Analysis: Truth to criticism of Florida PSC
Published: Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE – When former Florida Public Service Commission chairwoman Nancy Argenziano resigned last week to make political endorsements, she delivered a stinging — yet familiar — criticism of the panel: That it is a revolving door with the utilities it regulates.
Leaving the PSC, which she called “a fetid pit,” three months before her term ended, Argenziano said there was a “universal expectation that if you audition well, PSC employees and commissioners will be rewarded with lucrative jobs with the utilities.”
“I tell you that in my weirdest nightmare, I would not have expected to come upon the corruption, the bought-and-sold nature of everything related to the operation of the PSC,” Argenziano said as she resigned the $130,036-a-year job of PSC commissioner.
Appointed in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist, Argenziano ascended to the chairmanship of the PSC last fall after Crist declined to reappoint her predecessor, Matt Carter, at the height of a scandal surrounding text messages sent between PSC employees and utility lobbyists during rate cases.
Carter, who defended his record at the PSC as accusations swirled in 2009, resurfaced this year as Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ choice to run the Senate Communications, Energy & Utilities Committee. That panel oversees, among other things, PSC appointments.
A News Service analysis of the whereabouts of other former PSC commissioners Thursday found similar results among those appointed by former Govs. Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles. Several are doing utility law these days — with clients including the four publicly-regulated power companies. A few others have tried their own hands at elected office, and one will be on the ballot this fall.
Former PSC Commissioners Charles Davidson and Lila Jaber are both working as lawyers now, Davidson in the Orlando office of the Carlton Fields firm and Jaber in Tallahassee for Akerman Senterfitt. Both companies have represented Florida utilities.
Similarly, former Commissioner Terry Deason, who was appointed to the PSC by former Gov. Bob Martinez, is an attorney at Radey Thomas Yon & Clark PA, and lobbies for Florida Power & Light Co., Progress Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric, according to state lobbying records.
Former PSC Chairman Joe Garcia is running for a South Florida congressional seat as a Democrat. Former Commissioner Ken Littlefield, who is now retired, ran in 2009 for the Pasco County Commission.
More recently, former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole raised some eyebrows by accepting a $350,000-a-year job as FPL’s vice president of state governmental affairs, though the DEP had little interaction under him with FPL and the other large regulated utilities that normally fall under the PSC’s jurisdiction.
Neither one of the most recent commissioners to leave the PSC, David Klement and Benjamin Stevens, has publicly announced what he will do next. Former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, who was passed over for re-appointment when Crist tapped Klement and Stevens, has remained quiet as well.
In 2009, former PSC General Counsel Booter Imhof foreshadowed Carter’s move to the Legislature, leaving the PSC at the height of the conflict-of-interest scandal for a job with the Florida House.
During that scandal, when three PSC staffers were fired or suspended for inappropriately contacting utility employees, the Sun-Sentinel identified 18 former PSC employees who worked for or lobbied for utilities. State employees are barred from lobbying agencies they used to work for until two years have passed since leaving.