It's well known that utilities attempt to compete with affected citizens by presenting purchased or coerced supportive testimony during regulatory public hearings. But do they have to cheat to do it? Not normally.
But Clean Line did.
At its first regulatory public comment hearing before the Illinois Commerce Commission regarding its Rock Island Clean Line, the company actively worked to shut out the testimony of affected citizens and replace it with its own coerced supporters.
The crowd was much bigger than Clean Line (or even the ICC) expected. The auditorium simply wasn't big enough to seat everyone who showed up, nor was enough time allowed to hear everyone. BlockRICL was prepared for a large crowd though. They advised their folks to arrive early, sign up to speak right away, and find a seat in the auditorium. The ICC's sign-up table was manned by a couple of BlockRICL volunteers, who took their task seriously, and the line to sign up was soon out the doors and winding around the outside of the venue. And many of Clean Line's coerced supporters had yet to arrive!
Gosh, that's just too bad, Clean Line. Maybe you should have planned better. Maybe you should have realized that citizens would come a long way to have their couple minutes before the judge. Maybe you should have delivered your supporters to the venue earlier, even if they were way too important to have to cool their heels for a couple hours before the hearing. But you didn't. Instead, Clean Line decided to cheat and take advantage of the situation in order to cut down on the number of citizens who were allowed to speak, and increase the number of Clean Line coerced supporters who were allowed to speak.
Clean Line recruited the few supporters who had arrived early to get back in the sign up line in order to sign up speakers who had not yet arrived, but Clean Line expected to arrive later. And the volunteers, who were being closely supervised by Clean Line employees lest they give some unfair advantage to project opponents, were overwhelmed. It is unknown how many people were signed up early in the speaking order who actually were not present until much, much later.
Now consider that speakers had to stand in line for a long time to get to the sign up table. When you're standing in a long line, you glance around, maybe chat a bit with your neighbors in line. You'd recognize those folks later, right? What were you thinking, Clean Line? That nobody would notice or care that the names called didn't match the faces in line? That people wouldn't take note of what their line neighbors were saying?
When the woman behind me in line was called and spoke early in the hearing, we thought perhaps the judge had mixed up the sign in sheet and was calling late arrivals before early arrivals. All of a sudden, the order we'd observed in the sign up line was out of whack and we could no longer judge when it might be our turn. It all became clear when the woman whose name was called after me, "Theresa Hoover," didn't come to the microphone when called. Of course she didn't... because "Theresa Hoover" had already spoken early in the line up, and I guess then she had a different name... her real name. Nancy Somebody, from a local economic development office. Clean Line should have just let it go when "Theresa" was called and didn't respond. Except they tried to insert one of their VIP speakers in her place, a male vice president of a wire company flown in from Atlanta for the event. Why did Clean Line think this guy was so important he needed to line jump over all the citizens who had stood in line for a long time to get a place in the speaker line up?
That's rude. And unfair. And when the judge was alerted, he was having none of it. Mr. VIP was instructed to wait to be called in the order in which he'd signed up. And he had signed up when he arrived, he just wanted to line jump over all the peons and go earlier so he could scoot out of there and get on with his life. He didn't want to sit in a crowded auditorium with the locals and wait his turn. So, Clean Line provided him with an earlier spot in the sign up line that it had obtained through signing up people who weren't there and who did not plan to speak. But poetic justice saved the day. When Mr. VIP finally got his rightful turn at the microphone, the judge announced it was 10 p.m. and the hearing was over. He never got his turn to speak at all. Now maybe if Clean Line hadn't wasted valuable time trying to unsuccessfully jockey him into position earlier in the hearing, he may have had a couple minutes to speak there at the end. I love poetic justice!
In the grand scheme of things, none of this really mattered. The ICC held an additional public hearing because so many citizens who had traveled a great distance were not allowed to speak. And at the next hearing, there was no sign up line, and there were plenty of seats. All that wasted effort and attempts to cheat the system merely demonstrated the dishonesty of Clean Line. If the opponents ever needed reason to suspect the motives of Clean Line, Theresagate served as a demonstrative reminder.
The utility has unfair advantage over citizens throughout the administrative hearing process. It's bad enough that the utility tries to horn into the public hearing process, but apparently non-utilities like Clean Line also try to cheat and line jump. And that didn't go unnoticed by the public, or even the hearing officer. Yes, Clean Line demonstrated its true colors to everyone that it intended to win by unfair means.
Silly Clean Line, cheaters never win!