Utility regulators look at big changes following federal indictment

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Gary Pierce (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Gary Pierce (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Johnson Utilities (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Johnson Utilities (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The head of the Arizona Corporation Commission says he's looking at major changes following a political scandal now being described as one of biggest in state history.

Tom Forese, chairman of the commission, issued a letter this week outlining plans to consider stricter regulations on lobbyists and potentially change how commissioners are picked.

[RELATED: Ex-AZ Corp. Commissioner, owner of Johnson Utilities indicted on bribery charges]

"It has also been suggested that future commissioners should be appointed by the governor. Now may be the appropriate time to consider these major decisions for the future of the commission," Forese said in the letter.

Currently, voters choose who sits on the five member commission that is charged, among other duties, with regulating utility companies.

[RELATED: Former Arizona utility regulator indicted on bribery charges]

Forese also suggested reviewing a 2013 vote clearing the way for a water company to raise rates on customers so the owner could recoup his personal income taxes.

"The current commission must determine if those decisions we made in the public interest," the Forese letter stated.

[RELATED: Arizona Democrats pounce on bribery case against ex-official]

It is that vote that is now in the middle of a federal indictment involving a former member of the commission, his wife, a powerful lobbyist and the owner of a water utility.

According to the indictment, Gary Pierce, the former chairman of the commission, accepted $31,500 in cash and solicited property from George Johnson, the power of Johnson Utilities.

In exchange, Pierce allegedly voted for a policy change allowing Johnson to increase rates on his customers while pocketing the extra money to cover his tax bill.

Lobbyist Jim Norton is accused of acting as a go-between between Pierce and Johnson.

Sherry Pierce, the wife of for the former commissioner, was also snared in the indictment.

A spokeswoman for the commission says 34 utility companies took advantage of that, potentially resulting in nearly 90,000 customers across the state paying higher water and power bills.

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Dennis WlechVeteran political reporter Dennis Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona.

Dennis Welch
Political Editor

Before making the move to television, Welch wrote and edited for the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California. Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona and his addition means 3TV will provide a stronger, more robust political presence in Arizona. He joins 3TV from the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California.

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