TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Public Service Commission picked former state senator and Tallahassee lobbyist Curt Kiser to serve as the agency's general counsel Monday, vowing to make a "clean break'' at the embattled agency.
Kiser, a legislator from Dunedin from 1972 to 1994 who most recently represented the Florida Press Association and the American Cancer Society as a lobbyist, won the appointment to the $120,000-a-year job by a 3-0 vote, with two commissioners not voting.
The other two finalists for the job were Mike Twomey, a long-time consumer advocate for AARP and lawyer for several utility companies, and Bonnie Davis, a Tallahassee lawyer who has represented some of the largest utilities in the state before the PSC for 28 years.
Commission Chairman Matthew Carter said he nominated Kiser to help improve the agency's image, help with its public records problems after staff members were caught giving private Blackberry messaging codes to lobbyists, and work with the Legislature to usher in reforms.
"People think we suck," Carter said. "In that context, we need to make a clean break from the past and move forward."
Kiser will provide legal guidance and advice for the commission in pending utility cases and other matters. He replaces Booter Imhof, who left the PSC in September to return to the Legislature after less than a year on the job.
Commissioners Lisa Edgar and David Klement also voted for Kiser but Commissioner Nathan Skop, who had recommended Twomey, recused himself. Commissioner Nancy Argenziano also supported Twomey — she called him a friend and an adviser when she was in the Legislature — but said she didn't vote because she got confused when Skop didn't vote.
"I was going to vote for Kiser, but I was confused," Argenziano said later. "I thought we were going to end up with a deadlock and then where would we be?"
Skop said Twomey and Kiser were good candidates but preferred Twomey's practical experience to Kiser's legislative resume. "To be effective as a general counsel, you have to have specific knowledge," he said. "We don't have the luxury of a learning curve."
Argenziano seconded the nomination of Twomey but when Edgar recused herself, the motion failed on a tie vote. Edgar said later that she removed herself "due to the possibility of a personal conflict of interest'' with Twomey. She would not elaborate.
Skop said he had no conflict with Kiser but had "strong opinions that Mike Twomey would be a better fit for the organization."
Kiser expressed frustration two weeks ago, after the PSC recruited him in September to apply for the job, then extended the deadline twice to allow for more applications. He called the 3-0 vote from the five-member panel "strange." He will start work on Tuesday.
Kiser served for 17 years as a member of the PSC's nominating council and authored several pieces of utility-related legislation including the bill to create the Office of Public Counsel, the lawyer who represents the public before the utility board.
Also at Monday's meeting, Skop suggested the PSC appoint a new legislative lobbyist to replace Ryder Rudd, who resigned after attending a party at the home of Florida Power & Light executive. He also urged the commission to vote quickly on replacing the PSC's executive director Mary Bane, who is resigning at the end of the month.
Edgar strongly objected to Skop's plan to have the commission pick Rudd's replacement when they had already agreed it was to be filled by the general counsel.
Carter said the commission needed to take time in its efforts to replace Bane, suggesting that none of the three internal candidates were qualified.
The internal infighting may continue on Tuesday, when the commission is expected to pick its next chairman. Traditionally, the job goes to the most senior commissioner who has not held it before. Under that scenario, Argenziano is next in line.
Carter said Monday he will nominate Argenziano. Argenziano said she will accept it if chosen.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com