In the early 1990s, the City of Philadelphia became the first municipality to appoint a temporary public advocate to represent the interests of “small users,” residential customers and small businesses, during water rate-setting proceedings. It also established the role of a hearing officer whose function was to listen to testimony and provide a recommendation on water price during rate-setting cases.
Whenever a proposed rate change triggered case proceedings, the mayor, city council chairperson, and city controller appointed a public advocate who may submit evidence, bring in experts to testify, and coordinate community testimony to provide different perspectives on the water department’s proposal. The public advocate could also provide alternative approaches that could benefit the small users. The public advocate plays a community engagement role by gathering and disseminating information to community organizations in order to better assist low-income residents in enrolling in assistance programs.