    Among the protesters was John Flowers of Meridian, who said he opposes the rate increases that the coal plant construction will bring.

    "I'm here because of the rate hike and all of the injustice of passing all the fees onto the rate payers," Flowers said. "We can't really afford it at this time. Our utility bills in the last month have gone up. If we continue at this rate, we're going to be shut down, just as the government is, because we cannot afford it. They have enough money to do this without ours. MIssissippi Power is old. They've been in business a long time."

    Barbara Correro of Kemper County  is among the protesters. She owns 28 acres near about two and a half miles from the construction site that  she says the power company is trying to buy. She is not interested in selling the land, which has been in her family for generations.

    "I will not accept any offer," Correro said.

    A retired nurse who moved to Kemper County in 1999, Correor said many of her neighbors are selling.

    "I retired as an oncology nurse — 20 years at Emory University in Atlanta. In 20 years I saw a lot of people die because of environmental issues. When I retired, I took my 401K, came out there, dug a well, bought a mobile home, a few metal buildings, established my organic garden," Correor said.

    She enjoyed the peace and quiet of her new life, so she was concerned when talk of a coal plant construction began to circulate.

    "My heart just sank when I heard," she said.