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Crist has utility-heavy list for PSC choices

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to name his replacements for his two ousted appointees to the state utility-regulation board Wednesday, and will choose from a list of eight applicants that includes many with deep ties to utility companies.

Crist spoke with candidates last week to fill two posts on the Public Service Commission, and said he wants to pick someone who is willing to offer an independent, pro-consumer point of view, and "some more than others" fit that criteria.

The appointments will fill two PSC positions vacated when David Klement and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens were rejected for confirmation by the state Senate.

Crist's list was put together by the PSC Nominating Council, a 12-member board whose chairman and six members are legislators. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Sarasota, chairman of the council, called the list "one of the most qualified" he's ever seen.

The same nominating council last month rejected the re-appointment of two sitting PSC commissioners, Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop. Some council members said the commissioners had not been cooperative and the council wanted to start over on the board.

Argenziano has urged Crist to reject the lists, saying the council is unduly influenced by the utility companies. But Crist is expected to choose two names from the following:

• Rep. Ron Brise, a Miami Democrat whose former telecom company, IPIP Telecommunications, used to do share contracts with a company now under indictment for bribing Haitian officials. Brise says he joined the company after the questionable behavior, left in January 2009, and was never involved. "During my tenure there I can attest that everything that was done at IPIP was very much above board," he said.

• Connie Murray, a three-term Republican state legislator from Springfield, Mo., who was appointed for two terms on Missouri's PSC by two Democratic governors.

After leaving the panel, Murray took on a $30,000 consulting job with Ameren UE, a St. Louis utility. She was once publicly reprimanded by a state legislator for allowing a gas company to get a 44 percent rate increase without a public hearing. She defends the decision, saying the increase was a temporary hike required by law when fuel prices spiked.

• Charles Ranson, a consultant who has worked in economic development in Kansas and Florida and is the former executive director of the Florida TaxWatch Center for a Competitive Florida. He formerly represented telecommunication clients before the Legislature and his former law partner represented clients before the PSC.

• Mary Bane, the retired former PSC executive director, who served for more than 40 years, including the last year in which the agency came under fire for allowing its staff to exchange text messages and socialize with the utility officials they regulate. In the last year, Bane was criticized for not acting quickly enough after the PSC's lead lobbyist, Ryder Rudd, admitted he attended a Kentucky Derby party at the home of an FPL executive when the company had a rate-increase request before the PSC. Bane personally approved a 10 percent salary increase for Rudd a month after the event.

• Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who chaired the nominating council for the last two years, and recently resigned so that he could apply for the PSC job. He pushed for legislation requiring utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. The measure was twice rejected by the House.

In 2006, Constantine sponsored a bill that lets electric companies charge customers for the planning costs of nuclear power plants years before they are approved to be built.

• Arthur Graham, a Jacksonville City Council member and chemical engineer who previously worked for Georgia-Pacific paper company. He ran against John Thrasher in a GOP state Senate primary last year and was reappointed to the City Council by Crist when he lost.

• Curt Kiser, a former state senator who was recruited to be the PSC's general counsel in November after it came under fire from the governor. He sponsored legislation creating the PSC nominating council and served on it for 17 years, including three times as chairman.

Kiser has been criticized at the PSC for using his job to position himself for the commission post. The job would help him increase the retirement benefits he earned as a legislator. At a June 14 internal affairs meeting, four days after the nominating council included him on the list to the governor, Kiser advised the commission to refrain from changing any of the rules until the new appointments had been named, rather than recuse himself.

• Kevin Wiehle, chief legislative analyst for the state Senate's utilities committee, who helped draft many of the most important utility-related bills in the Legislature in recent years, including a 2003 rewrite of the state telecommunication law.

Times/Herald staff writers Lee Logan and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Crist has utility-heavy list for PSC choices 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 9:49pm]
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