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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

PSC workshops to address integrity



The Public Service Commission ordered its staff to convene a workshop for commissioners to discuss ways to remove the cloud over the five-member panel that has been besieged by allegations that they and their staff are too close to the utilities they regulate. The commission concluded they'll hold a workshop on on the issue and a workshop to address the 1992 grand jury report recommendations, as first brought to light by the Herald/Times.

Commissioners spent close to an hour discussing whether or not to ban speeches at industry-sponsored events and how to behave moving forward.

Commissioner Lisa Edgar argued that there shouldn't be a flat ban on commissioners accepting speaking engagements. "I think that each of us has a lot to offer and I do believe we weren’t appointed just sit in the hearings,'' she said. She noted that during her confirmation process she was told by several legislator "to go out there and talk to people.''

Commissioner Nancy Argenziano countered that if commissioners take trips to visit utilities or attend events in which utility executives attend, they should follow guidelines and take precautions -- such as inviting a member of the Office of Public Counsel, the office charged with representing the public in rate cases, to accompany them.

"There's a difference between getting out there and talking to people, not the parties,'' Argenziano said. "If you are there, how can you stop perception? The safeguard, that is the only way that you stop that. Otherwise you are going to be faced with this problem again and again and again.''

Commissioner Nathan Skop then made a pointed reference to Edgar and the allegations that led to an ethics complaint when she used her aide, Roberta Bass, to deliver a message from FPL lobbyist Ken Hoffmanin the middle of a PSC hearing. Edgar was cleared of the ethics charges, even though the Ethics Commission never checked out inconsistencies between her story and the video tape.

Skop said that commissioners should conduct themselves like judges and those who are lawyers and members of the bar (Edgar, Skop and Chairman Matthew Carter) have a higher standard to follow.

"Fellow members of the bar, I don’t believe it is appropriate ... to  have a direct (conversation) to the bench during any preceding,'' he said. "That completely undermines what we’re doing. …There’s a right way to do something, and a wrong way to do something.''

He said the right way would have been for Hoffman to direct his message to the entire panel through his regulatory attorney during the open forum. He should have had him "state for the record what his concern was and not to have some indirect method.

Skop finished, and said: "I needed to get that off my chest.''

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:21pm]


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