Gov. Tate Reeves on Friday named his picks to run the state Public Utilities Staff and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, with both choices drawing the ire of one of the state’s largest environmental groups.
Reeves named State Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, as Public Utilities Staff director. He named former state senator and former Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey to run MDWFP, where he has been serving as interim director.
Reeves praised Beckett and Posey and said, “Each have a long track record of distinguished public service.”
Beckett replaces Sally Doty, appointed by Reeves in 2020, who left that agency earlier this year to run the state’s new broadband expansion office.
Beckett has served in the Legislature for 19 years, including an eight-year stint as chair of the Public Utilities Committee.
“Affordability (of utility bills) is going to be a challenge for our citizens, but we will make every effort to do so,” Beckett said.
Mississippi Sierra Club Director Louie Miller said he believes Beckett is too cozy with the large utility companies he will now help regulate. He called both Beckett and Posey “political hacks” and said the governor should have chosen more qualified directors.
“All you have to do is look at Jim Beckett’s campaign contributions and the legislation that he has sponsored to know that he is a wholly-owned subsidiary of out-of-state, multi-billion dollar utility monopolies doing business in Mississippi,” Miller said. “We know what he’s about, and it’s not protecting the consumer or advancing clean energy.”
The Public Utilities Staff was created in 1990 to provide technical assistance and make recommendations to the elected, three-member Public Service Commission. The independent staff office was created in an effort to remove politics and corruption from oversight and rate setting of public utilities.
The elected Public Service Commission is required to submit a list of at least three people to the governor for a utilities staff director. The governor’s choice is subject to approval by the state Senate. The people the PSC had submitted for consideration were: Beckett, former Texas lawmaker and Texas Railroad Commission Chair Elizabeth Ames Coleman, David Boackle, an engineer on the Public Utilities Staff and state Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln.
Elected Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley on Friday said: “Although a political appointment, the actual job of executive director is very non-partisan and should be based on good regulatory policy as an advisor to the PSC. At the end of the day, decisions are made by the three elected commissioners, but I’ve seen these two agencies work best in the past when the goal has been to work together in pursuit of the public interest. I certainly hope Mr. Beckett shares that same philosophy.”
Posey replaces MDWFP Director Sam Polles, the longest tenured director in the agency’s history, who announced his retirement early this year after 29 years. Polles was appointed by Gov. Kirk Fordice and had served under five governors.
Reeves said Posey has “a long legacy of commitment to the outdoors and … has helped protect our natural resources.” Posey in the state Senate served as chairman of the Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Committee. He later served as Public Service Commissioner from 2008 to 2016.
“The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks touches lives in all 82 counties every day,” Posey said Friday. “Outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing is what Mississippi is all about.”
Polles had been praised by many for expanding wildlife management areas and the state’s lakes system, providing more hunting and fishing opportunities, and construction of the new Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. But he had also been criticized for allowing state parks to deteriorate and pushing plans to privatize them.
Posey on Friday thanked the governor and lawmakers for providing more money this year to rehabilitate state parks, and vowed to “make our park system one that every citizen of this state can be proud of and enjoy.”
But Miller said that so far during his time as assistant director and interim director at MDWF, Posey has supported privatization.
“He has shown he has no interest in keeping state parks public, so Mississippians can afford a vacation,” Miller said. “He’s proven that with wanting to privatize several state parks in Mississippi. That speaks volumes about where his interest is, rather than trying to rebuild this park system with monies that have come down from Washington.”
Miller said that as PSC commissioner, Posey also voted approval for Mississippi Power Co.’s failed Kemper County coal gassification plant — one of the largest energy boondoggles in U.S. history.
“He was a consistent yes vote for the $7.5 billion boondoggle,” Miller said. “I don’t think his track record serves him sell as somebody who would be a steward of our public natural resources.”
MDWFP is governed by a five-member commission, with members appointed by the governor. The commission sends a list of at least three people for the governor to choose, subject to approval by the state Senate.
Also on Friday, at the same press conference in Hernando, Reeves announced his appointment Robert “Bob” Morris III as district attorney for the 17th Circuit Court District. Morris will finish the term of longtime DA John Champion, who died earlier this month.