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McCrory picks lawyer as advocate in utility cases

Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday named a Raleigh utility lawyer to represent the state’s residents in utility rate hearings. He also named a state lawmaker and a public relations executive to the N.C. Utilities Commission, the state judicial panel that decides rate disputes and other matters.

McCrory’s pick to head the Public Staff, Chris Ayers, has a portfolio of utilities as clients and used to practice law with Ed Finley Jr., the current chair of the Utilities Commission. Ayers’ experience also includes work as outside counsel for the N.C. attorney general in the AG’s recent challenge of a Duke Energy rate increase request.

If approved by the state legislature, Ayers would be paid about $125,000 a year and head the 75-employee Public Staff agency that functions as the public’s legal shop in proceedings before the Utilities Commission.

“He has the experience,” said Robert Gruber, who has directed the Public Staff since 1983 and whose term expires June 30. “I think he’s very qualified.”

Ayers, a partner at the Poyner Spruill law firm in Raleigh, could not be reached for comment. His bio on the firm’s website highlights Ayers’ considerable experience representing and advising water, electric, natural gas and other types of utilities before the Utilities Commission and in court proceedings.

“He’ll be stepping into a system that for many years has been heavily slanted in favor of the utilities,” said Jim Warren, who runs NC WARN, the Durham anti-nuclear and environmental activist group. “His challenge will be to promote the interests of ALL electricity customers – not just the Big Businesses.”

McCrory also nominated Rep. Jerry Dockham, a Republican from Davidson County, and James Patterson of Guilford County to six-year terms on the Utilities Commission. The men replace Lucy Allen of Franklin County and Bill Culpepper of Chowan County whose terms expire June 30. Commissioners are also paid about $125,000 and require approval by the state legislature.

Dockham, an 11-term member of the state House and chair of the House Insurance Committee, would have to resign his elected office to become a member of the Commission.

Patterson is the CEO and founder of Patterson Partners, a public relations and crisis management firm. His clients include Smithfield Foods, Merck Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Home Depot and First Citizens Bank, according to his company website.

All three contributed to McCrory’s gubernatorial campaign. Patterson gave $350, Ayers $125 and Dockham $5,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections.

Murawski: 919-829-8932
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