TALLAHASSEE — The calm that has overtaken the once-embattled Public Service Commission in recent months ended abruptly Wednesday when Gov. Rick Scott withdrew from confirmation four of the five members of the state's utility board.
The move was part of a wholesale rollback of appointments made by Scott's predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist. Scott withdrew the nominations of 168 Crist appointees, including PSC members Ronald Brise, Eduardo Balbis and Julie Brown and chairman Art Graham.
Each of them must reapply for the job, and Scott has until March 7 to either reappoint them or choose from the list of nominees presented to Crist from the Public Service Nominating Council. In the interim, the commissioners will remain in their jobs.
The decision to withdraw nominees to the utility board is not unique to Scott. Crist, and his predecessor, Gov. Jeb Bush, did the same thing in an attempt to shape the powerful commission that regulates private water, sewer and electric companies.
Crist campaigned on consumer issues and chose to replace two Bush appointees, Isilio Arriaga and Ken Littlefield, because he said they weren't consumer-friendly enough. In their place in 2007, Crist named Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop, whose proconsumer stands antagonized many in the utility industry, especially as they led the vote against record rate hikes sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy last year.
Two other Crist appointees, David Klement and Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, also voted against the rate increases. But, after serving for just more than three months, they were not confirmed by the Senate.
Crist's attempt to remake the PSC was further thwarted when Argenziano and Skop sought second terms but neither of them made it through the selection process run by the nominating council.
The newly appointed commissioners, recommended by the nominating council and chosen by Crist from a list of candidates, have been cautious in their public statements, clearly wary of aggravating industry players who have the ear of powerful state senators.
Graham, the Crist appointee who was elected PSC chairman last fall, told lawmakers that he was eager to work with them.
"I'm going to try not to let you down, and I'm going to try to lead you into the path that our friends over in the House and the Senate want us to go," Graham said after assuming the chairmanship.
Scott also withdrew appointments to dozens of other boards and commissions as he prepares to make deep cuts in agency budgets across state government.
Some Crist appointees received calls Thursday assuring them that the governor planned to resubmit their names for Senate confirmation.
Among them were the relatives of two former governors who had been appointed by Crist to what may be the least political board in government: the Governor's Mansion Commission.
Scott's wife, Ann Scott, called Jane Aurell of Tallahassee, daughter of former Gov. LeRoy Collins, and Adele Graham of Miami Lakes, wife of former Gov. Bob Graham, to say she was seeking their reappointments to the commission.
By the end of the day, Scott's office had announced the move.
"The Governor's Mansion has such beauty and history," Ann Scott said in a statement. ''As former residents of the mansion themselves, I know they will help showcase the people's house for everyone who visits."
Aurell and Graham, both 72, were reappointed for terms beginning Feb. 3, 2011, and ending Sept. 30, 2013.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected]