The Public Services Commission will lose a well of institutional knowledge if the utility regulator’s executive director resigns as planned, officials said Wednesday.
Donald Cole, the commission’s longtime leader, had reportedly drafted his resignation earlier this week in protest of an allegedly politically-motivated firing of his daughter by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s administration.
Cole could not be immediately reached for comment. The letter of resignation had not reached Government House by midday Wednesday, but Richard Motta Jr., the Government House communications director, said Bryan had spoken to Cole Tuesday.
“The governor has not received an actual resignation letter from Mr. Cole, but in his speaking with him Tuesday, Mr. Cole informed the governor of his intent to resign his current position at the PSC. During that conversation, the governor expressed his regrets about seeing him leave but wished him well,” Motta said.
Sen. Janelle Sarauw said Cole’s daughter was a friend of 25 years with whom she regularly socialized. Sarauw said her friend was terminated from a non-political position the day after they were spotted at lunch by a Bryan confidant. Sarauw and Sen. Kurt Vialet are running to replace Bryan and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach in Government House.
She said her friend, an exempt government employee with the Office of Highway Safety, was fired without explanation — but rumors were circulating that the friend was feeding Sarauw information.
“There’s nothing that I want to know about, respectfully, seatbelts, car seats, and the like,” she said. “When you are studying the fall of empires and regimes and how governments lose legitimacy, these are the case studies that you are taught not to do. Whether or not somebody votes for me or doesn’t vote for me, they still have their right to the American dream.”
Sarauw said whoever replaces Cole needs a deep understanding of the utilities.
“The PSC’s job is to protect the consumer,” she said. “I’m looking for someone not only with the skill set but someone with the compassion, someone who has compassion for the people.”
The commission regulates cable television, ferry boats, telecommunications, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, and the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. It manages different aspects of each but usually fields complaints, sets pricing, and ensures proper equipment is used.
Most Public Service commissioners could not be reached for comment or declined to speak on the resignation, but Andrew Rutnik, a commission fixture for decades, said the commission was losing a valuable asset in Cole.
“I’ve worked with Director Cole for many, many years,” Rutnik said. “He’s been a part of the PSC for a very long time. We had a great relationship. He’s a real institution man. He’s got the experience in the Senate, so he knows how to communicate our issues and needs to them. He’s been part of the governor’s cabinet. He’s gone through different governors. So, yeah, he’s going to be missed.”
Rutnik said Cole knew it all.
“He’s done a great job on the Public Service Commission. He’s probably one of the most knowledgeable people of the workings of the utilities because he’s been involved with them for so many years on a daily basis. He will be very much missed, and I’m sad to hear what happened.”