Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is a columnist with the Wall Street Journal whom I admire. Yesterday he weighed in on the controversy surrounding Bill Johnson's quick ouster after a tenure of literally tens of minutes as CEO of the merged Duke Energy-Progress Energy. Jenkins' take on it was that it was Duke Energy's decision on who should run the company, and the N.C. Utilities Commission should butt out.
He said at the end of his column, about the Utilities Commission's investigation into the ouster: "They just want to soak themselves in some headlines for a while at Duke's expense."
That may seem perfectly reasonable from the chi chi salons of Manhattan. But it overlooks the fact that the commission was told by Duke that Johnson was going to be the CEO of the combined company. Whether that is relevant or not to the commission's oversight is a good question, because the commission is normally concerned with how a power monopoly serves the public, not who is in the corner office.
Undoubtedly, if Duke had said from the beginning that Jim Rogers was going to stay in the CEO job after the merger, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.
But Duke didn't say that. It said Johnson, the CEO of Progress Energy, was going to be CEO of the meged companies, and that made the deal go down better with Progress employees and shareholders. And Raleigh in general. When he was bounced by the Duke board after the deal became official, it is reasonable to believe that the Utilities Commission felt that a fast one had been pulled. I think Jenkins miminizes this. As does Hugh McColl, the former Bank of America chairman and Charlotte pezzonovante, as does the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. McColl and the FERC chairmen have basically said to the Utilities Commission, get over it.
Well, if you have ever felt like someone had pulled one over on you in a very public way, and might be snickering about it with their buddies, you can get a sense of what the Utilities Commission feels like. It takes a bunch of time to, as they say, move on. Maybe you want to do some driveby regulating just to drive the point home that you don't like getting jerked around. And I don't think that being told to man up by out-of-town big shots and the Wall Street Journal is going to calm things down.