- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas agency that represents residential and small-business customers has released an email that prompted the recent firing of the agency’s interim consumer counsel.

In the email released Friday by the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, Niki Christopher, CURB’s interim consumer counselor, advised the board to reverse a December decision to strip her office of authority over cases and prohibit her from talking with lawmakers and reporters about utility issues.

The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board released the email Friday after an open records request, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1PZGSsK ). Board members cited the email in Monday’s decision to fire Christopher.

Christopher said her advice was designed to head off a potential public fight in the Legislature over a House bill designed to limit the board’s powers. The bill was introduced after board members discussed but later pulled back from a proposal to refocus on fighting new federal clean air regulations. The bill also would nullify the CURB order prohibiting Christopher from discussing utility issues with legislators and reporters.

Christopher said a legislative fight would damage the agency’s standing and credibility with lawmakers and the media.

Christopher’s key piece of advice: “Publicly restore the powers you took away from me. Hope that these actions kill any interest in hearing the bill.” She said that would save CURB “considerable grief and criticism.”

CURB board chairwoman Ellen Janoski called Monday’s meeting to fire Christopher, saying she thought the email made unsolicited demands and was “very disrespectful” to the board.

Christopher said she didn’t make any demands on the board, but she acknowledged that she assumed the board would oppose the House bill and that hearings would harm the agency.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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