Archive for Saturday, March 31, 2001

CURB SEEKS SUBPOENA FOR WESTERN JET LOGS

March 31, 2001

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Topeka -- A state consumer agency Friday asked Kansas utility regulators to subpoena records from Western Resources concerning the company's corporate jets and salary of chief executive David Wittig.

The Citizens' Utility Ratepayers Board accused Western, the parent firm of KPL and KGE power companies, of using delay tactics in showing the records as part of Western's $151 million rate-hike request.

"They're throwing roadblocks in our way," Walker Hendrix, consumer counsel of CURB, said of Western.

Western spokeswoman Kim Gronniger denied the company was doing anything wrong.

The Kansas Corporation Commission will probably consider Hendrix's motion next week.

The Corporation Commission has already ruled that CURB is entitled to the records.

But Western will only allow the records to be viewed at the company's office and not be shared with anyone besides CURB officials. Western officials say the records are confidential. If made public, the records would reveal the company's "strategic direction," Gronniger said.

But Hendrix said he needs to have the records analyzed by outside experts in order to make a recommendation on Western's rate-hike request by an April 6 deadline.

Hendrix has alleged that utility ratepayers have been footing the bill for Western officials to use the corporate jets on non-utility business.

He has also raised questions about Wittig's salary.

But Gronniger said ratepayers have not paid a cent for the jets because the aircraft belong to West Star Aviation, a subsidiary of Western Resources.

And, she said, ratepayers did not pay any of a $5.4 million one-time payment to Wittig in 1999.

"Stockholders are assuming the responsibility," of that payment, which she said was part of Wittig's agreement to head the company when he was hired in 1995.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Bill Graves declined to get involved in the fight when asked a question about it.

"I have not had a discussion with anyone about the KCC or Western for months. I'm going to let the KCC and Western work this out," Graves said.

-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.

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