Regulator’s confirmation delayed after AP report

IOWA CITY (AP) — The Iowa Senate delayed the confirmation of Geri Huser as the Iowa Utilities Board chairwoman after The Associated Press reported on her extensive private legal work, lawmakers said Wednesday.
The Senate commerce committee had been scheduled Tuesday to consider Huser’s appointment by Gov. Terry Branstad for a second two-year term leading the board that regulates electric and gas utilities and reviews plans for pipelines.
But hours before the meeting, the AP reported that Huser had maintained a busy personal law practice on the side during her tenure, handling scores of legal matters, being awarded more than $177,000 in legal fees and occasionally appearing at hearings on weekdays.
State law requires the board’s three members to devote their “whole time” to their state duties, and other members who have been lawyers have resigned from their law firms.
Sen. Janet Petersen, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said Huser’s appointment was pulled from the calendar because members wanted “time to read the article and do some due diligence.”
“When a story like that comes out, it’s important for legislators to ask questions,” she said. She said she wants to ask Huser about how she balances her outside legal work with her $128,900-per-year state job and whether the two roles are “an ongoing issue.”
Huser was in the Senate meeting privately with key lawmakers Wednesday as she sought to shore up her confirmation, which requires approval from 34 out of 50 senators.
Spokesmen for the board and Branstad have said that Huser’s outside work has been properly listed on her annual financial disclosures and doesn’t conflict with state law. They note that prior board members have worked unrelated jobs in their free time, such as farming and driving taxi.
But previous board members such as Sheila Tipton, Krista Tanner and Curtis Stamp left their law practices when they joined. Branstad’s new appointee, attorney Richard Lozier, said this week he would withdraw from his law firm if he’s confirmed.
Republican Sen. Bill Anderson, the commerce committee chairman, said he spoke with Huser on Wednesday and is still gathering information about her outside employment, which also includes helping run family-owned farming and property management businesses. He said he has spoken with Branstad’s office and Senate leaders and the committee could consider Huser’s appointment as early as next week.
“I want to see if there is a precedent,” he said. “Have others who have served in those capacities, were they able to continue farming or doing whatever their profession was before they took the appointment?”