published Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Eddie Roberson resigns from TRA as Haslam reviews agency

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    Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson, right, is resigning effective Oct. 1.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Eddie Roberson is resigning effective Oct. 1 as Gov. Bill Haslam contemplates sweeping changes to the agency that oversees dozens of monopoly utilities ranging from Chattanooga Gas to Tennessee American Water Co.

The 58-year-old Roberson, who grew up in Chattanooga, submitted his resignation to Haslam on Monday in a letter and posted it Tuesday on the TRA's website.

"For over 36 years it has been my distinct honor and high privilege to serve the citizens of our great state on the Public Service Commission and TRA," he wrote. "Over this almost four decades, a sea of change has occurred in the field of utility regulation and I believe the TRA has navigated well through these changing times."

Republican Haslam did not reappoint Roberson, a Democratic appointee, to the agency earlier this year. Roberson's term expired July 1.

But he continued to serve after Haslam's effort to reduce the agency from four directors to three melted down in the face of opposition from the GOP-led General Assembly. The pushback came after Republican lawmakers discovered the governor's proposed replacement for Roberson had been a supporter of President Barack Obama.

Review a factor

In an interview, Roberson acknowledged that Haslam's plan to replace him was a factor in his decision to leave now, although he said he wasn't asked to leave at this point and wasn't expected to go until January.

"Well, it was clear to me. I'm no prophet, but I can see the handwriting on the wall," he said.

He said Haslam "asked me to stay on until the end of the calendar, but I just think right now is a good time for me personally and privately to explore other options."

At one point this summer, Haslam in a Chattanooga Times Free Press interview questioned the need for the TRA, which immediately drew concerns in various quarters, including the regulated community.

"I told them [governor's staff] I think that there is a role for this agency to protect the consumer when it comes to monopoly utilities," Roberson said. "Being from Chattanooga, I really had a warm spot for those issues that came up in my hometown."

Roberson, a 1971 graduate of Chattanooga's City High School, once headed the agency's consumer protection division and also served as a former executive director.

"Need for protection"

"I would just urge there is a need for the protection of consumer interests where there's public utilities involved," he said.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor "appreciates [Roberson's] service and his willingness to work closely with us during the past eight months as we've been going through the process of reviewing boards and commissions."

Nashville attorney Henry Walker represents the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Associations in rate cases involving Chattanooga Gas and the Tennessee American Water Co. He said Roberson's hands-on experience as a staffer prior to his 2006 appointment as a director by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen served him well at the agency's helm.

"Because of the political nature of the appointment process, it is unusual to have an experienced member of the agency staff appointed to one of the directors."

Chattanooga Gas Vice President Steve Lindsey said, "We appreciate Director Roberson's service and dedication to the state of Tennessee. We appreciated working with him over the years, and we commit to work equally as hard with whomever is chosen to replace him."

Accomplishments

Roberson, who has a Ph.D. in public administration, listed a number of accomplishment of which he is especially proud.

They include his work as chief of the agency's consumer division in pushing regulations and legislation to halt some telephone companies from switching long-distance customers without permission and charging them for services they had not sought.

As for the future, Roberson said he is "looking at some private sector things" and "possibly doing some consulting."

The son of a minister who still lives in Chattanooga, Roberson said the community "still remains a special place to me. And like Douglas MacArthur, I shall return."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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