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Industry group leader, lawmaker seek inquiry into Argenziano

TALLAHASSEE — Days after Tallahassee's top prosecutor said his investigation into the state's utilities regulator was turning up no "skullduggery," a powerful lawmaker and an important business lobby are calling for additional inquiries into the Public Service Commission.

Associated Industries of Florida, which has sided with Florida Power & Light in its request to raise rates $1.3 billion, called for the PSC's inspector general to investigate Commissioner Nancy Argenziano's BlackBerry messages to her former aide, saying they raised questions about her impartiality.

And Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera, a Miami Republican who sits on the PSC nominating council, echoed Associated Industries president and chief executive officer Barney Bishop's call for an investigation of Argenziano, but said it should also include Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who exchanged BlackBerry messages with an FPL lobbyist, Jorge Chamizo.

The PSC has come under fire since the Times/Herald and other newspapers disclosed that commissioners and some PSC staff members socialized, sent text messages and were in frequent phone contact with officials from the utilities they regulate.

The revelations prompted a joint investigation by Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into criminal wrongdoing. Meggs said this week that the inquiry has not been completed, but had appeared to reach a dead end.

Argenziano said the calls for an investigation are baseless and malicious, and an attempt "to remove me from the rate case."

She defended the messages, saying she had nothing to hide and relied on messages to communicate with her aide when she was out of town or recovering from a broken leg.

Bishop said he singled out Argenziano because she was the only commissioner to hold herself to a higher standard when, last month, she urged Meggs to investigate the PSC.

"I'm blaming Nancy Argenziano for being self-righteous," Bishop said. "Nobody else is self-righteous. Please make that a quote."

Argenziano, who has come under fire for her financial dealings and has drawn two ethics complaints, said "there is a concerted effort to try to intimidate me."

If tradition holds, Argenziano is expected to become the new PSC chairwoman in January, with control over case assignments and schedules.

Consumer groups came to Argenziano's defense Thursday.

"It's not surprising to us that one of the largest industry lobbyist groups in Florida would find reason to attack her integrity and credibility," said Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Industry group leader, lawmaker seek inquiry into Argenziano 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:51pm]
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