Credit: Eliza Wiley / MTFP

Former Missoula lawmaker Brad Tschida will be joining the staff of the Public Service Commission as its second executive director, the agency announced today. 

The commission is a five-member elected body that regulates monopoly utility companies in the energy, telecommunications and waste disposal industries. Originally formed to provide oversight of railroad companies, the agency is charged with balancing the interests of captive ratepayers with the financial health of monopoly utilities.

In 2021, in the aftermath of a highly critical audit of the agency’s financial statements, commission chairman James Brown announced the commission would create an executive director position to set the “tone and tenor at the top.” The director plans, coordinates and manages the day-to-day operations of the agency, which has 31 full-time employees. Tschida, who will start work Jan. 17, will also be charged with overseeing the agency’s public affairs.

Jennifer Fielder, the commission’s vice president, described the position as subject to a “significant amount of internal and external pressure” in a release about the hire.

“We needed someone with the right mix of professional skills who is also capable of shouldering those types of demands,” Fielder said. “Mr. Tschida is very well-qualified with his legislative leadership experience and diverse background in management, finance, education, and public policy spanning over 40 years.”

Tschida spent eight years in the Montana Legislature, two of which he served as Majority Leader for the House of Representatives. He ran unsuccessfully for a western Montana Senate seat in 2022, losing to Democrat Willis Curdy.

Tschida, a realtor who’s lived in the Missoula area since the 1960s, has become known for his election integrity skepticism and strict anti-abortion positions. He spearheaded efforts to audit Missoula County’s election systems in 2020 and 2021. In a September conversation with MTFP about the Senate District 49 seat, he described himself as “someone who’s going to be straightforward with what I say.”

“I’m going to make my ‘yes’ my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ my ‘no.’ I don’t trade things off,” he said.

In the agency statement about his hiring, Tschida said he is humbled and excited to join the commission.

“I fully believe in the PSC’s mission to fairly balance the interest of regulated companies and the public they serve, and I look forward to focusing my attention on this vital objective for the PSC and the people of Montana as a whole,” Tschida said.

The release highlighted Tschida’s public- and private-sector professional experience, which ranges from high school administration to financial consulting and management of a “number of private business operations.”

In 2021, Rep. Tschida sponsored a bill that attempted to put large technology companies like Facebook under the regulatory purview of the PSC to prevent “unreasonable censorship.” Had House Bill 573 been successful, disgruntled users of social media platforms would have an established process to petition the PSC to fine companies filtering, screening or disallowing their content. The bill failed to pass a House vote by a 49-50 margin, despite his pleas to fellow representatives to come to the aid of “everyday citizens being muzzled.” A similar measure sponsored by Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Stevensville, died the following month in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. 

In August 2021, former Townsend school superintendent Erik Wilkerson was hired as the PSC’s first executive director. He left a year later to take the Jefferson High School District Superintendent position.

According to a hiring notice, the position comes with an annual salary of  $85,000 to $105,00, depending on qualifications, plus a “generous benefit package.” 

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Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...