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Twinkle Cavanaugh, Part 2: Being a good steward of taxpayer money

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

This is the last part of and interview we recently conducted with PSA Commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh. Mrs. Cavanaugh is running for the office of president of the PSA.

APR: In the time that you have served on the Commission is there one thing that comes to mind of a weakness that you have seen that you can correct?

CAVANAUGH: I don’t believe that we can recover from our economic issues in Alabama when we have elected officials sitting on the sidelines not willing to get in the game and fight for Alabamians to get our equal share, to keep our coal industry and to get our equal share of jobs brought to Alabama.

twinkle2I don’t think you can sit on the sidelines, I think you need a vision, I think you need a goal. Under my leadership I will set the Public Service Commission’s premiere objective as job creation and what we can do is use every tool in our economic tool-belt to bring better-paying jobs to the state of Alabama.

And like I said, government has never created a job. Real jobs are created by real entrepreneurs in Alabama so that Alabama families can get back to work. Not just get back to work those that are unemployed but also the underemployed. The ones that have wanted to make a move and do something different. Today a person doesn’t have to stay in the same job for 35 years and get a gold watch. There needs to be more opportunity for advancement.

I have a son that just graduated from college. He needs to be able to go out and have all sorts of opportunities knocking down his door and know that there is room for advancement. That is what I want.

APR: Anything else along those lines you are thinking about?

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CAVANAUGH: My husband is a veterinarian, my mom was a school teacher, my dad was a salesman, my grandparents were both farmers. One grandparent was a row-crop farmer and one was a chicken farmer so I come from a humble Alabama background and I want to serve.

The one thing I do anytime I give a speech anywhere is I thank people for allowing me to serve them. I believe that public service is truly that—servicing the public. So for that reason I have done my best to streamline things at the Commission.

The very first day that I walked into the office they asked me what kind of car I wanted to order for myself—that’s ridiculous. I didn’t think that I deserved a car. The people of Alabama elected me to do a job not to sit in an ivory tower. I did not take the state car.

They asked me how I wanted to decorate my office. I have no decorations in my office. No one in my office has a state cell phone including myself I didn’t even take a state computer. I believe that they promised me a paycheck and that was it and the rest of it is for me to go to work.

The other thing that we have done that is very important. We revamped our website at the commission to make it more user friendly.

I have spoken all across the state, in fact you can take a look at the website it is http://www.psc.al.gov. If you click on my photograph it will take you to my portion of the website and I have pictures of farms where I have visited, catfish farms that use a lot of power that I have visited, farms having trouble getting their crops picked like the tomato farms. I have visited all different power outlet of companies.

You name it, I have been there. I have also spoken all across the state because I think that if you want to serve the public you have got to be accessible. I give my cell number out to everybody so I’m going to give it out to you and you can put it on your website. My personal cell is 334-558-5432.

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That is not a gimmick, in fact, I have had this cell number for close to eight years. I only have one cell phone. I don’t want people to think I have two cell phones and think that somebody else answers that cell phone. They don’t. I only have one cell phone and I love serving and I want to make sure that everyone in Alabama knows that I am here to serve them. If they need me I am available.

APR: When there was the disciplinary action against one of the Commission’s supervisors, most people that I know think that individual got off with a very soft reprimand. Would you like to talk about that and what your thought process was?

CAVANAUGH: I have, believe me, many, many times and what I have learned in state government, you have to always be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money but you are also dealing with lives. So, I had to look at this under the parameters that I was given as a commissioner. And I didn’t want to play politics with it which it would have been real easy with this case, let me tell you.

What we did was give a very stern punishment beginning with six weeks of lost vacation, six weeks of no pay, so that is 12 weeks of no pay, basically. We also took away any privileges of cars or cell phones or anything like that. There is a process in state government, like it or not, and I encouraged it to go on to our ethics commission for an investigation. I don’t have the ability to investigate, all I have the ability to do is see the charges.

She paid every dime back, she was given 6 weeks loss of pay, 6 weeks loss of vacation (which is pay), which is 12 weeks (3 months).

What I had to do was say, “Do I have enough to convict?” I said I wanted it to go to Ethics and for them to look at it. But I didn’t want the people of Alabama to spend the next five years in litigation eaten up with legal costs of taxpayer money.

I wanted it to be done the proper way and I didn’t want to play politics.

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But let me also say, first and foremost when I came into this office I put my hand on a Bible, and I am a Christian, and the way I had to look at this was “Is this the correct punishment for what I know?” And I said, “Yes.”

I have to look at myself and I have to meet my Savior one day and I know I made the right decision. I encouraged it to go on to Ethics and I think for this we made the right decision. But, there were people in the building who wanted to play politics, I didn’t.

APR: Well, I know that this incident will come up and it will be used against you.

CAVANAUGH: I know. Well, you have got to be a good steward of the taxpayers money. We have had lawsuits in this state that have lasted 10 plus years and have cost us multiple billions in legal fees. That’s not what I wanted for the Commission. When I put my hand on the Bible I said I would be a good steward of the taxpayer dollars and I promise you that is what I have been.

I didn’t take it lightly. Literally, the day it was put on my desk she was put on administrative leave. We had to do something before Ethics actually acted on it. Government moves a little slower than the private sector and you have to work within your parameters.

It is now at the ethics commission. I have encouraged them to look into it. Then to do whatever they need to do, and they have the ability. But for us, I did not want us to get into a lengthy, very expensive litigation with the money put on the backs of the taxpayers.

My job is to take care of the people of Alabama’s money and to use as little as possible to get the job done. And that’s my goal. And we have trimmed staff while I have been here.

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I’ll share another story, when I got to the Commission we had 59 cars. Some of those are people that actually inspect and need cars for on a daily basis to do their job. We actually do real-time insurance for trucking and gas pipeline safety. So those people are in their car all day, every day. So they need cars.

But that is a small percentage of the people that had them. We have trimmed one-third of the cars but I think it needs to go further but I need that second vote on the Commission and I don’t have it yet.

I think there are still some things that we can do to trim the fat and I want to take the helm at the Public Service Commission and save taxpayers dollars. I want to the people of Alabama to keep their hard-earned money, we need to let people keep their money in their pockets and not in the governments. I want to be a good steward for them. I want to give the Commission back to the people, that’s my goal.

APR: I think that is good idea.

We want to thank Commissioner Cavanaugh for her service and wish her the best as she serves Alabama.

Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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