Gov. Ned Lamont reappointed Marissa P. Gillett as chair of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Friday, exercising a power obtained the previous day when he signed a bill making the chair’s selection a gubernatorial prerogative.
Gillett’s new term begins Saturday and runs for two years.
The decision, which was expected given Lamont’s previous public statements, is the only the first of at least three key personnel decisions before the governor that will shape utility regulatory policy.
A more adversarial approach to utility oversight by Gillett has put her at odds with two long-serving colleagues, John W. Betkoski III and Michael A. Caron, and created tensions in the small regulatory agency.
The bill Lamont signed Thursday, Senate Bill 7, protected Gillett from being removed by a majority vote of the three commissioners by giving the governor the power to name a chair, not just the commissioners.
The terms of Betkoski and Caron have expired, and Lamont has yet to either commit to appointing them to new terms or replacing them. In addition, existing law gives Lamont the authority to expand PURA’s membership to five commissioners.
Lamont had deemed the two additional seats to be unnecessary, but he told lawmakers not to eliminate them in Senate Bill 7 and keep his options open.
“I may take a good hard look at maybe expanding that board,” Lamont said in early June. “We already have the authorization for the legislature to do it, find some other skill sets you maybe need to fill in the blanks and make sure I have a board that really works together, collaboratively and by majority.”
Gillett, 36, is a regulatory lawyer recruited from Maryland by the Lamont administration.
The Democratic co-chairs of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport and Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex, both are supporters of Gillett and her approach to regulation.
Staff turnover has been significant at PURA since Gillett’s arrival, and she has taken control over every significant docket. Needleman said he attributed some of the departures to a welcome change of culture being forced by Gillett.