TALLAHASSEE — One of Gov. Charlie Crist's handpicked utility regulators is questioning why the governor is getting energy advice from a lawyer whose utility clients could be affected by Crist's policies.
The criticism comes from Nancy Argenziano, whom Crist named to a $133,000-a-year job on the Public Service Commission last year in part because he admires her outspokenness.
Now Argenziano is taking aim at Crist and one of his former employees, Chris Kise. The 43-year-old lawyer from Tampa has years of experience in complex utility law and represents utilities before the PSC. He is also Crist's "special adviser on energy and climate change," an unpaid position.
"I find this hard to believe," Argenziano said. "You're being compensated to represent utilities, and you're advising the governor? It doesn't pass the test."
Argenziano, a former Republican state senator from Dunnellon, is the first Crist appointee to publicly question the ethics of a governor who has sought to place a premium on propriety and openness in government.
Kise, who said he supported Argenziano's appointment while in the Governor's Office, called her assertions patently ridiculous. Kise did not practice law while working as Crist's paid counselor in 2007. He said since leaving state employment in November he has not allowed his advisory role to interfere with legal work. He said Crist wouldn't tolerate it.
"I never discuss client business with the governor," Kise said. "Even if I tried, the Charlie Crist I know would leave the room. … I'm at a loss to understand why she would publicly challenge an administration and people who supported her appointment." He said Argenziano has always been straightforward, but her charges have no basis.
Crist said Argenziano has a misperception of his relationship with Kise and the advice he offers.
"I don't always take the advice if it's given," Crist said. "So we're in a good place. I'm going to look out for the public first and foremost always."
Argenziano is known for her appetite for confrontation. While a state senator, she presented a 25-pound bag of manure to a lobbyist with whom she was feuding.
And her comments come at a time when Crist is considering whether to reappoint Lisa Polak Edgar to a four-year-term on the PSC. Edgar and Argenziano have a contentious relationship, and Kise speaks favorably about Edgar's track record at the PSC, though he said he does not plan to talk to Crist about the appointment.
"I'm just worried about appearances," Argenziano said.
Argenziano has urged Crist to stop seeking Kise's advice. And she called on Kise to disclose all of his industry clients so the public could determine if the appearance of a conflict of interest exists.
Kise's legal work before the PSC, in telecommunications cases, is in the public record of pleadings on file with the clerk's office. But because of the PSC's unique nature, state law does not require those appearing before it to register as lobbyists.
Kise, a partner with Foley & Lardner, said it would be unethical for him to disclose his client representation without his clients' permission.
Gulf Power Corp. in Pensacola confirmed that Kise gives legal advice to the firm. TECO confirmed hiring Foley & Lardner, not Kise specifically.
Florida Power & Light declined to comment on whether Kise advises FP&L, calling it a personnel matter. A Progress Energy spokeswoman said the firm does not discuss who its outside lawyers are.
Kise, known for his intense style and fondness for bright bow ties, served as solicitor general under Attorney General Crist in 2002-2006. He worked in Crist's campaign for governor, playing the part of Democrat Jim Davis in debate preparations. In 2007, he served as counselor, or special legal adviser, to Crist. After leaving government in November, Crist named him his "special adviser on energy and climate change."
In that role, Kise said, he helps Crist advance his climate change agenda, including expanding the use of nuclear power and requiring that utilities produce a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources.
"I would challenge anyone to identify a single thing I have done in my role as liaison that in any way retreats from the most aggressive advancement of Gov. Crist's energy and climate change agenda," Kise said.
This weekend, Kise is joining Crist and several top Florida utility executives on a mission to Europe organized by the state's public-private economic development group, Enterprise Florida. Kise helped organize a visit to a French firm that processes waste from nuclear power.
Foley & Lardner has a busy lobbying practice in Tallahassee, including representing telecommunications firms before the Legislature. But Kise said he does no lobbying. He meets from time to time with the PSC staff. PSC visitor logs show he has visited the staff six times over the past six months.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com.