Frisby to be named PSC chairman


An article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly stated that H. Russell Frisby Jr. succeeded Kurt L. Schmoke as president of the City College student government. In fact, he succeeded Mr. Schmoke as senior class president.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to announce today that H. Russell Frisby Jr., a Baltimore telecommunications lawyer whose ties to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke go back to high school, will be named to head the Public Service Commission.

The appointment of Mr. Frisby, a partner at the Baltimore law firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard, is one of the most important of the governor's term because the PSC's decisions affect the rates every Maryland household or business pays for power and telephone service.

The chairmanship of the independent agency has been the subject of heavy lobbying because the PSC is facing decisions that could affect utility rates for decades to come.

Mr. Frisby, who formerly chaired the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce, confirmed yesterday that he has accepted the post, adding that he hopes "to continue the commission's efforts to bring competition to Maryland."

The job has been vacant since Frank O. Heintz resigned in April, after 13 years of leading the commission, to take a job with an industry trade association.

Mr. Frisby, 44, will become the first African-American to chair the five-member PSC, said commission spokesman Frank Fulton.

In Mr. Frisby, Mr. Glendening has found a candidate with a strong blend of professional and political credentials.

Mr. Frisby has been a longtime political supporter of Mayor Schmoke, whose support was critical to Mr. Glendening's election in 1994. Mr. Frisby said yesterday that the mayor had lobbied the governor in support of his appointment.

Mr. Frisby's ties with Mr. Schmoke go back to their days at City College, where he was a year behind the future mayor. When Mr. Schmoke graduated in 1967, Mr. Frisby replaced him as student government president the next year.

Mr. Frisby has also been a leading fund-raiser for Mr. Schmoke and Stuart Simms, now secretary of Juvenile Services, when Mr. Simms ran for Baltimore state's attorney.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Frisby gained experience in regulatory law by working at the Federal Communications Commission. In 1983, he joined the Washington office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he practiced telecommunications and corporate law.

The Yale law graduate returned to his native Baltimore in 1986 to join Melnicove, Kaufman, Weiner & Smouse, where he represented the city government in a successful defense of its laws requiring a divestment of South African assets. In 1989, he joined Venable, through which he has served as special telecommunications counsel to the city government.

In recent years, Mr. Frisby has become active in the city's economic development efforts. He served on the board of directors of the Greater Baltimore Committee in 1998 and again from 1990-1994. He helped found the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce and served as its chairman from 1992 until last year.

A pay cut

Mr. Frisby said that taking the PSC chairmanship will mean a pay cut. The annual salary for the position is $84,500, while a partner at the Venable firm can expect to make well into six figures.

He said it was "a tough decision" to leave Venable but added that he was attracted by the challenge of heading the commission as it grapples with the transition from a monopoly-oriented regulatory structure to a competitive arena.

"It's going to be an interesting few years, and the Maryland commission has traditionally been in the forefront of the issue, so it's exciting," he said. "If the commission wasn't at this juncture, I wouldn't be interested."

Associates of Mr. Frisby described him as an affable man and an excellent lawyer. "Russ not only is A-No. 1 in terms of the substance of the issues but he's also a great consensus-builder," said Pete Belvin, an FCC veteran who now serves as senior legal adviser to Commissioner James Quello.

Cautious approval

John W. Dillon, vice president for external affairs of Bell Atlantic-Maryland, expressed cautious approval of the choice.

"He appears to be the type of individual who would be able to understand the complicated issues he will be working on," Mr. Dillon said.

Mr. Frisby said he would have to sit out one of the most important cases coming up before the commission, the second phase of MFS Communications Co.'s application to compete with Bell Atlantic Corp. for business customers in the local telephone market.

The MFS hearings, which will begin in August, are expected to set the monetary terms and technical conditions under which prospective competitors will connect with Bell Atlantic's network. In the first phase of the case, under Mr. Heinz, the Maryland PSC became one of the first state regulatory bodies to adopt the principle that new competitors should have legal equality with the established carrier.

Mr. Frisby said he would recuse himself because he has represented SBC Media Ventures, which has an interest in the outcome of the case, in connection with the Southwestern Bell affiliate's application to provide residential service in Montgomery County. But he said he does expect to take part in an important case in which Bell Atlantic will seek a change from traditional rate-of-return regulation to a "price cap" that will let it keep any money it gains from becoming more efficient.

Other matters facing the PSC include setting the rules for competition in the electrical power industry and deciding whether Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. or its ratepayers will have to pay the $486 million tab for the two-year shutdown of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in the late 1980s.

Senate confirmation

The nomination will require confirmation by the state Senate, but Mr. Frisby will be able to take over the job pending action in the next legislative session, Mr. Fulton said.

Mr. Frisby lives in Columbia with his wife, June, and two sons. His grandfather, Herbert Frisby, was a noted educator and Arctic explorer.

In addition to appointing Mr. Frisby, the governor has decided to retain E. Mason Hendrickson as a member of the PSC past the expiration of his term at the end of the month, said Glendening press secretary Dianna Rosborough. She said no decision had been made on whether to reappoint Mr. Hendrickson to a full term.

The governor's decision not to include the reappointment in this year's "green bag" of political appointments led to widespread speculation that Mr. Hendrickson would be replaced with a member from the Washington suburbs.

However, that would have left Western Maryland without its traditional representation on the commission -- a matter that House Speaker Casper Taylor, a Democrat from Allegany County, raised with the governor.

"I think Parris is trying to accommodate a lot of my concerns about Western Maryland," Mr. Taylor said.

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