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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate may challenge two new PSC members



With the arrival of Gov. Charlie Crist's letter endorsing J.R. Kelly, the public advocate in utility rate cases, Senate leaders now appear to be backing off attempts to challenge Kelly's confirmation. Some of the most powerful Senate leaders are shifting their focus now to challenge the confirmation of Crist's new appointees to the commission, Benjamin "Steve" Stevens and David Klement and pass legislation that increases the qualifications for sitting commissioners.

Crist sent a letter to the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight late Wednesday saying Kelly "has an excellent reputation as a prepared, competent, and compassionate advocate for consumers'' and that he "deserves praise and reward for a job well done.'' Download Crist letter in support of JRKelly

Senate President Jeff Atwater told the Herald/Times earlier this week that he also supports Kelly and wants to the term for the job extended from two to four years. "You're going to be making decisions that may be popular to some and unpopular to some,'' he said. "Knowing that you're always just around the corner -- back up for review -- that could be an intimidating factor.''

But Atwater left open the possibility that the qualifications for the PSC job could change and, while he is willing to see Stevens and Klement confirmed, incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos is not so sure. He said he wants to be sure Klement and Stevens are qualified for what he considers a complex job and whether they are "comfortable with all the minutiae of understanding energy policy and the economics behind it.''

He said he wants to learn more about Klement and Stevens. "All I know is what I read in the newspaper: that one guy was a columnist and another guy was a bar owner,'' he said.

Stevens is an accountant, former finance director for the Escambia County sheriff's office and former president of the Florida Institute of CPAs. In December 2008 he bought a Pensacola bar with a partner as an investment. Klement was head of the Bradenton Herald editorial board for 30 years.

Haridopolos said he wants to see education qualifications beefed up for PSC commissioners. Depending on how that is written, the change could rule out the prospect of PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano, a former legislator and state senator, from seeking reappointment. Argenziano did not complete her college degree.

Crist said he supports reform efforts at the PSC but does not support requiring commissioners to have a college degree. "I don’t necessarily feel you have to have a college degree to possess common sense,'' he said. "I’m very proud of the Public Service Commission in its current make up and clearly they’re on the side of the people.''

Mary Ellen Klas

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:19pm]


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