FPL chief says he can't tell his execs not to wine and dine regulators
Continuing to distance himself from his employees assigned to work with the Public Service Commission, Florida Power & Light chief Armando Olivera told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board today that he "was not aware of the socializing" between his staff and the members and staff of the PSC.
But because it was perfectly legal to invite a PSC staffer to a Kentucky Derby party, he said he has not and has not issued any order that his executives don't do it again: "I can’t tell people who or who they shouldn’t invite at their home or not," he said.
Olivera continued his round of editorial board visits as part of the company's aggressive public relations effort to make its case that it deserves the $1.3 billion rate increase it is seeking from state regulators. (More on that to come.)
Here's the exchange between Joni James of the editorial board and Olivera.
( UPDATE: The company carefully proof-read our copy and offered some changes. The words in italics were left out because they were garbled on our tape, but FPL asked that we add them.
(UPDATE 2: FPL's Tim Fitzpatrick now find fault the changes we made at his request. When asked if Olivera could call to provide some clarification, Fitzpatrick said "Mr. Olivera is not available,'' then he copy and pasted the comments from the transcript below and said: "FPL executives have been told by Mr. Olivera not to do anything that would undermine public confidence in the regulatory system.'')James: Were you not aware that (socializing and messages via BlackBerry pins) was going on?
Olivera: I was not aware that BlackBerry pins were going on.
James: Were you aware of the socializing?
Olivera: I was not aware of the socializing.
James: Have you ever socialized with a PSC commissioner or had a private conservation with them?
Olivera: I have had conversations with PSC commissioners in their office, in Tallahassee. I have talked to commissioners at industry forums. Remember, all of this stuff is legal in Florida. You can talk to a commissioner as log as you are not planning to file a docket or an issue or a matter in 90 days and you can’t talk to them about an issue, any matter that's currently being heard by the PSC...The inspector general, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement both have come out and said no laws have been broken but the appearnace is horrendous. It does undermine the public confidence.
Joni: Was it a bad idea for one of your vice presidents to have a meal with [former commissioner] Katrina Mcmurrian?
Olivera: When you look at the facts, there was a credit rating agency dinner...which I am told that Commissioner McMurrian cleared through the general counsel of the PSC whether she could go or not and apparently she cleared that she could go to the meeting. There were regulators there from another some 20 odd other states. It wasn't just the FPL...
James: It wasn't just a private dinner?
Olivera: no and it wasn't just he chief financial officer and the tresaurer of the compan that were there. There were a lot of other financial people from other companies. I don’t want to debate today what the right rules are going forward, but it is clear that those things were allowed under the existing regulations in Florida.
There's no question though, it creates a perception of something inappropriate. Certainly, when you're PINing somebody on a BlackBerry, I think 99 percent of the people would say they’re trying to hide something. So it's terrible appearance even if it's legal, and by every investigation I have heard, including our own internal investigation, that was legal, but it undermined public trust.
James: The Kentucky Derby Party? Have you issued any kind of internal order to your executves about whether or not that kind of thing should happen?
Olivera: I have not put anything in writing. Remember this was a party in somebody's private home, not paid for by company funds and so I can’t tell people who they should invite in their homes or not. But I have talked to them and said we’ve got to use some judgment in these things and frankly inviting a PSC key PSC staffer -- I can't remember whether we had already filed or we were getting ready to file -- it doesn't matter -- just creates a pretty bad impression. I take all the parties' words that there was nothing inappropriate was discussed but it was not the best judgment that was used.