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Corporation Commission says new member did not commit ethics violation

Most Arizona Corporation Commissioners say a new regulator who met with financial institutions that invest in Arizona utilities did not commit an ethics violation.

But most discussion on whether the body should investigate Commissioner Kevin Thompson’s January trip to New York took place in secret.

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The catalyst of the complaint was Thompson’s own Facebook post about the meetings. In the post, he vowed Arizona would loosen its regulatory grip.

When the Corporation Commission took up the issue on Tuesday in a public meeting, Thompson gave a roughly five minute statement.

“Any time you have your integrity, your intentions or your values publicly attacked, I don’t care how thick your skin is. It absolutely sucks, especially when you know you did nothing wrong,” he said.

The commissioners then met secretly with lawyers for almost two hours to go over the complaint and a separate court decision.

They returned and three members voted to squash allegations that Thompson wrongly met with industry representatives with interests affected by commission decisions.

Chairman Jim O’Connor said the ethics code was weaponized without proof.

“None. Nada. Not right. Not appropriate and not on my watch,” he said.

In voting to clear Thompson of wrongdoing, the commission also agreed to study how to improve the process for handling ethics complaints.

Tuesday’s meeting also touched on the Arizona Secretary of State’s election division having filed an ethics complaint last year against O’Connor.

He’s accused of using the Corporation Commission’s letterhead when pressing counties to throw out electronic voting machines.

Chief Counsel Robin Mitchell explained the complaint in response to a question from Commissioner Anna Tovar. 

“The commission hasn’t taken any action. It was forwarded to the commissioners and the Executive Director,” said Mitchell.

Her comments came shortly before commissioners quashed the separate complaint against Thompson, a former lobbyist for Southwest Gas.

O’Connor did not reply to a request for comment.

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Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.