In the wake of the recent controversial Pepco-Exelon deal, a few D.C. Council members on Tuesday publicly criticized the woman who was tasked with getting District residents the best rates on their utility bills.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had called on the council to approve the reassignment of Sandra Mattavous-Frye, the long-standing head of the Office of the People’s Counsel. And the council on Tuesday did approve her — with a 10-to-3 vote — but not before the three dissenters called Mattavous-Frye’s ability “to act independently” into question and highlighted lingering doubts about the benefit of a mega-deal that will affect rate-payers across the District, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.
City regulators initially rejected Exelon’s $6.4 billion takeover of Pepco last summer, calling the deal bad for rate-payers and for the city’s development of sustainable energy.
As the people’s counsel, Mattavous-Frye was one of the city’s most outspoken opponents of the merger, until a series of quiet negotiations between the energy giant and the mayor’s office yielded the mayor’s approval of a revised deal.
“Then she flip-flopped and joined the mayor’s settlement,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). Shortly thereafter, Bowser nominated Mattavous-Frye to another term as the people’s counsel.
And it was for that reason that Cheh, David Grosso (I-At Large) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said Tuesday that they voted against Mattavous-Frye staying in the job.
“I was completely disappointed,” said Grosso, who like the others, said that he approved of Mattavous-Frye’s performance in the job prior to the decision on the merger.
Silverman called Mattavous-Frye’s decision a “lapse in judgement.”
Mattavous-Frye said in an e-mail Tuesday that her position “has never changed” and that she has “consistently worked in the best interest of ratepayers.”
Mattavous-Frye said that while the original merger proposal “failed to provide any meaningful consumer benefits,” her demands for a better deal from Pepco and Exelon ultimately helped cement one.
“Pepco/Exelon met my demands and OPC was instrumental in securing a far better deal, raising it to $78 million including targeted energy efficiency and sustainability programs,” she said.
The District’s Public Service Commission will make the final decision on the merger.
Other council members defended Mattavous-Frye’s nomination, arguing that it was unfair to oust her from the job over “one decision,” particularly when other District officials changed their positions, too.
“For us to impugn her . . . we’d have to say that the mayor should no longer be the mayor, that the attorney general who recused himself and then un-recused himself should no longer be the attorney general,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), listing a couple of other city officials, like Environment Director Tommy Wells, as well.
“I do think it would be wrong to judge the nominee based on one decision, no matter how strongly our colleagues feel about it, given the depth, breadth and full body of her work over the years,” said council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).
Bowser’s spokesman, Michael Czin, said Tuesday that the District had negotiated a better deal and that Mattavous-Frye “was an important part of that process.”
“Some of the criticism has certainly been over the top,”Czin said.